I am not Getting Promoted at Work - How to Escape the Endless Loophole?

Portrait of Kevin Peters
Kevin Peters

Everyone in the workforce has some drive. For most employees, it is the payment at the end of the month that makes them work in their job. A lot of people are also doing their job because they love it. But in our capitalistic world, the salary of a job is an important aspect for every one of us. Because of inflation, our cost of living is rising nearly every year by around 2%. This also would mean that everyone working should get a 2% raise every year, right? Unfortunately, this is not the case for every employee. Some companies just hand out raises for promotions and similar things. Getting promoted is difficult. A lot of companies have structured plans on how to get promoted, which requirements need to be fulfilled to get to the next level. But it is not the case for every company out there making it a frustrating experience to not get promoted even if you might think that you are worth the promotion. In this article, I will explain how you can get over this and finally work on your promotion hands on. After reading this article you will have an actionable plan on what to do in the next week, month, and year to get to the next level in your job.

Get over your frustration

Do you read this article after getting denied a promotion the last time? We all know this feeling sucks. But you need to get over this feeling. See it as feedback and that you might be not ready yet. Yes, there are always other jobs and of course, you could apply for the targeted position in another company. But it won’t improve your immediate current situation. It sucks, but it is what it is. You cannot change the past, focus on the future.

Speak to Your Manager

The first thing after a failed promotion that you should do is seeking a conversation with your manager. In a lot of companies managers and their employees maintain regular 1-on-1 sessions. These sessions can be informal but most often employees talk about their growth there and the manager is supporting the employee in this regard. If your manager is not supportive, you can still ask the right questions on how to get actionable results. Make sure to say that you want to get to the next level but first review your current position. We need to make a reality check.

For example, you could ask what are the current expectations of your position to see how your manager reacts. They usually show emotions and say what you need to improve on. If they do not, try to ask generic questions like what is the focus of the company and how can I provide value towards this goal for example. Now when coming to the expectations and goals, make notes. Share these notes with your manager so you are on the same base on what should be achieved.

Define Goals

In the previous chapter, we have learned that you should try to find the talk to your manager and figure out what they expect from you directly or indirectly. After the meeting, you should revisit your notes and figure out what the goals would be that you can contribute to the company to achieve the goals. These notes should be defined in Objective Key Results (OKRs). Objective Key Results are defined by having an objective, measurable goal. This is because these goals should be trackable over a longer time frame. A goal like “Need to learn more about Topic XY” is not a good OKR because no one can track objectively how far you got with achieving this goal. If you have such generic OKRs it might be worth it to always split them down into individual OKRs. For example, you could do different processes to achieve the overall goal “Need to learn more about Topic XY”:

  • Finish the course … by End of April (0 out of 14 chapters done)
  • Read the book … by End of June (0 out of 8 chapters)
  • Apply principle … 6 times by the end of August

With going into more details you can always find measurable OKRs. Even if it sounds stupid, it will give your manager and peers some overview of how well you are doing inside the company. Every OKR should also be linked to one of the leadership principles of your company if they exist. You can read how Klarna’s Leadership Principles work in another blog article.

After figuring out what the goals are, discuss them with your manager. Present them and ask for validation. Your manager might think you are over motivated or something but just says you want to have a track that you can follow to advance your career. Also, talk with your manager about how realistic the goals are. I would always give a lower estimate than what you have initially thought because overpromising is never working out in the way you want it. Underpromise and overdeliver is where you can shine and exceed expectations.

Track the goals

Now that Objective Key Results are defined, you can start working on them. It is hard to keep track of your work. Getworkrecognized offers a solution by reminding you via email notifications to track down on what you have done. Creating this backlog takes a lot of continuous work, but when you finally want to look back at what you have achieved you can create an easy overview. For example, in our application, you can see the log of your past weeks notes easily like this:

5/5/2020

In general, we also recommend summarizing your goals regarding the OKRs once per month. It will give you an easier time to summarize goals on a large scale.

