"What do I need to do to get promoted?" is a question that's probably not explicitly asked often enough. When it is, it's not always answered clearly, or even honestly. It's a question at the forefront of every engaged and ambitious employee's mind, and it should be at the forefront of every manager's mind. So what's an honest, warts and all, answer for those keen to progress?
In a career within talent attraction, selection and development, I've noticed several common traits of employees who have moved forward faster than average. The short version is that 'shy bairns get nowt' or, in other words, "if you don't ask, you won't get". Whether you're a toddler or a senior manager, you typically won't get sweets, or a promotion, without asking. The days of serving time and receiving automatic promotions based on longevity are, thankfully, behind us in all but the most staid and traditional of organisations. Lesson one is that it's up to you to own and manage your career; you shouldn't expect others to do it for you.
Ultimately, career progression is about performing your role so well and so efficiently that you are able to actively seek additional work and responsibility. You need to go looking for areas to add value on top of the 'day job'. You also need to be seen performing well in the role above your current grade before you've got a serious case for promotion. You need to be seen to "walk the walk". So how can you do this?
Actively look for ways of adding value above and beyond your core role. Do your boss's job and help them to focus on their next step up the ladder. They also need to be doing their boss's job to get promoted, so by looking after their core responsibilities you'll be on the right path.
Create your own work. By this I don't mean creating meaningless tasks that just make you busier and add little real benefit to the business. The value is in showing your creativity and initiative by addressing business problems in ways that deliver long lasting change and improvement. By identifying and solving these issues you'll be demonstrating the initiative, insight and intelligence that's needed, in a way that adds to you company's bottom line, which never hurts.
It's easy to spot what's broken or inefficient. Plenty of people can and do point these things out regularly, but it's the high-fliers that take on the responsibility of solving them. Depending on the culture of the team, or company, it can be necessary to flag what you're going to do before doing it. Overall though, I'd advocate cracking on with the work without asking for permission, provided you don't let your other responsibilities slip. Show, don't tell - it's easier to ask for forgiveness after showing initiative than permission before action. You have to be faultless in the execution of your core role, be able to support your boss's objectives and then find the time for the 'extra-curricular' value-add initiatives - no easy task.
It's made easier by building up the skills and responsibilities of those underneath you. If you're a star performer in your current role, there's a high probability that your boss or business will be reluctant to leave a gaping hole by letting you move onwards and upwards. This might be what you want and need, but it creates a headache for them. Organisations frequently show what the behavioural economists call 'status quo bias'. This has less to do with lank haired 70's rockers than you might hope, as it simply means that if something is working, people will naturally be averse to changing it. For the prospective 'promotee', this means you have to have your own succession plan in place. Delegation is an essential management skill, so start practicing it. If you've built others into a position where they can step into your shoes, you have more time to support your boss's role and look for the value-add initiatives. Handily, you're also mitigating the natural management reticence about you moving out of your current role.
Ultimately, a lot comes down to effective communication. The employee will often have to drive the agenda, as bosses and businesses will prefer the status quo. The employers just have to listen and act, although this can be harder than it sounds or should be. Of course, as well as driving the agenda the employee also needs to have the talents, attitude and acumen to command the remuneration they expect in the role that they want. Smart and flexible businesses will trade the disruption of promoting high performers for the higher engagement, productivity and loyalty they receive in return. Just don't expect them to do it without prompting.