You have been working hard, showing up for work every day, participating in meetings, producing output, not causing problems, and basically getting things done. And yet, each year your review comes and goes without your long deserved promotion.
Why are you not being promoted? Why does your company not understand your value?
Note: Before you read further you need to understand some of my points may not seem fair…that is because they are not. Repeat to yourself fairness does not trump truth and my view of fairness might not be my boss’s. If you want a promotion based purely on what you see as fair you may have wait a long time.
Things outside your control
Your boss is a jerk (incompetent, has an agenda, blind, etc…)
It is possible your boss just does not care about you or your career. He may feel threatened by your own ability. He may, in fact, be simply incompetent. The web is replete with bad boss anecdotes
about hopelessly clueless managers and there is a reason Dilbert is published in every major newspaper throughout the US. There are some really, really bad bosses out there and yours might be one of them.
If this is your situation you may have no other choice than moving to a new company. You cannot change your boss and if his superiors have not done anything yet to change the situation it is doubtful they ever will.
Before making this conclusion, however, make sure you read the rest of this blog entry…
There is no need for a new role
Promotions are not (or at least should not) be given as a reward. A promotion should be because there is need in the org chart for a person with a certain set of skills and responsibilities. Just because you are capable of a team lead or manager title does not mean the company has need of another team lead or manager. From the company’s perspective it would be fiscally irresponsible to create new roles simply because an employee has demonstrated appropriate behaviors.
Ultimately, a promotion is the intersection of ability and need.
If this is the case you either need to exercise patience and bide your time or, if you cannot wait, find another company with need for your particular skill-set. Make sure you talk to your boss first. There could be opportunities in the near future you are not aware of.
Things under your control
You are not as irreplaceable as you think
To be paid more you have to be worth more. Unless you work for the government or union, pay and promotions result directly from supply and demand. If there is someone else willing to work for less money than you there is no incentive for your company to pay you more. There is a reason a low-latency software engineer at a hedge fund can demand a salary many times higher than that of a mail room temp. Your HR department has done the research and knows what the going rate for your skill-set is. They have done the calculations; so should you.
Great, you may be thinking, your particular role is special. Your unique set of skills or so rare as to be nearly irreplaceable. Don’t bet on it. You may be smart but you are not that smart. I have seen, on several occasions, team members leave, fired, or die that we all thought would cost us horribly. It turned out in every case that we were fine. We had some difficulties and setbacks but operations were status quo again before we realized it. In every, single case it turned out that central person was not as important as we thought they were.
Every time I start getting too impressed with my own value I remember I am replaceable just like everyone else. You should too. Side note: if you truly are irreplaceable you should be more worried. It means your company can never promote you because they would have nobody to fill your spot.
Your work is not as good as you think it is
Fundamental attribution error
…people’s tendency to place an undue emphasis on internal characteristics to explain someone else’s behavior in a given situation, rather than considering external factors. It does not explain interpretations of one’s own behavior, where situational factors are more easily recognized and can thus be taken into consideration.
When things go well for us we attribute our own skill, and when they go bad we attribute our environment. When viewing other’s results we tend to see the opposite. In other words, we think we are better than we are and others luckier (and less skilled) than they are.
You are not exceeding expectations
You may believe the work you are doing is above pay-grade when, in reality, you may simply be doing what is expected of the role you are in. Personal experience is that most people have not taken the time to honestly evaluate how well they are doing. They have not benchmarked their skills against others. If you are not able to answer in concrete terms why your work exceeds expectations it probably doesn’t.
A couple specific questions to ask about the preceding 12 to 18 months:
- How have you shown leadership?
- How have you improved your skills?
- How have you gone above expectations?
- How have you provided extra value?
Each of the questions should then be followed with “…and would your peers agree?” You should be able to recite several concrete items for each question and have confidence a large percent of your peers would agree. When you put yourself in your coworker’s shoes and ask these questions about yourself you may have a different view on the quality of your work.
Also note that these questions are about the last 12 to 18 months. Just because you have worked extra hard over the last few weeks or had a few recent success does not mean it is time for a promotion. Career advancement is a marathon. Your boss is watching to be sure you can provide consistency over time.
Your work is not as visible as you think it is
You are not marketing yourself
If you have taken the time to do careful self-analysis and can honestly state that you have been producing results above expectations for a long period of time do not automatically assume others see this as well as you. You are hyper aware of your own activities for obvious reasons…you are the one doing them. Ask yourself how much you know about teammates work? What about those on other’s teams. Guaranteed, the fidelity of your understanding of other’s activities drops off precipitously as the number of degrees of separation increases between your work and theirs.
For the same reason you do not understand what they have been working is the same reason they don’t understand what you have been doing. Your value may not be known beyond your direct circle. This is especially true if you are an introvert.
Your efforts need visibility.
You expect more from your boss than you do of yourself
You may be thinking that understanding and marketing your value is your boss’s job. It is…partially. Remember, your boss has deliverables too and they don’t all involve you. Ask to look at his calendar sometime. You will see lots of meetings that have little or nothing to do with the things you are directly working on. Your boss can only know so much and can only do so much.
This is your promotion. This is your career. Do not wait for your boss to manage it. You should be spending several times the effort of your boss on managing your career. Do not delegate the responsibility of improving your skills, understanding your role, analyzing the needs of the company, and marketing your accomplishments to your boss.
You are not a supplicant asking for a handout. Do not wait for someone else to manage your career for you.