Several years ago, I attended a luncheon on the politics of promotion. The most impactful part of the presentation was a story by a participant, Cathy, who described how she actively participated in her own promotion.
All too often, we hear about women who “keep their head down,” do great work, and expect their work to be recognized, rewarded, and reinforced. Just as often, we hear how men proactively participate in their promotions, claiming success on anything and everything they might have touched. Cathy’s story was unique—she shared a story about hacking her own promotion. This is what I learned listening to her story.
Gather Your Facts
To begin, Cathy collected data within her firm about who makes promotion decisions, how those decisions are made, and when the process begins. Much to her surprise, decisions were made over two months prior to their announcement, but the process started as much as eight months in advance. Armed with insight on these metrics, milestones, and decision-makers, she was able to map her case for the promotion.
Tap Your Radar
Women have an innate capacity to listen below the surface and understand what matters most to decision makers. Listening to Cathy’s story, I was reminded of how essential it is for women to leverage these strengths when pursuing promotions. While strengths like listening and empathy are good for one’s organization, they can also be good for individuals. Yes, this means you can use these skills to hack your own promotion.
Build Your Fan Base
While a lot of women are reluctant to do this, when it comes to promotions, having a fan base is essential. Foster allies. Know who they are and call up favors when you need to. Build networks. Also, don’t forget—strong networks are never unidirectional. They should include people up and down the organizational hierarchy, as well as peers. And when it comes to promotions, your entire fan base will matter, since higher-ups will pick up on broader perceptions of you within the organization. After all, if you have entry-level mentees and senior-level staff in your network alongside peers, you’re sending out a message that you’re a good mentor and collaborator but also someone who values the wisdom of experience.
Leverage Your Connections
Talking is often about blowing off steam and bonding, but it is also about much more. Be purposeful in your conversations in order to be intentional about your own career planning. Just because someone doesn’t know your work or isn’t in your industry, doesn’t mean they can’t guide you. Seek out mentors for their broader skillsets and not simply for their specific knowledge of your field.
Plan Your Own Career
Women don’t just multi-task but also “multi-mind.” In other words, they hold many different aspects of a project or problem in their heads at the same time. What is for dinner? Who needs new shoes? When do the kids need to see the dentist? Who needs what permission slip signed? Women plan. It is in our DNA. So why don’t we do this when it comes to our careers? As Cathy emphasized in her talk, once you know the metrics, you can plan. If you turn your planning skills on yourself (for a change), you’ll also start to see results.
Okay, sounds easy, right? Gather, tap, build, leverage and plan your way to your next promotion. In order to get there, however, you need to purposely work to transform how you engage in and think about your work too. This means creating more flow in everything you do. It means prioritizing what matters, including strategic relationships. It also means making the most of every encounter and opportunity. The good news is that most women already possess the communication, planning and multi-tasking (and multi-thinking) skills required to optimize their potential. As Cathy emphasized in her talk, it can be as simple as tapping into our core strengths.