A Framework To Get Your Next Promotion
6 April, 2020
An engineer I was mentoring on my team was trying to get a promotion. She believed that she shouldn’t ask for anything from her manager. She felt they should already know the value of her work. This is a behavior I have seen many times in my career, but this behavior is probably not the most effective to get ahead in your career. I want to explain that this wasn’t how I’ve seen the world work. People need to work on their careers, not just their daily job.
For one, because your manager does not know everything. You can’t expect your manager to remember all the great things you did during the previous evaluation period. Sure, she will remember the big trends or big events, but there is no way she could know everything. This is natural, fair, and applies to everyone.
Second, if you don’t ask for anything, you may be seen as happy where you are and not looking for more responsibilities. Let’s assume you have a peer performing at the same level, doing the same great job. However, they are regularly asking for more scope, more projects, more opportunities to provide a bigger impact on behalf of the company. Now suppose an opportunity for the next level is coming. Guess who is the first person your manager will think about?
When dealing with individuals facing the same issue, I like to break down how to navigate this into three parts.
Know the expectations of Your Job
You have read your job description once before. Your manager guides you through your job. But is that sufficient? What is expected for your level at your company? What is expected for your role specifically? What is the definition of your success?
Managers rely on internal frameworks to determine general requirements for roles. Make sure you understand the one applying to your company. Those frameworks are usually good to understand the specificities of your company. What matters the most? What values should be demonstrated?
Plus, your manager should provide you with a clear definition of your success. Make it clear, and make sure it is kept up to date. Every quarter at least, review those targets and adjust. OKRs are not needed, but you get the point!
Once you understand what is expected for your role, try to assess where you stand against these frameworks. Prepare a short review of each area. When it is time to discuss your review with your manager, or every other 1-on-1, being prepared to talk about each area and how you demonstrated your performance will be key. Be proactive and present your work this way.
You may expect your manager to give you this feedback and assess everything for you, but the manager is a human too and may just miss a point or forget to talk about it. ICs and Managers need to look at this in their careers. I have seen too many junior engineers or junior managers trying to climb the ladder while having blindspots. Knowing expectations and presenting your work accordingly will be key to your success.
Know Your Boss
You’ve done your homework and know what is expected for your role, both from a company perspective and for the subtleties of your mission. But how do you present yourself and your assignment to your boss? Is your boss someone that is detail-oriented, or someone who focuses on ideation? Is she someone that likes written notes? Regular but short updates? informal discussion?
You need to understand who your boss is, and how they process information. I had a boss that did not want to talk about a topic if a note was not sent beforehand. Jumping in his office about a topic for which he had not read a note for earlier was fruitless. Some others were better at tackling issues live through discussion and no preparation. Preparation in those cases was seen as a waste of time.
You need to understand what this person is looking for so you can effectively present your achievements and issues. You need to be really deliberate and ask questions to your boss. When you have a new boss, ask how they want deliverables for a project - would they rather have a one-pager, an email, or just a Slack notification? If they want to give input for a new feature, how much detail do they want? You need to be very deliberate to try and get the right amount and kind information. Whether it is a quick email at the end of the week asking for feedback or a standup meeting, try and see if they are asking for more detail or if you’re giving too much detail. Ask how you can be most efficient.
Remember that what matters is not how you feel your communication was, but how it was perceived. Be versatile.
Also, do you know the objectives of your boss? You have your objectives, but you can do more and figure out what your boss is looking for as well. Maybe your boss is looking for consistency across their teams, so you could spend more time working with other teams to ensure this. If you know what your boss is trying to achieve, you can put yourself into a bigger company picture. You don’t want to spend time on things that you think are useful but are not actually a priority. It usually does not require more work. Just some adjustments to make sure your work aligns with your boss’ (sometimes unwritten) objectives.
Last, talking about your achievements is not bragging, and it should not be. Avoid phrases like “I did this” or “I did that.” Make statements with phrases like “I am proud of what we achieved here”.
Acting as a team player is not only necessary for the business, it is also necessary for your career. Your manager will probably be gathering a 360-degree view of what you bring to the company - you are just providing one data point and your manager will need more when considering your promotion. This is why it is important to build your network.
Know Your Network
Growing in your career is all about building a network of supporting people.
Some of the tips I gave included sending thank you notes to people you work with to say that your interaction was great. You don’t have to wait for amazing help or tremendous support to say thank you. Normal work can be appreciated and underlined. A quick email to the person that helped you is easy.
Sometimes you work with people that are dependent on your feature or vice versa. When it’s done, and you ship your code, you can send a note talking about that dependency and say, “because of you we could ship this code and because of these amazing reasons.”
However, it needs to be fair, don’t overstate the value of the interactions. It needs to be meaningful, so if you do it on too regular of a basis, you are losing the point. Thanking people for the work they do for you will help you build a stronger network. And when you build a career, those people will be supportive.
This all takes time to digest, internalize, and become a habit. There isn’t a perfect process for this - being thoughtful about how you manage your career is the most important thing to keep in mind.
People forget about building their network. The first two points are a bit easier because they get used to their job, but they do it without knowing it. Building the network is usually where people get tripped up the most. This is usually one of the first things people need to change.
The internal friction with bragging team members is reduced when you focus on building relationships. You need to find a balance between what is real and what is fake. A manager will know who is genuine and who isn’t from these relationships.
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