At this time of year, many companies are completing annual reviews for employees, and many people are thinking about promotions. First, I want to say that in my experience, while promotions can be great in terms of resume building, validation from others, and can often come with salary increases, they are not the only “holy grail” in terms of building your career. I have found that what really counts is increasing scope and responsibility, the chance to learn new skills and the opportunity to challenge yourself to do more. Those things can come with promotions, but a promotion is not required to attain them.
That said, wanting to be promoted as a way to keep moving forward in your career is perfectly reasonable. For those of you for whom this is top of mind, I thought I’d share some tips about what I have seen work, both in my own career and for the many people I have had the joy to promote over the past 15+ years.
Usually, my posts cover suggestions of actions I believe are helpful to take in order to achieve your goals. This time, I thought I would cover a few things not to do or say when you are trying to get promoted in order to help people avoid the pitfalls I’ve seen happen before. Here are three things it’s best not to say on your path to a promotion:
1. “That’s not my job.”
The very nature of a promotion is that you will be moving into a job that is different and larger than the one you currently have. People are usually promoted when they are already demonstrating that they can perform at a level that is beyond the role they are currently in, so by definition you will be doing work that is “not your job.”
In addition, I have seen over and over again, that people who volunteer to do work that needs to be done, even when outside their role or even their function, are often seen as the “go to” people within their organization. Those “go to” people are the most trusted, and the most likely to be promoted, because they’ve already shown they can take on more than what they are currently doing. You want to be one of those people. And they never say, “that’s not my job,” even when asked to do something that may seem smaller or less important than their current role.
Of course, this doesn’t mean just saying yes to everything; it is still necessary to prioritize your work to ensure you can meet the commitments you make to people. It does mean saying yes to more things and pushing yourself outside your comfort zone.
2. “That wasn’t my fault.”
People who ascend rapidly through organizations know that when something goes wrong, the most critical thing to focus on is how to fix the problem, rather than to play the blame game and determine whose fault it was. While it is important to diagnose how problems occurred in order to prevent them in the future, understanding and sharing that information broadly is more important that pointing to people who may have been responsible or denying accountability, whether or not you were directly involved.
The people who step up to help fix problems, whether they were involved in causing them, are the ones most likely to be chosen for promotions. And, people who readily do accept responsibility for problems caused by their own mistakes are seen as more accountable and more trustworthy.
Also, if no problem is ever caused by you, it likely means you aren’t taking enough risks. People who take risks will fail from time to time, and at those times, admitting it was your fault and saying how you learned from the failure is the best way to rise above your mistake and keep yourself on path to promotion. People who are willing to take chances, learn from their own mistakes, and broadcast those lessons to others are more likely to be promoted, since it is clear they are already functioning well independently and don’t need to be managed closely. At Change.org, we have instituted a concept we call the “Festival of Failure” to encourage people to take more chances and then (quickly) celebrate any failure that results and share the lessons with others so we can think big and try a lot of creative ideas without making the same mistake multiple times.
Accepting responsibility and taking ownership are critical at all levels of leadership. In Jim Collins’ book, Good to Great, where he examines what defines leaders of great companies, he describes the ultimate “level 5” leaders as people who “look in the mirror to assign blame, never citing external factors.” Owning your own mistakes will help you on your promotion path all the way to senior leadership positions.
3. “That isn’t going to work.”
It’s true; some ideas just won’t work. However, the employees whom I’ve seen be the most successful within organizations are the ones who build on others’ ideas rather than cut them down. Even if your first instinct is to say an idea is a bad one, try the old improvisational acting technique of “Yes, and….”
In improv comedy, when you enter a scene and someone gives you a crazy storyline, there is a rule that says you need to run with it in order to keep the scene moving forward in a positive (and hopefully funny) way. So instead of saying no, or changing the subject, you say “Yes, and…” and then build on the other person’s’ idea. This “additive thinking” has now become a common theme in the design thinking approach that is becoming increasingly used in businesses around the globe.
People who can master this technique of encouraging others and helping build on their ideas are more likely to be promoted because they are actively demonstrating several of the key skills required to be a strong leader. Conversely, people who take a generally negative view or a “that’s not how we do it here” approach are less likely to ascend to leadership positions. It’s not about being positive for the sake of positivity, but rather the belief that – by building on top of the spark of an idea, even one with some weaknesses at first glance – we can ultimately get to a better outcome.
So, on the path to promotion, I’ve seen that expanding beyond the scope of your role, taking risks and admitting to your mistakes, and building on the ideas of others can really make a difference. What advice do you have about things to do or not to do on the path towards promotion? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
Jennifer Dulski is president and COO of Change.org, the world’s largest platform for social change. With more than 50 million users around the world, Change.org empowers people everywhere to create the change they want to see. http://change.org
Photo credit: pasukaru76 on Flickr