Your Plan to Get Promoted in 2020

Korn Ferry CEO Gary Burnison on what it really takes to climb the corporate ladder.

Published: Jan 8, 2020

Whenever I give career advice, the one question I am asked more than just about any other is, “How can I make more money?” Usually that means adding skills, taking on more responsibilities—and getting a promotion.

It does take a lot of gumption for people to ask for what they want—and that’s legit. This conversation could be awkward and intimidating, and it carries the risk of getting an answer of “no.”

Rather than go through that discomfort, a lot of people wait for the boss to make the first move. Or, they think they’ll get picked for some fabulous opportunity like a fish getting plucked out of the sea. 

The fact is if someone keeps their head down and does their job—even a great job—that doesn't necessarily guarantee an automatic promotion. 

To get promoted, people need to take control and own the process. That means getting comfortable with being the “squeaky wheel”—not with demands and complaints, but by asking for what you want—and to demonstrate why you should get it.

Before you decide to take the leap, consider whether you’re ready for this next step. (And this applies at every level.) You’re not turning in this homework, so be honest with yourself: 

- Are you just looking for a better title and a higher salary—or are you truly interested in advancing?

- How replaceable are you?

- How indispensable are you, particularly to your boss? When and where are you the “go-to” person who gets things done?

- What was the last thing you learned that makes you better at your job to position yourself to do even more?

Timing Is Everything

Once you have a handle on why you want to be (and should be) promoted, the next step is to think about how to go about that—and when.

Just because you spent your holidays mulling over your future doesn’t mean your boss did, as well. In fact, during the first few weeks of the new year, promoting someone—while important—is probably the last thing on your boss’s mind

So instead of pacing by the boss’s office, waiting for that “perfect moment” to launch into why you should be promoted, relax. This is not a transaction—one and done. Getting promoted is part of your ongoing relationship-building with your boss. 

You should already be having regular check-ins with your boss around short-term goals and deliverables, and what you’re doing to help achieve them. As you discuss what you’re currently doing and what needs to be done, it’s an easy segue to how and where you can do more. 

That’s why you need a P.L.A.N. for how to think and act in every conversation with your boss—especially when discussing a promotion.

P - Positivity

Conversations should be approached positively, not negatively. Your boss will be far more receptive if you’re optimistic about pursuing new opportunities rather than being a downer who’s complaining about not being promoted. A positive conversation doesn’t center on what you want—rather, it’s about what you can give. You want to convey a sense of loyalty: to the job, to the boss, to the company. You’re all-in, not only for what needs to be done, but also for how you do it. 

L – Learning

Learning is the number one determinant of how much you’ll earn over your career. Beyond being the pathway to bigger and better opportunities, learning also carries intrinsic value. You’ll be more engaged and know that you make a difference. That’s why every job you take—including that promotion you want so badly—should come with ample learning opportunities. You want challenging job tasks where you must perform and face the real risk of failing.

A - Accomplishments

You need accomplishments, not just activity. After all, players aren’t rewarded for simply shooting the ball—it has to go through the net. That’s how the team wins. It’s the same in business. Make a list of what you’re actually accomplishing to help your team win. 

N - No

What if that’s the answer? What will your reaction be? While most people don’t like to think about this possibility, it pays to consider it—just in case things don’t go exactly as you hope. First, stay positive. Second, try doing more—it may be that the answer really isn’t “no”; rather, it’s “not yet.” Third, as a backup, it doesn’t hurt to start targeting other opportunities, both inside and outside the company. Whatever you do, don’t quit. The best time to get a job is when you have a job.

One last thought: when you get promoted, more is going to be asked of you: more work, more hours, bigger goals, and more responsibilities. Not much in life is free—you’ll need to be all-in.

The ultimate career guide, from Korn Ferry CEO and New York Times best-selling author, Gary Burnison
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