MILLENNIAL: How To Get My Boss To Notice Me For A Promotion & Other Audacious Ideas

As originally posted on NDInsights in January 2012.

A study of S&P 500 companies over 20 years (1988-2007) shows that those companies that exclusively promote CEOs from within outperform companies that recruit CEOs from outside the company. An argument could be made that most internal promotions, CEO or otherwise, have great potential to add value to companies moving forward in the future. Sure, every now and then a company likes to find that maverick on the outside to shake things up – but I’d be willing to bet there is little use for shaking these days and more focus on sustainability. So if the focus is to stabilize and to grow conservatively by promoting from within, how do we position you to look your best, be at the top of every employer’s wish list and build a personal brand that exudes high potential?

In a Wall Street Journal Career Strategies article, Most Promotions Take Place in January, Study Finds, Joe Light references a study conducted by LinkedIn Corp showing that the “greatest percentage, 16%, of in-house promotions occur in January.” Depending on the industry, the study finds June, July, and September are also popular months for job advancement. So either you missed the boat this year or you’re in the freeze for a bit more until the summer thaw. This is a great window of time to build on your strengths, neutralize your weaknesses, and demonstrate why your boss should take notice. Here are a couple of maverick thoughts of our own with ways to become indispensable by the summer.

Show up, on time, ready to go: This is a saying here at New Directions that is the principal philosophy in all that we do. Why so important or why so impactful? Because, if we show up, on time, ready to go the boss doesn’t have to worry. We have taken fear out of the equation by building a standard of excellence, a platform statement, a brand that demonstrates that we are “ always on time, always ready to go, and we always ‘show up’ each time.”  As a boss, I don’t have to watch my back because I know that those employees who do show up can take care of themselves and that actually makes me look good as a manager. It’s reported that U.S. companies lose between $200-$300 billion a year due to absenteeism and tardiness among other things. Imagine the impact of showing up, on time, ready to go, offering your boss with little to worry about you.

Become the Pirate: Steve Jobs made famous the line: “It’s more fun to be a pirate than to join the navy.” Jobs looked for the pirate in all his team members, as Peter Sander, author of What Would Steve Jobs Do? points out. “But it wasn’t enough just to be brilliant, and it wasn’t enough just to think different. Steve’s pirates had to have the passion, the drive, and the shared vision to want to delight the customer with a perfect, game-changing product.” How have you become a pirate for that new project – looking outside the box, in the box, or through the box to offer something truly creative, passionate, and game-changing? So often we are looking for a huge, innovative, genius product, when really some game-changing features might be taking the notes at the meeting, staying late when needed, having a positive attitude, or helping out a teammate because it’s the right thing to do.

Embrace Your Workhorse Muscle: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration,” Edison said. I believe it. Find a person who knows how to truly roll up his/her sleeves, put his/her nose to the grind stone, dig in and efficiently produce high caliber work time and again and you will bear witness to the next innovative leader. In That Used To Be Us, Thomas Friedman notes, “The time for mediocrity is over.” If that’s the case we have to become very good at shutting out noise, including our internal negativity, having laser like focus on the task at hand and pushing through to get the job done. All the best quotes, great philosophies, and soapbox pronouncements mean little if you can’t just get the work done.

Develop Your Rhetorical Sensitivity:“We are all rhetoricians,” my former college professor of classical rhetoric used to say. What he was saying is that whether we like it or not all of us have mouths and perform actions daily that either cast a good light or a bad light on ourselves. Going a step further, rhetorical sensitivity is the idea that we must always be aware of who, where, what we are talking about and have the proper emotional and social intelligence to modify our content and approach to appeal to our audience. Many times I come across people who are offended that they should ever have to flex or modify their position, thought or even tone to accommodate others. Usually I’m having this conversation because the other person has offended someone, been called out, or has been reprimanded for something he or she said. We must be sensitive to how we are perceived and how that in turn, finds its way to the boss.

Strive for Level 5 Leadership: Famously described in Good To Great, a Level 5 Leader demonstrates humility and professional will with fierce resolve to do what is best for the company, not the leader. The Level 5 Leaders build enduring greatness in their organizations; they set up their successors for success, and talk passionately about their companies and others, but not themselves. They are ordinary people producing extraordinary results. To me, this is another simple axiom, the good of the company before my personal need, and yet it can be so hard to get out of our own way. This isn’t an argument about disenfranchisement (why would I sacrifice myself with the potential to get laid off). This is a recalibration of your perspective and attitude about how you will lead. Level 5 Leadership does not only apply for your time at the office – it should encompass your being and should be felt by family, friends, workers and strangers.

As a child, I used to watch a TV show called Eek the Cat. He was a clueless cat that always ran into trouble, but when it came time to help a friend or a stranger he would always be there with a helpful hand, saying, “It never hurts to help!” My family got a kick out of it and we would jokingly say it as chores or an extra workload came in. As the years have gone by, it is still a theme of our household, as we have found it embodies the notion of servanthood leadership. Servanthood leadership is leading for the sake of and on behalf of others.  Think about that in your workspace. How often do we truly have that spirit of “it never hurts to help?” I challenge you to try it out for two weeks – even saying “it never hurts to help” and see what results. I’m confident that your boss will take notice.

Don’t Throw a Hail Mary; Plan a Touchdown: “The essential question is not, ‘How busy are you?’ but ‘What are you busy at?” thus spoke Oprah Winfrey.  You can work hard every hour, of every day, of every year and still get nowhere. How is that possible? You can throw all the Hail Mary passes for 50 or 75 yards and never get a single touchdown.  However, if you strategically go down the field with a game plan, you’re more likely to score.  This is the difference between looking busy and actually getting things accomplished. Planning is a crucial component to becoming the streamlined and efficient employee the boss wants to promote. Planning, for most, can also be painful and difficult. It requires patience and focus and ‘not doing’ – which can be very hard for a lot of us. We like to go, go, go and yet that has statistically been the downfall of many great ideas, people and organizations because they never had a game plan.  Data shows that a team that takes one third more time in planning is statistically proven to perform better then teams that don’t.  How have you structured your day to incorporate, not doing, but planning? Do you take time in the morning before emails and conversations to make a to do list? Have you thought about multiple to do lists (daily, weekly, quarterly or internal operations, clients, personal)? My boss maintains a “Super 8” list that she updates daily to always have her top 8 to dos on her iPad.  Before promotion season comes up, go first team all-state, become a planner, put the ball where you want and make it rain.

Find the White Space and Innovate at the Verge: In a recent article on the Sabri brand, the founder mentioned that when he was looking to make the most positive impact as a businessperson he didn’t go where competition was most fierce, which for him was in high tech.  He knew that at a high-tech company, “the most junior software engineer” would be smarter than he was, so instead he changed direction and found the white space where the competition was least. “Low-tech businesses have a massive talent gap,” he realized. With that in mind, he set up his new company Sabri and has had great success manufacturing products for Baby Boomers with an artistically tech bent. Joel Barker, a renowned futurist, would call this innovation at the verge – taking your talent and pioneering where competition hasn’t gone yet to have the greatest impact. As an individual, have you gone where the competition is least? Are you innovating for your boss at the verge?

Do all of these and get promoted? Perhaps, but there is no guarantee. However, I have had many conversations with peers, supervisors, managers, executives, and bosses – these are the themes that keep floating to the top as game-changing, attention-getting attributes that leaders look for in their best employees.