April 23

How many years to get promoted, and how to make that faster

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I stared at my HR manager, wondering if I had heard wrongly.

I had just asked her what it was like to progress in the organisation. She smiled and then said,

sure, you will move from executive job grade 2 , up to grade 1, and then senior executive job grade 2, up to grade 1.

And after that, you will become a manager.

I stuttered.

So this means I will be waiting for about 5 years per promotion?

She nodded.

Want to celebrate your promotion? Here’s how.
Want to celebrate your promotion? Here’s how.

Walking out of that room, I wasn’t too sure how to react.

Surely there was something like a high-potential, accelerated programme? I had no patience, nor time, to wait 20 years, before I would become a manager.

That might be your experience.

You’re looking at your boss, and you’re wondering how to quickly rise through the ranks.

You shouldn’t blame them. It’s not really their fault.

It’s the manager above you who doesn’t leave

HR faces a difficult problem. If the manager above you doesn’t leave, they can’t do anything to chase that person away.

That’s why in the public service in Singapore, they have inflated titles so that most continue with an assistant manager role, after a few years in the job.

No matter how well you do, you might face a problem of progression within a job.

They also might find it hard to laterally transfer you, into a different department.

So what’s a better solution?

Nah, it’s not just clearing your to-do lists
Nah, it’s not just clearing your to-do lists

Start from the basics

I know it’s sexy to think about promotions. But if you’re not even doing well in your basic job tasks, there’s no point thinking about promotions.

Really.

In my first job, I started initiating multiple projects, thinking that would get me into the good books of my boss. It didn’t.

I ended up not being able to do my basic job functions well, and being issued instead with a Performance Improvement Plan (a get better, or get sacked plan).

My first advice?

Go back to your job description and make sure you’re checking off every task on that list at a 80-90% score.

If you’re not sure if you are, on your next 1 on 1 with your supervisor, ask him,

where am I not meeting the job tasks, and how can I improve?

It might push you to start being better at the work you do.

Know what your manager prioritises

In my next job, I quickly tried to find out what my manager’s priorities were. In my initial conversations with colleagues, I started asking,

so what’s the most difficult part of your job?

Where are the challenges?

Talking candidly about these helped them to give me ideas on how to identify the problems that my managers were facing.

Stephen Krempl, a speaker, author, and former head of Learning and Development for the likes of Starbucks, once said,

The number one reason the organisation hired you is to be a problem solver. Your job is to solve a problem.

Don’t look at problems as problems.

Many young kids go, “Oh my God, there’s so many problems here.” That’s the perfect opportunity!

But if your idea is that I have to come into a perfect situation where everything runs smoothly, then you have to think, “why did they hire you for?”

You need to know what problem you’re brought into the organisation to solve. If you don’t know, it’s time to find out.

The more pressing, strategic problems you solve for your manager, the more valued you will become.

Think of your manager as a client

Seeing your manager as client Seeing your manager as colleague
Learning to recognise what their needs are Expecting them to serve your needs
Recognising that you might be sacked anytime Thinking that a full-time job contract means that you will stay for a long time
Seeing the need to drive value for money, or get sacked as a vendor Not knowing what your pay is tied to in terms of performance

For two and a half years, I didn’t have a full-time job. This meant that I had to take on client projects, to get cash in the bank.

This approach led me to quickly understand where the problems were, and what the biggest drivers of value-creation for each client was.

Seeing your manager as a client (or customer, whichever way you would call it), means that you stop treating them as someone who owes you something.

They become customers whom you service.

It’s not just about kissing their ass and trying to please them. Rather, it’s about learning what is important to them, and making sure that they are served what they want, and also what they need.

It does depend on your manager, but I’ve come to see that good managers are able to celebrate the times when you’re able to push back, and help them to see things they have never seen before.

For example, one communication manager I worked with was extremely sharp. She had good ideas and could engage the mainstream media well.

But what she struggled with was the organic, digital marketing, which was new to her. But she was willing to learn.

Over the months, we started being able to share insights into digital marketing, and why that was important for the company.

And she slowly shifted her stance. We found ourselves in her good books again.

Sucking up to your manager might be the worst thing to do. You need to show that you’ve something special and new to add that makes them prize you more highly than everyone else.

You don’t have to tear your hair anymore.
You don’t have to tear your hair anymore.

It’s about being better than the rest

If you think about it, however much you like your colleagues, a promotion is a contest for limited resources.

Especially if you’re in a commercial or charity organisation, where resources are even more squeezed.

You thus have to make sure that you are more outstanding than the rest, and thus able to bring something new to the table.

It’s far better than just doing what everyone else can do.

I will close with this story.

In my first job, I struggled so badly that I was issued with a Performance Improvement Plan. In my next full-time job, I resolved to do something different.

I stopped focusing on the work, and started looking at the people. Understanding how to best work with them, and to learn their quirks.

Slowly, things improved.

Often we think that work is just about the output, but it’s also about what happens between colleagues, to make that output happen.

Focus on the people too.

 


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