You work hard, you do a great job, the boss seems pleased with you – and then someone else gets the promotion you wanted. Where did it all go wrong?
The fact is that being good at the job isn’t enough. There are hidden rules you have to follow as well. So hidden that even your boss doesn’t know them, not consciously anyway. They just know who looks like promotion material and who doesn’t so much.
But hey, the good news is that if you actually know these rules, and follow them consciously, management will start to see you as a strong candidate for promotion without even realising it. So here are some of the mistakes you can put right, and start climbing the ladder before you know it.
Dress the part
You may not have noticed it, but the people further up the organisation dress differently. There may be shop floor workers in overalls all the way up to board members in bespoke suits. Or it may be more nuanced, but there will be differences. So, stop dressing like your own kind, and start dressing like the layer of management above you. If you look like you belong there, they’re more likely to put you there. So, study the style – do the managers all wear suits? Or just smarter jeans? Do they keep their jackets on in hot weather, or wear subtler jewellery?
Walk the walk
To complete the look, you need to study how they walk. Practise it in a mirror. There will be a level of confidence you’re missing, maybe a bit of swagger, or an angle of the head... Watch and learn. Show, albeit subliminally, that you’re one of them, and they’ll be happy to welcome you into their fold.
It’s us, not them
You need to show that you are part of the organisation and speak for it. So, if top management announce some daft change, don’t say ‘Why are they doing that?’ ask ‘Why are we doing that?’ And don’t ask in a cynical tone, but with interest. From now on it’s always ‘we and never ‘they’.
Following on from that, senior managers look at everything from the broad, corporate perspective. So, if you’re aiming to join their ranks, be seen to do the same thing. Don’t just see your work in terms of yourself and your department, but in terms of the whole organisation. Ask pertinent questions about how this department initiative fits with the wider company aims, or what impact this quarter’s sales are likely to have on the share price (that’s ‘our’ share price of course).
Talk about the whole organisation
It’s not only questions. You need to make sure every suggestion and proposal takes that broader view. It’s not just about how this will improve your team’s effectiveness, but how it could be rolled out across the company, or how its success will impact the overall bottom line. Make it clear you always have the wider perspective in mind.
Write a report
It’s surprising how many successful managers can date the start of their rise up the ladder to a well thought out report. No, don’t go and bang out the first thing that comes into your head right now, but look for opportunities to come up with a genuinely strong idea, and then put it in writing.
Don’t just talk to your boss, get it on paper where it can be emailed to as many managers as possible, with your name on it. It needs to be a smart idea, with careful costings and plans for implementation, thorough research, and all presented in a clean, smart, accessible format.
Filter your thoughts
It’s easy to say the first thing that comes into your head in discussions and meetings. But you need to resist that urge. Far better to say less but make sure that every time you do open your mouth, you say something worth listening to.
That’s a reputation worth having and is simply a matter of filtering what you could say, and editing out everything that doesn’t make the grade. Most of us spend a lot of time adding redundant comments, relating vaguely irrelevant but unnecessary anecdotes, repeating what we’ve already said... those are the things you should be deleting. Keep it pithy.
In fact, be friendly with your team but don’t align yourself too closely while you’re at work. You need management to know that you can be discreet, and not to see you as such an integral part of the team that they can’t imagine promoting you out of it. So, maintain a polite detachment from your colleagues. If they’re also your mates, you can do what you like outside working hours. But in company time you’re there to work – and to get promoted.