The Sensational Shift with Susan Bernstein, MBA, PhD
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Want a promotion? Don’t ask for it

Businesswoman climbing up a concrete staircase conceptIf you’re ambitious, you want to move up in your organization, right?

And if you’ve got the speed and drive of a Maserati, you might be tempted to confront your manager with your burning question:  “When am I getting promoted?”


While I’m all in favor of asking for what you want, you’re more likely to get what you desire with an approach that’s more collaborative. And well-timed.

So how do you ask for a promotion in a classy way, one that exponentially boosts your chances of moving up? 

To get you started, here’s a recent story of one of my clients who’s been hungry for a promotion. I trust the guidance I shared with her will work wonders for you, too.

It’s been barely two months since Alexandra stepped into her new job. And she’s already imagining her next role. Dreaming big is built into Alexandra’s DNA. Once she can envision something she wants, she moves forward in a bold, splashy way.

Alexandra made a lateral move within her company. She switched into a product development role for a new diagnostic tool. She’s already knows the process her company uses to transform product ideas into marketable scientific technologies. But what’s new to her? She’s got a ton to learn about the new device that’s her baby. She’s busy learning the science behind the device, why customers like or dislike it, and a whole lot more.

So when we were discussing her career future, Alexandra blurted out to me, “I just want to ask my new manager, “So, when am I getting promoted?” But I think that’s probably too brash, right?”

Yes, that’s too brash, Alexandra.

Here are the four elements I recommend in discussing your career future, so you increase your likelihood of landing the promotion:

(1) Make your promotion a win for everyone 

Too many people frame a future promotion solely in terms of their own need, like “I need more money,” or “It’s about time I get recognized,” or even, “I really want to keep learning and growing.”

Those are all nice reasons you want a promotion. But they’re solely about you.

You’re more likely to win a promotion if you frame it as a way to benefit your manager or the business.

So, ask yourself“If I get promoted, what’s the upside to my manager? What’s the benefit to the business?” 

In Alexandra’s case, she realized that her manager, Bethany, is absolutely swamped with work. If Alexandra moves up, she can take on a few of the staff, so Bethany can do more work on longer-term strategic planning, instead of managing so many people.

Also, if Alexandra can move into a more senior role, that responsibility would allow her to manager multiple projects simultaneously, rather than just one, as her current role allows. That would also free up Bethany even more.

Key Question:  What are the potential benefits to your manager and the organization to your future promotion? 

(2) Plan plenty of time to get promoted

The rookie mistake I see people make is asking for a promotion and expecting to get it within a few quick months. It rarely happens like that.

Rule of Thumb:  Don’t expect to be promoted into a new role until you’re already playing that role. 

In other words, why would someone promote you if they have doubts or concerns about your ability to do the role?

Be sure you understand the role or roles that could be next for you. Then, ask to be groomed for the new role. Then continually demonstrate you’re adding the new skills that prepare for the new role. And then gently remind your manager that it’s time for that promotion.

So, think about the role you desire. Then make a list of all the skills and abilities
you’ll need to acquire to move from your current role to a new role. Then, estimate how much time you’ll need to shift from your current role to a new one.

Then, when you meet with your manager, you two can work out a development plan to close the gap between where you are now and where you want to be. That will support you to be ready for that new role.

Key Question:  What’s the skill and knowledge gap between where you are now and where you want to be? What’s your proposed workplan to close the gap? 

(3) Announce that you want a promotion

If you want to be promoted, you need to say so, directly. I see too many people either beat around the bush and drop hints. Or they procrastinate about this. Or worse yet, they expect their managers to bring up the topic of promotion — and become resentful when their manager doesn’t do this.

In addition to speaking up, you need to discuss your desire in a way that can be heard.

Try this with your manager:  “I really enjoy my current role. And it’s very important to me to be able to continually grow and expand. Let’s talk about how I can do that.”

Your manager is likely to say, “What do you have in mind?”

That’s when you can say, “Well, I’d like to move into the Product Manager II role (or whatever the title of your desired role is) to use more of my skills in managing people and juggling multiple projects. I know I have some development to do to get there. I figure that by planning to grow into that kind of new role, I can take some of the burden off of you for managing so many employees and projects. It would be great to do my job now, while learning the ropes so I can move into a new role within six to nine months. How does that sound to you?”

You want to ask that last question, “How does that sound to you?” so that you open up a dialogue. Be ready for some objections, because your manager may see things differently than you. If that’s the case, be calm and avoid becoming defensive. Instead, get curious. Get a clear picture of what your manager needs to see from you, so he or she trusts that you’re ready for a promotion. 

Key Question:  How will you strategically announce that you want a promotion?

(4) Keep your manager actively engaged in your efforts for promotion
Think of your road to promotion as a stand-alone project, with milestones and checkpoints.

Get your manager actively engaged in planning your promotion by putting together a draft development plan. When will you get the skill development you need? And in what form?

Your own path to promotion might involve taking classes, getting mentoring, shadowing others, taking on special projects, and carving out time specifically for pivotal experiences, such as meeting with customers to understand their needs.

Then, schedule regular check-ins with your manager to document your progress. Set up these meetings at least monthly, if not more frequently. Share what you’ve been learning and how you’re growing.

Let your manager feel like she has an active hand in this path, even if it’s just to give feedback. You can help get her buy-in by asking open-ended questions like:

And, as you get closer to the date by which you and your manager originally agreed upon for a promotion, gently check in about the likelihood, with questions like:

When you stay actively engaged with your manager, constantly understanding how getting promoted can be valuable to your manager, your group, and your organization, you’ll be ready to move up, having built skills, connections, support, and trust.

So, what’s your next step to the promotion you want?
And when will you take it?

Struggling with how to earn a well-deserved promotion? I’d love to talk with you you. Reach out for a complimentary consultation.

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