Career Advice: What are the real reasons some people get promoted and others don’t? A good answer on Quora: http://qr.ae/RPcfqR The content is copied below, and credit is due to the poster Ramkumar Balaraman:
In most organizations, promotions aren’t correlated with hard work or technical know-how. The only exceptions are high-impact independent contributors, such as salespersons, real estate agents, surgeons, etc., or very junior level jobs where you are still an individual contributor.
Other than such exceptions, the likelihood of promotions are usually determined by:
- How well you understand your boss’s goals. Most hard-working employees put in extra effort to excel at their assigned goals. For fast-track growth, you need to instead expend the minimum effort it takes to meet your goals, and then spend the extra time in understanding your boss’s goals and helping him/her meet them instead. Understanding your boss’s goals is sometimes as easy as asking him/her.
- Whether you’re talking to your ‘real boss’. Point  can sometimes backfire if you’re doing it for the wrong boss. Sometimes you join a promising job after interacting with a senior hiring manager, only to find yourself slotted under someone who is only one level above you and is still trying very hard to prove himself/herself. Your chances of a promotion are quite bleak in these situations, unless you ‘recruit’ someone higher up in the hierarchy to be your ‘real’ boss. However its also very important that you do not bypass your assigned boss or make him/her feel threatened when doing so. This means the only person you discuss your assigned goals and responsibilities with is your assigned boss. However, your ‘real boss’ is the one whose office you walk into and ask if there is anything on his/her plate you can help with.
- How frequent your touch-points are. You could be working your ass off in your corner cube, and you may think its obvious to everyone how much of a difference you’re making, but its usually not. You may have heard about the need to keep seeking feedback and tried to do so, but found that there’s always something critical going on and there’s no time. Whenever you join a new job or project, its important to put weekly one-on-one recurring meetings on your boss’s calendar and monthly one-on-one recurring meetings with his/her boss. This is least odd in the beginning, but has a tremendous impact in both them being aware of your work, and you being aware of your progress and their goals.
- How well you understand the business. Ultimately businesses are in the business of making money. If you don’t get the ‘big picture’, i.e. what your cash flows look like, who your largest clients are, what their priorities are, what your competition is doing, where your industry is going, which parts of your business are the cash cows and which are emerging, etc., you will always come across as an individual contributor and seldom as a leader. Dedicate some time every day or week purely to understanding your business. It will make a big difference to the way you judge situations and the kind of reasoning you bring to meetings, and in turn, to whether people see you as a leader.
- Whether you have a track record of getting things done. What is often important to your boss and his/her boss is not how hard you are working, but whether you are getting things done. One part of this is your ability to speak in terms of business outcomes rather than individual tasks. People often claim that someone is moving up by politically taking credit for their work, but the fact is that the person who is able to articulate progress in terms of business outcome subconsciously gets credit for progress made by the entire team – its more common sense than politics. The other part of this is how you’re able to work with other parts of the organization to overcome obstacles, rather than simply report obstacles to your boss. A successful negotiator is also perceived as a good leader.
- How reliable you are. Many employees are very reluctant to say no, or to disagree with set timelines. Sometimes they see it as not really being a choice. Other times they are simply non-confrontational. Best case scenario you are overworked and meet your commitments. Worst case scenario you are overworked and miss your commitments. Either way you have no time to study your business and no time to work on higher-order goals. Your boss will also continue to make commitments on your behalf. You’re better off being the guy who calls it like it is right from the start, and consistently does so. You may find your boss to be disgruntled initially, since he may need to pass on the bad news to someone else, but you will always be appreciated for it in hindsight, which is what matters at the end of the day.
- Whether you ask for the resources you need. Employees often assume that its wrong to ask for resources to do their jobs. Sometimes a lot of your work can be cut down through the use of a software tool. Other times you’re doing a repetitive task that is not the best use of your time and you could be more productive if you hired an intern. A $500 software license may seem like a lot, but spread over a year, its often not much. Depending on how well you present your case, these are more often seen as evidence of initiative than evidence of indolence. They save you time that you can then spend on more important goals.
- How the rest of the organization sees you. Whenever you have an opportunity to help, no matter who the person is asking for it and whether it is related to your assigned duties or not, as long as you really are able to help or assist, do so. It will always come back when it matters. The exception is when someone is simply trying to move drudgery from his/her queue to yours.
- How much you respect both yourself and others. Ultimately people only respect you as much as you respect yourself, as well as how much you respect them. This does not mean becoming an egomaniac. It does mean valuing your colleagues and subordinates for the expertise they bring to the table, for this makes it easier for them to regard you as a leader. It also means you remain open to changing your mind if the evidence supports it. It also means you don’t become a yes man for the sake of it. A yes man may see temporary ascension under the wrong type of boss, but it never lasts. More often, your inability to disagree when a situation warrants it is also the same characteristic that lets people believe that they run the least risk if you are passed over for a promotion.
- Whether you ask for responsibilities, rather than promotions. In modern corporate culture, promotions do not bring you additional responsibilities. Rather, you are given a promotion because you’ve already taken on the responsibilities of the position you will be promoted to. Seeking (the right) responsibilities is easier than seeking a promotion, as long as you have everything else above nailed. A promotion will then be a natural result.
- Whether you know when to move on. Sometimes you seem to be doing everything right, but you continue to be passed over for that promotion year after year. You may not know all the reasons for not getting a promotion, even if you ask all the right people about it, but you will always know when you’re stuck in a dead-end job. Don’t live in perpetual denial. Break the cycle, move on and don’t look back. Remember that when you decide to move on, you really need to stick to it all the way. Never accept a counteroffer from your current employer no matter how attractive – the relationship never lasts.
The above rules apply only when you are trying to move into line management or middle management.
If you’re trying to move into senior management or executive leadership, you likely possess all of the above already. The power dynamics and the rules of the game have changed, however, and this is where conventional leaders often get stuck indefinitely, especially in large organizations. If you continue your current style of functioning, your only chance of a promotion is if your boss gets promoted, but you already know he’s been stuck there several years. You’ll often find, to your frustration, that even if your boss leaves, someone else is brought in to take his place. The key decision makers are usually a small team of top execs who may not even be in the same location as you are. Your access to them is limited to occasional large gatherings or workshops where you struggle to be noticed. You are likely well compensated and feel respected as the head of the group you manage, but feel like you’ve hit a brick wall within the organization.
There’s only one rule at this point: Make yourself redundant
I’ve seen this play out again and again so often it’s almost clichéd, yet never fails to be dramatic. The leaders who stay stuck are those who want to be involved in every decision in their team, for they can’t trust anyone else’s judgement better than their own. These leaders are perpetually buried in the details and their teams cannot operate in their absence. In contrast, the leaders who make the rapid ascent to the top are those who choose the right people within their team to take decisions for them, and empower them to do so with minimal oversight. They effectively make themselves redundant in the process.
This seems counter-intuitive; doesn’t making yourself redundant lead to a higher risk of a layoff? Apparently not.
These are also the leaders who then spend all the extra time they have piloting transformational initiatives, presenting at industry conferences, leading outreach programs, and thinking of as well as executing new and innovative ways of doing business within their group. They are often called to present their approach to top execs, and then help roll them out to other groups. They soon end up far more visible than their boss and become natural top candidates for the next senior leadership opportunity that opens up. Often, one is opened up for them. They’ve already eliminated any dependencies on themselves within their group, so they take very little time to move into a new opportunity when it opens up.
Such leaders epitomize the ideal of working smart and have fun doing it.