Haven't gotten that promotion? This may be why.

Make your intentions clear

The reason why you haven't gotten a promotion might be deceptively simple: Your boss doesn't know you want one, Sabina Nawaz writes for Harvard Business Review.

Leaders in your organization want to help you succeed, Nawaz writes. But they'll be more inclined to invest in you if you not only perform well, but also share your ambition to advance.

Nawaz compares the experience of two general managers (GMs) at a Fortune 500 company, both of whom had established a track record of success, garnered the high regard of their coworkers, and planned to eventually advance to a VP position. One employee, Jason, never expressly conveyed his goal to his supervisors. The other employee, Bohdan, took advantage of an executive retreat to seek feedback from the company's CMO and CEO about how to position himself for a VP role.

Two years later, Bohdan became a VP; Jason did not. Both GMs had shown their capabilities and delivered strong results but, unlike Bohdan, Jason had never asked his bosses what he would need to do to advance.

While you might think it goes without saying that you want a promotion, Nawaz writes, supervisors can't read your mind. Some workers are OK in their current positions, and not everyone is up for the pressures of the next level of their organization. Other employees might have their eye on a promotion one day—but don't feel ready to take the step quite yet.       

Nawaz acknowledges that some people might hesitate to ask about a promotion out of concern that they'll seem like "an aggressive and ambitious attention hound." But that's only a risk if you try too hard to impress senior management—just "asking the question and then backing up your request with a consistent track record pivots the focus from you and your wants to the well-being of the company," she writes.   

Nawaz breaks down the strategy to advance toward a promotion in three steps: 

  1. Share your overall career objectives with your manager at least once per year—and when you ask for feedback, make sure it addresses your desire to advance to your desired role;
  2. After discussing your plans with your manager, make sure your manager's supervisor and some of your manager's peers are aware of your intentions so they also can provide feedback; and
  3. Convey the breadth of experience you seek to build, as well as your flexibility on relocating for a new role, which will help you get considered for a broader range of positions.

"Moving up isn't just a perk; it's a responsibility," Nawaz writes. "Indicate that you're willing to take on all the challenges that come with the promotion, and your company's leaders are more likely to welcome you into their ranks" (Nawaz, Harvard Business Review, 1/5).

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