Promotions: Not About Walking on Water, But Having a Productive Conversation

Once upon a time, in a workplace not so far away, I was informed by a manager that to be considered for promotion, I would need to “walk on water without getting my feet wet.” No, you didn’t read that wrong. If you’re as puzzled by that advice as I was, don’t worry, I have your back. 

Here’s how to have a more productive promotion conversation with your manager – no water-walking skills required:

Start with a heads-up

If you suddenly approach your manager about a potential promotion, you might be met with a look that borders on confusion or surprise. Remember, it’s not necessarily a reflection of your suitability for the role, but more likely a sign that they were caught off-guard. A bit of a heads-up goes a long way in ensuring both parties are prepared for the conversation.

Do your homework

Before your conversation, dive into any available resources about job levels or competencies within your organization. If you have specific questions, jot them down. If you want to discuss your accomplishments, prepare some notes. Doing your homework can help you approach the conversation with confidence.

Listen first, advocate later

While it might be tempting to launch into your pitch, it’s essential to listen to your manager’s perspective first. Ask clarifying questions if needed. By understanding their viewpoint, you can tailor your advocacy to be more effective and persuasive.

Promotions aren’t the be-all and end-all of career accomplishments, nor are they the sole measure of career success. But if you’re contemplating a promotion, or if the topic comes up with your team members, it’s worth addressing it upfront.

If a promotion isn’t on the horizon for you – whether due to business needs, role fit, or current competencies – it’s better to know. I suspect that was what my well-intentioned manager was trying to tell me, all those years ago.

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