I often work with talented, experienced Architects who come to me feeling like they have hit a wall in their career. They have been with the same firm for ten years or so. They put in the hard work, have met or even surpassed performance expectations year after year. Yet, opportunities for advancement rarely came their way. Instead, these hopeful up-and-comers find themselves passed over for promotions that often get extended to their younger, less experienced peers.
Why would some young, relatively new hires get quickly promoted in a firm while, other hardworking, more senior talent is overlooked?
The Changing Rules of Advancement
Over the past 15 years, there has been a fundamental shift in the way business leadership is defined, identified, and cultivated. Gone are the days when pay raises and increasing responsibility just came with time and hard work. Now, if you want to get ahead professionally, then you have to actively work to create and manage your own career path, and it’s a journey that could take you through multiple departments, organisational layers, and firms. You don’t need to just work hard. You have to work smart and take the initiative to groom yourself for advancement.
Remember that for every motivated go-getter in a firm, there are plenty of other people who are more or less satisfied with their salary and level of responsibility. Then, there are the under-performers.
Every firm wants sharp, hard-working, experienced leaders at the top, and they are tasked with identifying who has the real potential and motivation to get there versus those who are relatively comfortable with where they are. If you want to be identified as potential senior leadership material, then you have to make the moves that will show up on the “leadership radar” of the key decision-makers.
This process starts by recognising that the knowledge, skills, accomplishments, and even behaviours which got you to where you are today are important. But, they may not by themselves take your career to the next level.
The Three Pillars of Promotion at Work
Learn to change your mindset and put yourself on the radar by following three universal pillars of promotion:
Pillar #1: Be your own spokesman. Your hard work won’t speak for itself; you have to let people know what you do well. Expecting recognition to just happen is a big mistake that many good, talented people make. If you want to get ahead, you absolutely have to tell people what you have accomplished and what you can do and then prove to them that you are good at it. If you don’t, you risk being perpetually overlooked.
Of course, context is everything, and there is a difference between bragging and smart self-promotion. So, be on the lookout for openings where it would be appropriate to mention what you accomplished. Even better, create such an opening yourself by getting the other person to bring up the topic.
An important aside to this strategy is that you want key people to know that you are good at the things that matter. So, if you would like to be promoted to a particular position, then you have to find out what knowledge, skills, and other qualities are needed in order to fulfil that role and then make it a point to highlight them.
Pillar #2: Be helpful. What are the struggles and challenges that key decision-makers are facing? Figure it out and then make an effort to ease their pain by creating something new, or innovating on something that already exists in order to make it more powerful or easier to use. For example, identify a new sector, production process, or product designed to improve the business. Alternatively, you could help to make an existing service or practice better- whether it’s how you structure your fees, coordinate project teams, track employee performance, or invoice clients. Innovation can happen at every stage and level.
Pillar #3: Be visible. Make an effort to have contact with your peers and leaders- not just in your team, but in other ones as well. If there are no formal mentoring programs in your firm, then try to set something up informally. You should also make the most of company social time and elective initiatives, such as a company-wide charity program. Having a strong, internal reputation creates more opportunities to be assigned to that big project, be considered for an upcoming promotion, or get invited to join the firm’s senior leadership track.
As the new year gets under way, it’s the perfect time to take the reigns of your career development and advancement. If you want to advance professionally, then you have the power to scope out your options and create for yourself the best, most fulfilling opportunities.