Some professional conversations can be successful with little to no advanced preparation, but the promotion conversation is not one of them. Before you step into your manager’s office to make this important ask, you’ll need to set the stage for success, which includes bolstering your own confidence, identifying the right timing, making a powerful case with facts and metrics, brainstorming all the reasons your boss may say “no” and being ready to address it all unemotionally.
For many of the thousands of executive women I’ve coached, trained and corresponded with in the past 13 years, crafting a compelling “ask” and executing it, is extremely challenging, verging on impossible. As the saying goes, “Nice girls don’t ask.” There are numerous reasons for those challenges for women, having to do with social conditioning and societal reinforcement, as well as the actual living experience of what happens when women do ask—the fact that, in our society, forceful or assertive women have experienced being penalized and punished for their assertiveness. And research has shown that women are viewed as significantly less competent and valuable monetarily when they’re assertive.
That said, in order to be successful, both men and women need to make their asks in ways that clearly articulate what they want, demonstrate why a promotions is just and due and how it will benefit their employers to advance their careers in the way they envision.
Below are some key techniques you can use to effectively share where you’ve been, what you’ve achieved and where you want to go next. And the most important piece is addressing why your organization should want your promotion, too.
First, in any conversation where there’s an ask, you need to be very clear about what it is you want and also what you feel you won’t accept—both the ceiling and the floor. That starts with having valid, outside information about the salary you deserve, based on competitive research and understanding the levers that make you valuable at your own unique workplace. Spend time on some reputable salary information websites and get a sense of what a competitive salary would be for your level of education, certification and training, years of experience, responsibilities and achievements. Come with a salary range in mind, not just one number, that reflects the highest level that makes sense for your contribution, and also the lowest. But again, get the advice of a mentor and sponsor about the range you’re going for so you don’t lowball it and undervalue yourself.
Build a strong case with metrics and scope.
Having competitive salary information is important but it’s not enough. You also have to build a strong case with what I call the “20 facts of you”—the top 20 achievements and accomplishments that you’ve spearheaded and/or achieved that have moved important needles for your organization, and made a true difference. These should be facts—not opinion—with documentation, metrics and data (such as revenue gained, savings achieved, new clients signed and what they’re worth, new projects initiated and their financial impact, processes you’ve streamlined, leadership impact you’ve had, etc.) that’s helped the company achieve its top goals.
Recognize how your promotion will impact the “ecosystem” and the org chart, and the best timing for the promotion.
I recently worked with a client, let’s call her Clara, who was a senior director at an international sales organization. The leadership team wanted to promote Clara to vice president and replace (and then fire) Bill, the individual currently in the role. It was a very messy situation, with potentially a great deal of fall out affecting not just Clara and Bill, but the entire team under Bill and other colleagues who’d been with Bill for years who were loyal to him and were not in favor of Clara taking over.
In addition, the timing of the announced promotion was important as there were key deadlines the existing team was working towards that were essential for the success of the company. Clara’s promotion needed to be timed in a way to generate the least amount of disruption.
A promotion doesn’t just affect you—it impacts the entire ecosystem. It will be important that you understand and share your insights on how this promotion will affect the organization as a whole, and also demonstrate a clear grasp on the alliances you’ll need to form (or smooth over) in order to be successful in your new role.
Have on hand recommendations, endorsements and votes of approval from sponsors, mentors and colleagues who are your fans.
Bring with you to the promotion discussion a file that contains as many letters or notes/emails of recommendation and support as you can. Collect and save emails from influential colleagues and other team members that demonstrate the support you have and the positive impact you’ve made. These will go a long way to demonstrate that you’re the right person for this promotion, given your history. And wherever you can, build your network on LinkedIn (connect with employees of your organization and well beyond) and ask for recommendations there, as they’re highly visible and easily accessible and demonstrate the power of your personal brand.
Share your take on how the organization will benefit when your “ask” is granted.
In speaking with your boss about a potential promotion, you’ll want to share in detail what you believe will be the positive effects and outcomes for the organization of your expanded role. I remember back in my corporate marketing career when I served vice president, my manager and I were at lunch and he discussed that my role would potentially be expanded to oversee an additional set of products and services worth millions in revenue. We discussed it at length, and one question he asked was about how I thought I could take the successes I’d achieved in my initial role and apply them to the new business I’d be heading. I was prepared with answers to that and did get that promotion.
Practice with a mentor/sponsor who can role play the promotion discussion.
As a national speaker and leadership trainer, I speak in public frequently and I’ve experienced firsthand how very important it is to prepare in advance for any key talk, by saying the actual words out loud to someone you trust and get critiqued. It’s not enough that you say the words in your head. You have to formulate your thoughts into words and articulate them out loud. Practice your promotion pitch with a mentor or adviser who can role play it with you, and who will serve as the devil’s advocate, bringing up hard challenges and questions that you need to be prepared to answer.
Explain how your vision at work ties into your personal mission.
Above and beyond statistics, metrics and compensation data, it’s also important to step back and look at how this promotion—with its expanded role and contribution—will be fueled by your passion, purpose and commitment to the organization’s success. Talk about how this role aligns with what you care about most, and how it will help you achieve not only the top business goals but your personal goals as well, for making a positive difference and leading in the way you dream to.
Finally, get a grip on your emotions.
Asking for promotion and negotiating hard for the ideal responsibilities and compensation shouldn’t be about your emotions. It’s not about what you “want,” but more about what you deserve and have earned. Leave emotions out of it. It’s business—and it’s about what you contribute, how you impact the organization, how you make things happen in ways others don’t and why your company and boss will benefit when you have increased responsibility and commensurate compensation with that expanded sphere of influence.
If the answer is “no” or “not yet,” you’ll want to ask for a clear reason why, and also ask for the chance to work out a development plan with your manager that will outline the necessary steps to get the promotion you want in the near future.
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