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What are the Real Reasons People Get Promoted and Others Don’t?

What are the Real Reasons People Get Promoted and Others Don’t?

If we want to move onwards and upwards in our careers, we need to climb the ladder. It may seems like it’s a long game of politics but that is not always the case. There is usually an element of fogginess and it’s not entirely transparent how the promotion process works, so what are the real reasons that people get promoted or not?

Jason M. Lemkin, CEO and Co-Founder of Echosign which was acquired by Adobe and then worked as a VP in Adobe provides some insights into the process from his personal experience as found in his Quora Answer (Thanks to Jason for letting us share this answer).

get promoted 2

    I’d like to provide some insights from my experience as a VP as a leading F500 tech company, and as a reasonably successful start-up CEO.

    Promotions in the F500 are indeed complicated, but let me focus instead first on Performance Reviews, which is a penultimate step to promotion, and something in my F500 experience that materially impacts your compensation.

    And here is my learning.  Reviews go into High, Strong, Good, and Needs to Improve basically in all Big Tech Cos.  (Some have SuperHighs, but that’s rare).  And in my experiences, even at Adobe, even at a F500 leader with 10,000 employees … there were zero politics in becoming a HighBecause it’s so clear who the Highs are.  

    The only real issues, the politics, is the fact that some groups have too many High candidates (often the outperforming products), and some have too few, which warps the curves a bit.  So it’s actually harder to be a High in an outperforming group than an underperforming group.

    Having said all that … really no politics.  This was pretty surprising to me.

    Now, of course, not every High can get promoted.  But even the promotions, while not always the decisions I might make or you might make — were always based on results.  

    I know some of you will say your experience is different, but I’m going to suggest once you strip away the emotion, and once you see how the sausage is really made … that it’s probably the same in any growing tech company of any scale that has solid, experienced management.

    So now, How to Get Promoted?  In both (x) my Big Tech Co experience, and (y) my post-20-50 employees in a strong start-up experience, to get promoted, here are my learnings:

    1. Demonstrate successful leadership. 

    This is what everyone is looking for.  Everyone.  Someone to take and carry the load.  As long as you have an experienced boss — they will take notice.  Because what we all really need ishelp — real help getting our initiatives done.  If you can get one of my key initiatives done for me — not talked about, not analyzed, not discussed, butdone — you are a rockstar.

    2. Work in a hot or at least warm area of the company.

    No need to promote anyone in the EOL’d (End of Life)  products — though it does happen.

    3. Don’t schmooze.  Just engage and be positive and respectful.

    Schmoozing is a turn-off.  Instead, as you Demonstrate Leadership, also positively (never negatively) engage with your peers and colleagues outside of your small group.  Be critical as needed — but always positive.  Naked criticism will get you worse than nowhere, it will get you in the cellar.  Your peers’ feedback, even if just informal and word-of-mouth … is critical to your promotion.

    4. Don’t sell up. 

    Yes, I know selling up sometimes “works” in Big Companies, but it doesn’t really get you promoted  — and really it’s a sign you are weak.  Focus instead on selling down, and selling across.  On getting your colleagues to follow your ideas and insights.  That’s how you demonstrate true leadership.

    5. “Dress” for success.

    I don’t mean that completely literally (but yes, dress a little better than the rest, it can’t hurt).  I mean act and carry yourself like someone that cares.  That always goes the extra yard.  Never look at the carpet, or yawn.  Never be late to a meeting — ever.  Always be positive, give constructive feedback, but never destructive feedback.  Never be cocky, but be confident in what you know is correct.

    6. (Try) to Be Patient. 

    Even if you do everything right, there can only be so many promotions.  It may take another whole year.  This isn’t politics per se, but companies of any size have a finite number that can make.  Don’t give it more than one extra year, but assume it will take one more cycle than it should.

    7. Ask.

    Ask your boss how and what it will take to get promoted.  If you don’t ask, you probably won’t get.  Just be ready to get some tough feedback when you ask, and be ready to grow, change, and learn.

    8. Working Hard and Doing a Good Job Is Insufficient. 

    Again, promotion in Big Cos and tech companies of any scale is about leadership, and in many cases, management.  You’ll get well paid if you work hard and do a good job.  You just won’t get promoted all that far.
    Just my learnings / observations in the BigCo.  I’d say all but the second point also apply to start-ups too.

    I know some companies are much more fracked up than this.  But I think / hope maybe 50% of the well run ones work just this way.

    Featured photo credit: A girl with sunset on the mountain in silhouette via Shutterstock

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    Hoi Wan

    Hoi is a mobilist who blogs about technology trends and productivity.

