Working your Way Up

Devashish Chakravarty | Print Edition: October 2012

Devashish Chakravarty
The annual ritual of announcing increments, bonuses and promotions is often tedious for an employee with the suspense of what will be given this year. But, when an expected promotion does not come your way (reasons are offered rarely), how do you make sense of what went wrong? It is possibly because of one or more of three factors.

The first one is not in your control - the environment.

If others in your firm and industry have also missed promotions and bonuses, it might be that the sector is not doing well. It might also be that your company is facing problems. Ask around about promotions in competing firms. Also, it might be that you are part of a team or a project that is unprofitable to the firm. Check if your entire team has also been passed over for bonuses and promotions despite achieving targets comfortably.

If any of these is applicable, take stock of your situation. Do you expect the environment to change in the near future? If you don't, and you're not satisfied with the status quo, look at your options in moving from your present team, firm or industry.

The next cause is to do with your attitude and performance. Any legal or social blots on your record and consider yourself lucky to have a job. It could also be performance. You may not be acting the part, not acquiring the necessary qualifications, not taking on additional responsibilities or not marketing your achievements adequately.

Any of this can result in your firm not offering you an advancement, if only to give you time to develop.

If you were the person who showed no initiative, did only what was told and just met the targets, then you're probably not far from getting the pink slip when the company has to cut costs. A person who misses deadlines at the first hint of trouble and resists new initiatives and changes cannot be trusted to handle responsibility. Also, if you do not get along with team members and are not comfortable dealing with management, then the organisation would not want to promote you and risk antagonising valuable employees.

There are hints to identifying the reasons in the way your manager and your team interacts with you. Compare yourself with others in the team on the parameters mentioned. Figure out where you stand against those who were promoted or received bigger bonuses. If you do not compare favourably, maybe it is time to change the way you work.

The final reason may not be as obvious or evident as the other two. You may not have met the 'unspoken' expectations or displayed the skills and aptitude required for the promotion. There might be an unofficial set of 'rules' that guide promotions at your office. If you feel you are falling short, seek feedback from people in the know. Be open so that your seniors and managers find it easier to share inputs and criticism with you. Do not be defensive.

In the modern workplace, promotions come after you have already started handling responsibilities a level or more above. If you are not doing so yet, volunteer for the tasks and projects that let you take on some of your boss's burden. If your requests are denied, find out the reasons.

While technical skills are vital at junior levels, with increasing seniority you will have to acquire interpersonal and strategic skills. Each move up will require you to update yourself. Almost all the time, the organisation expects to see you display the skills and aptitude for an advanced role before they promote you.

Make sure that you are recognised as a leader among your peers. Your attitude should be accompanied by better than expected results. Show pride in your work and acquire the skills relevant for advanced roles in the firm. Get a mentor within the organisation, whenever possible, and make sure you mentor your successor for the role that you are going to vacate when you accept a promotion.

Finally, work to make your boss look competent. Maintain a cordial relationship with your manager so that both his work and yours goes on smoothly. Talk to him about what you have achieved, ask for promotions and treat each feedback as an opportunity and a step towards a goal. All of this might feel like too much work. Success invariably is. The promotion is worth it and is what matters most to you.


The ability to look at the big picture, the company, the market and to come up with long-term solutions is known as strategic perspective. A successful strategy brings growth and profits and promotions.

It is important to identify and attract top-notch managers who can in turn develop and manage high performing teams for you. An average level of teamwork could be acceptable at this level.

To get promoted, you need to display a mastery of how structures work and how systems interact. Use this ability to manage conflicts of interest and achieve goals by influencing people and organisations.

Implementing processes successfully is a strength as a middle manager. As the top man, you need to devise processes that deliver results without requiring you to micro-manage people and projects.

Not to be mistaken with charisma, which though nice is not essential. Personality is one that is flexible and evolves with the context. To grow, you would have developed a capacity to seek and learn from failures and feedback.

The writer is CEO, Quetzal Verify, an HR solutions company started by four IIM-Ahmedabad graduates.

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