This is not a "Top X Tips" article. If, after reading this article, you say to yourself "if I do these three things, I'm guaranteed a promotion," you are too naive to deserve a promotion. Deserved promotions come from a combination of "doing the right things" and avoiding "red-face test" failures. 

Rather than offering a snake-oil formula with an exaggerated promise, this article aims to help people break one of the common self-limiting factors in how they manage their careers and professional brand.

Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics

"I can either improve our key performance indicator (KPI) metrics or give you a better tool to measure the KPI. Which do you prefer?" This is the biggest self-defeating lie since, "I can't be responsible for things I don't control." If you believe these lies, you are giving your bosses a perfect reason not to promote you. It's the simplest reason of all: You are not doing your job. 

Your job has three components, and if you are not willing or able to do each of these three things, then you are not ready to be promoted. The three components are:

  1. Do the work
  2. Report on the work
  3. Improve the conditions

These three items make up the core of the professional responsibility of almost everyone employed within corporate America. For some reason, the majority of workers draw a line at the end of number 1 — doing the work.

Denial Ain’t Just a River in Egypt

Often the refrain is heard from the self-proclaimed heroes who purport to carry the weight of all projects on their shoulders: "Would you rather me do the work or enter my time sheet?” So heavy is their burden that they can’t spend the time to write down a few sentences on the value of their activities or record their time. If they were to spend the time necessary for these sorts of communication, projects would fail and the business would crumble.

These dramatic protestations are the chains that keep good employees from ever being great. Any talented employee can do their work well. Being able to communicate the value of your work to management, partners and peers is necessary (but not sufficient) if you ever hope to be considered great. If all you are interested in is doing the work and not having to communicate, then get used to staying in the same role for quite a bit of time. If you’re lucky, fate or a generous manager will smile upon you and reward you for the work you have done (even though you refused to give them any regular readouts along the way that help to make their job easier).

Doing the work is just the beginning. You must report on the work as well (without letting the quality of the work suffer). Why? Because that’s the job!

Work Consists of Whatever a Body is Obliged to Do

After you and your team have completed and reported on the work, can you look back and say that the context wherein the work was completed has been improved? Top-flight professionals put their best effort toward not only completing the work and reporting on it’s value, but also to improving the conditions in the surrounding context. They view this as their duty and obligation.

Maybe it's automating the task you just completed to make it unnecessary to perform the task again. Or teaching your peers and partners all the important details and steps involved in the task. It might be redesigning the processes to make each successive task more effective and efficient. Perhaps it's devising and enacting a strategy that will make the task superfluous.

When you repeat this process enough times, you will get to the point where you have worked yourself out of a job and prepared those who surround you with the skills to do the same. When you’ve consistently completed your work, demonstrated that you can — without complaint — communicate the value of the work as many times as necessary, and made the improved conditions self evident (without bragging), then (and only then) you can look your manager in the eye and say that you are ready for the next level. Because at that point you've proven mastery of the job set before you. 

Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License Title image by  Sam Beebe, Ecotrust