Since I’ve gone off the road of being an individual contributor on teams to being a business leader, I’ve found myself getting a lot of requests for advice from my direct reports and other members of the organization who trust me or have good working relationships with me. One of the most popular questions I get from people is, “What can I do to get promoted and progress in my career?” That is 100% understandable, after all, everyone wants to work on something meaningful and be rewarded with opportunities to grow and do bigger things in the process. I’ve been fortunate to be offered a lot of responsibility in my short career so far, and have been fortunate to have given people opportunities for growth, help mentor them to fill in skill or behavioral gaps and offered them promotions. Here are the few surefire things that makes someone a prepared candidate for promotion in my books, and that of most of the executives I have worked with.
- Perform excellently – One of the first things you should do when given a role on a team is being 100% clear about what is expected of you. What skills, metrics and behaviors constitute a well rounded performer in your role. Exceeding expectations at these requirements consistently puts you in the clear for growing and making progress within the organization. If you don’t understand what the expectations are for you in that role, or are not in agreement with the expectations, then you shouldn’t be in that role.
- Have an eye for opportunities – As you go about playing your role on the team on a daily basis, be known for being the one who sees opportunities for improvement or innovation within the organization. As opposed to just suggesting and letting someone else run with it, do some preliminary work. Read through the stories of two sales team members below.
Example 1 – John, a high performing member of the sales team suggested that implementing a CRM instead of the spreadsheet used today would increase the team’s productivity significantly and be really cool for the team. He told his boss, Lily. Lily thought it was a great idea but was too busy with quarterly reviews to do a value assessment, create a business case and support an implementation. After quarterly reviews, Lily took a vacation. She forgot about John’s idea.
Example 2 – Sarah, a high performing member of the sales team suggested that implementing a CRM instead of the spreadsheet used today would increase the team’s productivity significantly and be really cool for the team. She found out that implementing Salesforce, Zoho CRM or Pipedrive increases productivity by 42% for the average less than 50 person sales team according to research done by McKinsey. She also found out that Pipedrive is the most cost effective and user friendly option for the team after having 4 other members of the team demo all the options. She told her boss, Tom. Tom was impressed by the preliminary work she did and was specifically attracted to the level of productivity his sales team would have if the opportunity was explored. Tom was busy with quarterly reviews, but had Sarah schedule calls with all the vendors to discuss implementation. After the calls, Tom decided to go with Salesforce instead, but made it an objective for Sarah in the next quarter to help get Salesforce implemented. After Salesforce got implemented successfully, yielding the team high gains in productivity, Sarah was promoted to become the Sales Operations Manager.
- Offer your help – Always look for chances to ask your team members, including your bosses how you can help make their role on the team easier, and be willing to give your time and capabilities to help. Our society and innate inclination is to ask for what we want. We are naturally conditioned takers, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with that. After all, the universe rewards people who know what they want and are willing to do what it takes to get it. However, an easier and more effective way to grow and learn is to look for chances to volunteer our help to other people. Not only does this make us better team players, it helps earn the visibility we need to exhibit what we are capable of, and be top of mind when opportunities to advance become apparent within the organization. The simple question is, “How can I help?” Don’t take on so much that you can’t perform excellently at your current role, but be willing to give your time, even off the clock, to help other people succeed. Chances are that they will also be rooting for your success.
- Be positive – One thing I learned earlier in my career is that there is a lot of negative energy being passed around by default. Put on your TV, read the news, listen to people talk about the things that worry them and chances are that you have had your fair dose of negativity for one day in a very short span of time. Be that one person that is always ready to reframe difficult, albeit, negative situations and help your team members see the good while still being realistic. This is always a refreshing attitude to life that everyone admires, and will enable your team members see you in a good and empowering light. Sometimes, people get tired of positive people, but they always have good things to say about them. They love working with them; and if capable and ready, will offer them available opportunities for growth within the organization. Also, in the world of people, nothing positive ever results from negative energy. Let go of that stank.
- Be fun and easy to work with – Not to be confused with being too agreeable, be a fun and easy person to work with. Respect other people’s hustles, quirks and emotions. Be cognizant about them and do your best to live within the confines of them, this is a team. Don’t undermine other people’s work and only be in a competition with yourself to be better than you were, not better than any other person. When you have disputing opinions, share them in a respectful and constructive way that enables your team members see ‘why’ even if they don’t agree with you. The world does not revolve around you, don’t take yourself too seriously. We’re all dying anyway (full stop, tongue-in-cheek.) Even if you’re not a smiling type of person, smiling every once in a while never hurt anyone.
Finally and above all, good enough is never good enough. Coming in to do your job well and going home is never enough to shoot your rocket out of orbit. Doing good enough will not earn you that promotion. Good enough and even more always trumps just good enough. As is popularly said, go above and beyond. Always do the right thing and always stay true to yourself. Excellence is easier that way. This is not an exhaustive list and has definitely been oversimplified to fit ~1,000 words, but I hope you’ve learned just as much as I have putting this piece together. Internalize, and share. Comment if you have more ideas.