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Crucial Conversations for Mastering Dialogue

How to Talk with Your Manager About a Promotion

Dear Steve,

What do you say to your manager in order to move from a level two to a level three? How do you talk about career advancement and convince them you are ready for the next step?

Moving On Up

Dear Moving,

Oh, yes. The “level-up” conversation. You want to show that you’re serious about moving upward in the organization. It will likely take significant work on your part to make this happen.

First of all, you need to understand that your manager is always evaluating your performance against certain criteria—sometimes explicitly and sometimes implicitly. So, start by doing your homework. Show your boss that you’re serious by taking the initiative to do some research before you talk with him or her about your goal. Many organizations have written job descriptions and success criteria for different roles. Find out what your organization has in place, and make sure to research both your current position as well as the position you hope to gain. Existing KPIs or other similar measures can be useful to get a better picture of role criteria. You may also want to talk to the person who has the role you aspire to—especially when no formal document exists.

Once you’ve collected this information, evaluate yourself against both your role and the new role. Assessing your current performance will help you determine whether you can present a good case for promotion to your manager. Assessing yourself against the expectations of the role you seek will give you a sense of your potential.

Next, arrange to have an exploratory conversation with your boss. With your pre-work in hand, outline what you were able to find and ask your boss to identify any additional criteria you may have missed. Make sure to discuss where you are currently meeting those criteria and where you are falling short (this is where having done an honest self-assessment will come in handy). As you listen, take notes and continue to invite your boss’s feedback until he or she doesn’t have anything else to add.

You may find as a result of this exploration that you meet enough of the criteria to warrant a promotion. If that’s the case, it’s time for an open, direct conversation with your boss about moving into the new role, or a conversation about why you aren’t being considered for the role. If you have to navigate this latter discussion, make sure you spend as much time inquiring about your boss’s perspective as you do advocating your own.

If done well, this exploratory conversation should give you a pretty clear picture of what it will take to move to the next level. Next, you’ll need to do the work to demonstrate that you are ready for the promotion. And as you start into that work, I’ve found it helpful to convey intentions. Let me explain.

One of my favorite sayings is “It’s hard to talk your way out of a situation you behaved your way into.” When there is incongruity between what you say and what you do, people start to question your ability and integrity. The good news is that the contrapositive is true: it’s relatively easy to behave your way out of a situation you talked yourself into.

What I mean is this: when you align your actions with your words, you convey a sense of reliability and trust. So, the most effective thing you can do once you have the criteria for promotion is to let your boss know what you intend to do, and then do it.

Remember to break your plan into small, actionable segments so it’s doable. And make sure that each of those segments has a direct, explicit connection to your overall goals and objectives.

While following this process doesn’t guarantee the promotion you seek, it does provide a framework you can use to surface less obvious performance criteria, create a reasonable action plan, and build a reputation as a person who delivers.

Good luck. I hope your next correspondence is under a new title.

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4 thoughts on “How to Talk with Your Manager About a Promotion”

  1. Joseph Verginio

    Spot on recommendations Mr. Willis. I especially like your words related to aligning actions with words, which convey’s a sense of reliability and trust.

    1. Steve Willis

      I’m glad you found them useful.

  2. OlyNan

    Here’s a little more info on the “behaved your way into” section. There are “non-skills” that managers are looking at that they feel are within your control. Do you tend to pick fights or relish arguments with colleagues? Do you dress poorly? Are you usually prepared for meetings and punctual? Can they rely on you to call in sick only when you are actually sick? Do you gossip? Do you nearly always meet deadlines? Do you contribute in meetings or do they have to drag thoughts out of you? There are more, but this may help clear up that portion.

  3. Tips for Couples on Thriving in Uncertain Times - Shasta Hickman

    […] How to Talk with Your Manager About a Promotion […]

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