I Work Really Hard. How Come I’m Not Getting Promoted?

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Almost everywhere I go, people ask me what they need to do in order to be recognized or promoted for the great work they are doing. Many articles correctly observe that money does not buy the loyalty of an employee, but that doesn’t mean that money, rewards, and recognition are not important. What few articles seem to do is acknowledge this fact. Many of these articles simply illustrate the reasons that “money isn’t everything” (which we all know), and therefore, they think it’s ok to neglect the topic altogether (which doesn’t help us at all).

The good news is that there is almost certainly some things you can do to improve your negotiating position in this regard. That’s right – I said negotiating. The fundamental problem is that many in the corporate world do not realize that their value is tied to their understanding of negotiation and their ability to employ it effectively. People think if we just work really hard that someone will notice, reward us, and provide all the opportunities we desire. If you’ve worked for at least a few years in the corporate world, I am sure you already know that it doesn’t quite work this way. On the other hand, let’s be careful. When I say negotiation, I’m not merely referring to a literal discussion with your boss on your compensation. This is only one of many actions pertaining to the concept of negotiation and frankly, one of the last options one should engage in. The key to any negotiation is a clear understanding of the LEVERAGE we have in a situation. The more leverage we have, the more ability we have to negotiate on terms that are favorable to us. With respect to our careers, there are two factors which determine the amount of leverage we have.

The Perceived Proficiency At Our Job

¬†Clearly, how good we are at our jobs has an important impact on how we are compensated by our company. But how do we really know whether we are good at what we do or not? Here’s the spoiler – almost everyone I have ever spoken to believes they are good at what they do. Further, most people believe they are among the best contributors in their respective teams. The uncomfortable reality is that, no matter how good we think we are, it’s our boss that makes the decision on how it’s going to reflect in our paycheck. If you are working for a fair and skilled leader, then this should not be a cause for concern. But if you think your boss is a little clueless in this regard, then you may not be as happy to hear this truth.

Rather than bemoaning our fate at the hands of an incompetent boss, what we should be asking ourselves is why we invest so little effort in researching our prospective boss prior to taking on a new job opportunity. People have told me that they have accepted job opportunities due to lucrative compensation, interesting industry, great commute, etc. Very rarely have I heard someone tell me that it is because they have researched their prospective boss and discovered that this person has a great track record of career coaching and team development (See our article on “10 Interview Questions You Should Be Prepared to Ask The Interviewer“). The bottom line – the right boss can make a huge impact on our job and our ability to showcase our proficiency at it. The research we put into finding a great boss is extremely important and should not be trivialized.

Our Unique Abilities

I was once told a story about a king who had the most beautiful garden in the world. Everyone who visited the king’s house would compliment him on the elegance and beauty of his garden. In order to make sure he would continue to receive compliments on his garden, he took steps to ensure that his chief gardener could never get work anywhere else other than that of his own garden.

This story depicts the pattern many of us find in our careers. We become very good at certain aspects of a job. As time goes on, the management rely on us to only do that part of the job and to provide consistent results with it. With no avenue to showcase our other talents, our career growth ultimately stagnates.

Early in my career, I realized that a few of the senior people in my organization liked to monopolize the time in brainstorming sessions for new projects. Since I was a younger member of the team, those individuals would shut me down in those sessions without giving my ideas a fair chance. I recognized this situation as a weakness area I needed to improve. Rather than dwell too much on this, I tried to explore how I could exploit my strengths to even the playing field.

Fortunately, I recognized that, in small, one on one discussions, I was very skilled at connecting with my colleagues. Prior to the next brainstorming session, I laid groundwork with some of the other team members in small sessions. During the next brainstorming session, when the disruptive individuals tried to interrupt, others in the room, who already heard my ideas without disruption in the smaller sessions, prevented anyone from shutting my ideas down before it was fully explored. As a result, my influence in the team grew despite the challenges I faced.

This example showcases the importance of recognizing our unique abilities and our ability to apply them in our careers to tilt challenging obstacles to our advantage.

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