How stepping sideways can be just as good as stepping up


We all want to get promoted. It means more money, bigger teams, better visibility and saying ‘I was just promoted’ has a nice ring to it, yes?

While it would be nice to get promoted the moment you think you are ready, the reality is that most promotions aren’t solely based on merit or tenure, they are based on whether there is an open and available role at the level/grade above the one you are currently doing. That might take a while, especially as your career progresses and there are naturally fewer roles to be promoted into (There’s a reason they say it’s lonely at the top). It will often be the case that you are doing a more senior role without the title for several months before you are formally promoted. Your manager might indicate that it isn’t in their power to promote you right now (it isn’t).

And this is all, very naturally, frustrating. That frustration often manifests in some really ugly ways; checking out, talking negatively about your boss or the business and so on, making it even less likely that you will be considered for a more senior role. Rather than give in to the frustration, look for opportunities to progress within the bounds of your current role or level. This will help you stay positive and engaged, showcase your willingness to adapt and contribute at any level and ultimately, make you stronger and more effective in your future roles.

Consider a lateral move Think about what other roles at the same level might do to make you a stronger candidate. Is there someone that you have always wanted to work for or have work for you? What about a specific client or department that you know would challenge you? A 6-12 month stint in a different environment will give you a fresh perspective.

Grow your team or scope of work Several years ago, I was in a role and I knew that the promotion I deserved would take time. When a colleague at the same level left the business, I wrote a business case proposing that her direct report move into my team and that she was replaced with someone more junior. The proposal meant that the business would save money, I would have a larger team, and there would be less competition for a more senior role when it became available. The business accepted my proposal and by thinking beyond promotion I was able to increase my responsibilities and relative seniority.

Take on a project If you are truly ready for promotion, it should mean that you have extra time on your hands to take on something outside your normal remit. Volunteer for a project – organising a company event, implementing a new process and so on. If there isn’t something waiting to be done, look for an opportunity to enhance your business and suggest you take it on. In doing so, you demonstrate strategic thinking and proactivity

Ask for feedback and listen Don’t assume that people share your view that you are a shoe in for promotion. Ask your manager – ‘is there anything I need to develop to move to the next level? I want to make sure I am ready when the opportunity arises.’ If your manager indicates a development area, listen and act on it. Even if you don’t agree with their view, their perception this is something you need to work on is important.

Fuel what makes you thrive I’m writing this article because I had a conversation on this topic recently with someone I coach regularly. I know that I feel I’m thriving in my career when I’m sharing some of the things I’ve learned, so the simple act of writing it down and sharing it make me feel more engaged and motivated in my career overall. If there is an area of your existing job that gives you energy, find ways to increase your work in that area – one day it might be your trademark.

Originally published at