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What to Do When You Don’t Get a Promotion You Deserve

As a high performer, if you don't get promoted when you think you should, the news can be shocking, disappointing, and it will likely peak your interest to explore outside options. If you receive a great performance review and it wasn't accompanied by a promotion during a time when it could have been, the company has delivered difficult news, you have some flexibility to explore before you decide to jump ship.

Here are three steps to follow if you didn't get a promotion that you feel you deserve.

Step One: Have Dedicated Conversations About Your Desire for a Promotion

Even if you did get passed over for a promotion, it's important to express your desire for a promotion and understand what future opportunities look like by speaking with various stakeholders.

The most helpful people to consult inside your company include your boss, your boss’ boss, and if you work for a large company, your HR business partner. During these conversations, seek to understand what the landscape of the company and your future look like especially if you have the right type of leadership skills.

Schedule dedicated conversations, exclusively focused on your desire for a promotion, to emphasize the importance and ensure that other topics don't dominate the meeting.

When faced with a situation where you have been passed over for a promotion, it is important to proactively express your desire for career advancement and seek clarity on future opportunities within the company. Engaging in conversations with various stakeholders can provide valuable insights into the landscape of the organization and shed light on what lies ahead for your professional growth.

To initiate these discussions, identify key individuals who can provide relevant guidance. Your immediate supervisor, their supervisor, and your HR business partner are among the most helpful people to consult within your company. Each of them can offer different perspectives and information that can inform your understanding of the promotion process and potential avenues for advancement.

When scheduling these conversations, make sure to dedicate specific time exclusively focused on discussing your desire for a promotion. By emphasizing the importance of the topic and setting aside dedicated time, you ensure that other matters do not dominate the meeting. This approach conveys your commitment and seriousness about your career aspirations.

During these conversations, it is important to approach them with a learning mindset and seek to understand the company's expectations, future plans, and the skills and experiences they value in employees at higher levels. Take the opportunity to ask questions, express your goals, and gather feedback on areas for improvement. This information will not only help you navigate your current situation but also guide your professional development moving forward.

Remember to remain professional and open-minded throughout these discussions. Even if the outcome is not what you initially hoped for, these conversations can provide valuable insights that will help you make informed decisions about your career path. By actively engaging in dialogue and seeking clarity, you demonstrate your commitment to growth and increase the likelihood of future opportunities aligning with your aspirations.

During these conversations, you’ll want to uncover:

  • What opportunities are available to me in the future?
  • What will it take to get promoted?
  • How long will it take to get a promotion?

After you have all of this input, then ask yourself:

Am I interested in these opportunities and do the timing and expectations work for me?

Next, seek more internal clarity about what's important to you.

What specifically are you looking for as you seek promotion?

Is it:

  • Recognition?
  • A new title?
  • A pay raise?
  • An end to the monotony?
  • An opportunity to learn?
  • New or increased management responsibilities?
  • Or something else?

It’s likely that you resonate with more than one of the above.  Be really honest and define the top driver so you zone in on your primary motivation.

If you find that there are areas of value beyond a promotion, you may ask for funds to help with advanced education.

Or funds to help you continue to advance your skills. I've had clients hire me as a leadership coach when they found additional company funding.

There may be ways for the company to demonstrate how much they value you beyond a promotion when promotion you is not an option due to their structure.

Step Two: Look for Creative Ways to Build Additional Opportunities

Even if you do confirm that a promotion is not in your immediate future, you may be able to accelerate your advancement by thinking outside the box.

But first ask yourself if you have the motivation to put in the extra work.  If you don’t, pursuing this avenue will feel like a heavy weight on your shoulders, and you should move straight to step three. Or wait it out until the next cycle.

However, if you truly feel dedicated to the organization and the people you work with and just need more, look for ways to build additional value to help the organization solve their largest challenges.

I once had a client who felt like he had hit a plateau at his organization since it didn’t appear like anyone above him was going anywhere and the company wasn't looking to expand.  By putting in extra work and starting to proactively come up with solutions to some of the company’s biggest challenges, he made himself an invaluable resource to the CEO and was promoted in place of his boss in a few short months.

A caveat to pursuing the extra work:  You may put in extra time and effort and, due purely to the nature of the organization, it may result in no change to your position.  But the upside is that you’ve continued to push yourself through the process of evaluation, built new skills, and you have excellent fodder for future, “tell me about a time” interview questions.

Step Three: Evaluate External Opportunities

Think about what other roles you may be suited for, beyond what you currently do, and ask yourself if those other roles are more appealing.

Sometimes taking a step back, by doing a simple exercise like a cost-benefit analysis, is helpful.

When contemplating your career and potential avenues for growth, it can be beneficial to explore roles beyond your current position. By considering alternative roles and assessing their appeal, you open yourself up to new possibilities and expand your perspective.

Take the time to reflect on the skills, interests, and strengths you possess that may be transferable to different roles or industries. Consider what aspects of your current job you find fulfilling and enjoyable, as well as areas where you may feel unfulfilled or seeking a change. This self-reflection can help you identify other positions that align better with your personal and professional goals.

To aid in this decision-making process, conducting a cost-benefit analysis can be a valuable exercise. List the pros and cons of both your current role and the potential roles you are considering. Assess factors such as job satisfaction, work-life balance, growth opportunities, compensation, and alignment with your long-term aspirations. This analysis provides a structured framework to evaluate the trade-offs and make a more informed decision about your career path.

Additionally, seek out informational interviews or networking opportunities with professionals who are currently in the roles you are exploring. This will allow you to gain firsthand insights into the responsibilities, challenges, and rewards of those positions. Engaging in conversations with individuals who have firsthand experience can provide valuable perspectives and help you assess whether those roles truly align with your preferences and goals.

Remember, career exploration is an ongoing process, and it is natural to reassess and consider new paths. By taking a step back, exploring alternative roles, and conducting a thoughtful analysis of the costs and benefits, you can make informed decisions that lead to a more fulfilling and satisfying career journey.

Ask Yourself:

What’s the cost of staying?

What is the benefit of staying?

What’s the cost of leaving?

What is the benefit of leaving?

If this exercise peaks your interest in leaving, it’s a good idea to start putting your networking feelers out. (To learn all about how to network your way into an executive role, click here).

At a minimum, sparking conversations both internally and externally will allow you to evaluate your current situation in a new light and shuffle around the energy of your current situation to spark change.  Whether this means you stay or you leave, at least you’ll have the information available to you to make the right decision.

And remember, it’s always helpful to make decisions based on all three of the facilities available to you: your thoughts, your feelings, and your intuition.

Relying on only one leaves you at a disadvantage as a human with advanced skills, so tap into all three.  If you’re not as familiar with how to do that (I know you have the cognitive down), try a new approach to help you.

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