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    Last Updated on March 29, 2021

    5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

    5 Types of Horrible Bosses and How to Beat Them All

    When I left university I took a job immediately, I had been lucky as I had spent a year earning almost nothing as an intern so I was offered a role. On my first day I found that I had not been allocated a desk, there was no one to greet me so I was left for some hours ignored. I happened to snipe about this to another employee at the coffee machine two things happened. The first was that the person I had complained to was my new manager’s wife, and the second was, in his own words, ‘that he would come down on me like a ton of bricks if I crossed him…’

    What a great start to a job! I had moved to a new city, and had been at work for less than a morning when I had my first run in with the first style of bad manager. I didn’t stay long enough to find out what Mr Agressive would do next. Bad managers are a major issue. Research from Approved Index shows that more than four in ten employees (42%) state that they have previously quit a job because of a bad manager.

    The Dream Type Of Manager

    My best manager was a total opposite. A man who had been the head of the UK tax system and was working his retirement running a company I was a very junior and green employee for. I made a stupid mistake, one which cost a lot of time and money and I felt I was going to be sacked without doubt.

    I was nervous, beating myself up about what I had done, what would happen. At the end of the day I was called to his office, he had made me wait and I had spent that day talking to other employees, trying to understand where I had gone wrong. It had been a simple mistyped line of code which sent a massive print job out totally wrong. I learn how I should have done it and I fretted.

    My boss asked me to step into his office, he asked me to sit down. “Do you know what you did?” I babbled, yes, I had been stupid, I had not double-checked or asked for advice when I was doing something I had not really understood. It was totally my fault. He paused. “Will you do that again?” Of course I told him I would not, I would always double check, ask for help and not try to be so clever when I was not!

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    “Okay…”

    That was it. I paused and asked, should I clear my desk. He smiled. “You have learnt a valuable lesson, I can be sure that you will never make a mistake like that again. Why would I want to get rid of an employee who knows that?”

    I stayed with that company for many years, the way I was treated was a real object lesson in good management. Sadly, far too many poor managers exist out there.

    The Complete Catalogue of Bad Managers

    The Bully

    My first boss fitted into the classic bully class. This is so often the ‘old school’ management by power style. I encountered this style again in the retail sector where one manager felt the only way to get the best from staff was to bawl and yell.

    However, like so many bullies you will often find that this can be someone who either knows no better or is under stress and they are themselves running scared of the situation they have found themselves in.

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    The Invisible Boss

    This can either present itself as management from afar (usually the golf course or ‘important meetings) or just a boss who is too busy being important to deal with their staff.

    It can feel refreshing as you will often have almost total freedom with your manager taking little or no interest in your activities, however you will soon find that you also lack the support that a good manager will provide. Without direction you may feel you are doing well just to find that you are not delivering against expectations you were not told about and suddenly it is all your fault.

    The Micro Manager

    The frustration of having a manager who feels the need to be involved in everything you do. The polar opposite to the Invisible Boss you will feel that there is no trust in your work as they will want to meddle in everything you do.

    Dealing with the micro-manager can be difficult. Often their management style comes from their own insecurity. You can try confronting them, tell them that you can do your job however in many cases this will not succeed and can in fact make things worse.

    The Over Promoted Boss

    The Over promoted boss categorises someone who has no idea. They have found themselves in a management position through service, family or some corporate mystery. They are people who are not only highly unqualified to be managers they will generally be unable to do even your job.

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    You can find yourself persistently frustrated by the situation you are in, however it can seem impossible to get out without handing over your resignation.

    The Credit Stealer

    The credit stealer is the boss who will never publically acknowledge the work you do. You will put in the extra hours working on a project and you know that, in the ‘big meeting’ it will be your credit stealing boss who will take all of the credit!

    Again it is demoralising, you see all of the credit for your labour being stolen and this can often lead to good employees looking for new careers.

    3 Essential Ways to Work (Cope) with Bad Managers

    Whatever type of bad boss you have there are certain things that you can do to ensure that you get the recognition and protection you require to not only remain sane but to also build your career.

    1. Keep evidence

    Whether it is incidents with the bully or examples of projects you have completed with the credit stealer you will always be well served to keep notes and supporting evidence for projects you are working on.

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    Buy your own notebook and ensure that you are always making notes, it becomes a habit and a very useful one as you have a constant reminder as well as somewhere to explore ideas.

    Importantly, if you do have to go to HR or stand-up for yourself you will have clear records! Also, don’t always trust that corporate servers or emails will always be available or not tampered with. Keep your own content.

    2. Hold regular meetings

    Ensure that you make time for regular meetings with your boss. This is especially useful for the over-promoted or the invisible boss to allow you to ‘manage upwards’. Take charge where you can to set your objectives and use these meetings to set clear objectives and document the status of your work.

    3. Stand your ground, but be ready to jump…

    Remember that you don’t have to put up with poor management. If you have issues you should face them with your boss, maybe they do not know that they are coming across in a bad way.

    However, be ready to recognise if the situation is not going to change. If that is the case, keep your head down and get working on polishing your CV! If it isn’t working, there will be something better out there for you!

    Good luck!

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