Getting Promoted – The Data and Implications for Everyday Leaders


Getting Promoted – The Data and Implications for Everyday Leaders


A big thanks to the 900+ people who answered last week’s brief survey on what gets people job promotions.  The results are fascinating, so I’ll summarize the two clear takeaways.

First,  how fair are promotions?  When asked how people had been treated in promotion situations over their work lives, and given four choices: Totally fairly, fairly, questionably and unfairly the numbers broke like a statistician’s dream.  By a 75-to-25 margin people felt promotions were fair – totally fair (22%) or fair (53%) – over unfair – questionable (20%) or unfair (5%).  I was a bit surprised – are you? – that only one in 20 felt they had been treated unfairly.  In organizations with less than 25 people, a remarkable 2.1% said they’d been treated unfairly, while in organizations with over 1,000 people, the unfair number rose to 7.5%.  That surely tells you something.

Second, what really matters for getting promoted?  I asked about the importance of eight different factors – from “having the qualifications,” to “demonstrating results at your current position” to “having connections” with higher ups, or being seen as “bought in to the culture.” (I threw in “sucking up” because that’s what you hear the groaners say.)  Only two factors were rated as “essential” to promotion.  And these were seen as essential both when people were talking generally about promotion, but also when they were asked about their personal experience.  They were:

1.  Demonstrating results at your current position.

2.  Being seen as a person who goes over and  above what’s expected.

These both out-ranked things like “having connections” or “having credentials” or “having the qualifications” for the open position.  To me they say two things to both managers and those who work for them.  I’ll start with the second of the facts above:  If you want to have a higher-up job, act like you already have it.  Don’t meet expectations, surpass them. Proactivity matters and attitude is critical.  It makes me wonder two things: (1) How many workers have the goal of  exceeding expectations?  And (2) How many managers have the goal of helping their direct reports to exceed expectations?  It would seem the first question leads to promotion and the second leads to productive and loyal workers.

Finally, a word about the # 1 standout factor in promotions: demonstrating results in your current position.  I suspect that the major issue here is truly knowing what those expected results are.  Having completed my last review of a state employee last week – at a time I was poring over these survey results – I was overwhelmed with the importance of being crystal clear to my assistant about what results I expected.  It seems obvious. But so often, critical expectations remain unspoken by managers. No less than 4 of the 5 guests on my radio show on the topic of job promotion this week talked about the importance of “unwritten rules.”  Well, if workers can’t read ’em, how can they be accountable for them?  We stand to gain so much in productivity of our workers, so much in their growth, so much in their loyalty, and so much in our organizational results if we work to become insanely clear about just what the results are that we’re after.

You can see the summary data of the survey here.  I’d love to hear your comments on the data, my conclusions here, or the role of promotions and management to help you to

Lead with your best self!