Why you didn’t get promoted…And what you can do about it

Performance appraisal season has just passed by or is around the corner, depending on which part of the world you are in. This time of the year brings with it, its share of complaints, jealous looks exchanged across the lunch-room, hush-hush conversations in corridors and celebrations over a promotion or pay-rise!

But what happens when you have been consistently rated a good performer, your colleagues like you, your manager depends on you, but you still don’t get promoted?

So why didn’t you get that promotion?

Let us list the usual suspects – your boss who is blind to your performance, that colleague who is scheming against you, the mechanical HR manager who is responsible for poor performance management policies, the “company” (read: senior management) who is unfair.

A lot of companies get performance management wrong. Sometimes performance management policies may be dated and not relevant to the current market realities and talent culture. Some managers can overlook good talent, and sometimes office politics does come into play.

This may not be the piece of the puzzle that you are looking for. Trying to frame the promotion question in a different way may give you a better answer. It may point to a path that will actually get you that promotion the next time around and that path need not necessarily be finding a new job, in a new company, with a new boss, new colleagues, new HR where performance management is ideal, and the world is fair.

Are you ready for a role change? A promotion means a change in role. It means that you would be doing something different than what you already are doing. An excellent salesperson need not necessarily be the right candidate to be a Sales Team Manager. The two roles are different.

Introspect. Make a list of what the “next” role is required to deliver. Make a list of the skills that are required. Check if you truly understand what the next role is. Is it different from what you are currently doing? Does it require certain skills, like people management? Does it require a higher level of competencies or different competencies from your current role? Make a list of tasks that you have done that demonstrate these skills, knowledge and competencies required for this role.

What can you do: Don’t wait for the promotion to learn the ropes. Get ready now!

Ask what the knowledge, skill and competency requirements of this role are. Ask specific questions about the tasks the “next role” performs. Upskill yourself for the knowledge, skills and competencies required for the next role.

  • Upgrade your knowledge constantly with formal certifications.
  • Practice for the “next” role – Volunteer to perform tasks or assist on tasks for this role. If you think that you are not being paid to do it, so why should you – You may never actually be promoted to do it! Its easier, and a “safe bet” to promote someone who already has practice of the skills that are required.
  • Internalize the competencies required for the next role and demonstrate these in your current role. It may mean that you stay longer to help a new employee learn a skill (shows that you are capable of coaching and mentoring); present a business idea that would help the company (entrepreneurship and business acumen) or volunteer to draw up a project plan and be the custodian of it (result-orientation

Is your role a “promotable” role? This is a tricky question to answer. And is usually mired in complex grade and designation structures that usually don’t have much to do with actual roles. Often, roles, grades and designations are all stirred into the same pot. This makes it difficult for people to understand the distinction between these three aspects, leaving them distraught when it comes to understanding how one moves up this ladder.

A role is simply the job that you perform. A grade is where the role is placed in the hierarchy. Now ideally, roles need to be compensated and positioned in grade structures in relation to a set of factors (like span of control, level of problem solving and impact on business).

Job-evaluations usually produce a ranking of roles. Based on this, roles can be assigned a grade. This means that the role is assigned a grade based on the number of “points” it has. This is independent of the person performing the role.

What can you do: Roles have a “grade ceiling”. For instance, if you are an accountant, depending on the scope, the span of control, the impact you have on business and the level at which you are problem-solving; there is a ceiling to what designation you can move to. You can get promoted to a higher grade if you start handling the accounting function for a larger territory or more lines of business.

If you have not been promoted, explore this: Is there more scope of growth in the span of control or business impact of the role? Can you handle more territories, or business lines? Don’t wait to be paid more, or promoted to take on more. Say “yes” to projects. Expand your span and scope of work.

If there a ceiling to how much more this role can expand, there is a grade ceiling to this role. Unless you pivot into a different role, or move to do something different, a promotion may not be on the cards. Think of taking on a different aspect of the function to move into the “next role”.

Does the company/ field of business have a need for this “higher” role? Nothing is more evident than the fact that technology is changing the way in which businesses work. A great example of this how insurance companies are automating: chatbots are answering queries, responding to emails and helping customers. Insurance underwriting is being automated rapidly. If you were in line to become Head of Customer Service in an insurance company, you need to reflect on what the role of Head of Customer Service will be in the future. The requirements for this role five years down the line will be quite different from what it is now, and successful companies prepare for their future, today.

What can you do? The promotion that didn’t come your way may be an indication for you to pivot, upskill or move to a different industry where your skills are valued.

Stay abreast of changes. Make sure your skills and the roles that you can perform are in-tune with what the future can bring.

A bot may not have taken over your role today but there are a lot of things that are changing – automation (even automation in a field different from yours can impact you), disruptive technologies and services, changing customers and markets. Proactively think about how your role can be done better or more effectively. Rather than wait for the organization to change, lead the change.

In a world where promotions are handed out like candy (especially when there are tall grade structures) or with-held, perceptions of unfairness can drive down employee engagement and productivity. It is of great benefit for organizations to look at how they can rationalize grades and roles. The subsequent results of this is clarity in how people can move within the organization to fulfil higher roles or new ones – answering the question of “build talent v/s buy talent”. This is usually a simple (yet critical) solution to ensuring higher employee engagement, better productivity or top-line and a healthy bottom-line.

If you are looking for help on managing performance management, promotions or talent management, then click here.