I often see the most hardworking and diligent IT professionals get passed up on for promotions in a large corporate setting. Eventually they get discouraged as they watch their less productive colleagues progress rapidly and show off their new fancy titles… How does this happen?
Actually, there is a simple explanation. Adding value is a relative term. While you have given up your sex life to meet deadlines and put out fires, your executive team may be looking at a bigger picture and have little to no appreciation for your efforts. Sure, you have ultimate respect from your peers and lots of friends at the office but it doesn’t help you move forward. It’s time to change your strategy. There are two key aspects to keep in mind: adding value and visibility.
Adding value to your organization is most likely what you’ve been doing already, but the secret is to add value where it counts towards your promotion. Don’t get carried away and manage your time wisely: in today’s corporate culture you don’t get brownie points for working around the clock. This type of dedication may actually work against you, making you look inefficient or even threaten your boss. The safe bet is to mirror the successful leaders in your company and keep similar hours. Now, make a short list of folks who are directly or indirectly in charge of your corporate future. Meet with them and get a clear understanding of what matters to them in your performance.
To your surprise, these may end up being the silliest things, like regularly updated dashboards. How can these seemingly insignificant tasks mean so much to them?! Of course you didn’t have time for a pretty chart: you were busy completing a critical business upgrade. However, their role could have entailed the justification of spending on that very upgrade and they didn’t have a comprehensive chart on hand to be effective – the chart they felt you should have provided.
Change your priorities in conjunction with theirs. Leave nothing to chance – misunderstanding is very common, so meet with your leaders regularly to ensure their continued satisfaction with the “new you”. It is always best to acknowledge your desire to change and streamline your efforts with corporate priorities in order to grow. There is nothing wrong with asking questions that help you understand why you are being put on a particular project or asked for certain data. Information is power, and it will help you to see the big picture.
You cannot put your promotion solely in the hands of your immediate boss. It is too risky for two reasons: a) they may or may not need you in the next role you have on your radar, and b) with frequent restructuring so common nowadays for large companies, your boss may not even be in charge in the next 6 months.
Therefore, instead of shoving all your eggs in one basket, start building relationships with other senior leaders. Focus on executives with the most pull and reach out to them for mentorship. No matter how cool they try to seem, execs have large egos and this type of relationship will quickly get you on the VIP list. As you get invited to more executive meetings, exclusive businesses trips and after parties, stay visible but never obnoxious. Make sure you first talk to the meeting organizers off the record about the topics you want to cover, and then dazzle the group with your polished presentations supported by great visuals – but most importantly give partial credit to your “mentors”. This courteous behavior will build trust and score you more visibility.
You may find that the “new you” is losing some friends and becoming more political. You no longer cover for losers or stay up all night solving technical issues. You are becoming a leader who delegates low-visibility tasks and takes credit for things recognized by the executive team. You are on the right path. Good luck!