Speak to Your Manager...again...and again

After tracking your work notes for 2-3 weeks, you should talk to your manager again. Bigger companies might have scheduled 1-on-1 sessions between managers and their employees. If you do not, ask your manager if they have a time slot of 30 minutes left per week. Normally they agree to this and you can organize the meetings normally. Review the notes you have done before the meeting for 10-15 minutes and point out things you are struggling with. In the 1-on-1 session ask your manager how they can help you or would behave in your situation. Always see it neutral and review what your manager said also. Have an open mind. Also, from time to time, mention your achievements and how the OKRs are getting followed so your manager is not just seeing the asking/demanding side of yourself.

After having 1-on-1s for quite some time you should see progress in your notes. It could be hard to visualize but one indicator is how much in percent you are close to finishing your OKRs. Another way to visualize your achievements is by tagging your notes and run analytics over them. Different graphs could help you with how frequently you are working on different topics. getworkrecognized provides these graphs out of the box. Just keep your notes in our application and you get some graphs like the following for free:

Let the Team Shine

👉 Collected 2 notes

🔥 You are collecting more these days

Most recent Track Items

  1. "Wrote a blog article on how good the team is working"
  2. "Represented the team's work at a local meetup"

Act Like you are on the Next Level

After having your OKRs defined, regular 1-on-1s, and being on track towards your goal, it is time for the next phase in your career. In one of the meetings with your manager, you should speak about what the expectations of the role above your level are. A lot of companies have a career matrix ranked by different levels and different areas.

Level 1Level 2Level 3
Communication
  • Provides regular status updates to their mentor/buddy
  • Points out syntactical improvements in code reviews
  • Writes PR descriptions that provide basic context for the change
  • Seeks guidance from other engineers, rather than answers
  • Actively communicates what they are working on
  • Seeks out feedback
  • Proactively communicates to their team what they are working on, why, how it's going and what help they need
  • Accepts feedback graciously
  • Gives feedback to peers when asked
  • Provides helpful and actionable feedback in code reviews in an empathetic manner
  • Writes PR descriptions that provide context and provide rationale for significant decisions
  • Can deliver their work to their team and others
  • Proactively gives feedback to those they work with
  • Transparent about mistakes they've made, early
  • Proactively gives timely actionable feedback to peers
  • Proactively seeks feedback from the people around them
  • Considers the opinions of others before defending their own
  • Clearly communicates throughout implementation of solutions
  • Can successfully get buy-in for their proposals
Influence
  • Improves documentation that is incorrect
  • Proactively raises issues they spot in retrospectives
  • Provides valuable input to proposals from their team
  • Proactively improves modules, services, systems and codebases they encounter, 'this doesn't make sense, I'm going to do something about it'
  • Contributes to scaling engineering hiring (e.g. leads calls, does onsite interviews)
  • Builds simple tools or iterates existing tools for the benefit of all engineers
Impact
  • Delivers assigned tasks, working with a more senior team member, and able to take PR feedback to improve their work
  • Independently works on small, low-impact, well-defined task
  • Looks to optimise existing work (eg Processes, procedures, products, etc)
  • Delivers assigned tasks that meet expected criteria
  • Works for the team, focuses on tasks that contribute to team goals
  • Tries to unblock themselves first before seeking help
  • Manages their own time effectively, prioritises their workload well, on time for meetings, aware when blocking others and unblocks
  • Helps the team, does what needs doing
  • Breaks down small/medium problems into iterative steps
  • Delivers small, well-defined tasks/projects
  • Delegated low-impact problems to solve
  • Delivers large well-defined tasks and solves small scope not-well-defined problems
  • Contributes to writing proposals (Co-authors with more experienced Engineer)
  • Breaks down large problems into smaller iterative steps across multiple PRs
  • Identifies problems to solve
  • Owns the implementation of the solution
Mastery
  • Learns to write correct Go code, following guidance and training materials
  • Fixes simple bugs
  • Designs simple database tables
  • Implements asynchronous messaging between services
  • Deploys services to staging and production
  • Handles simple error cases in RPC handlers and message consumers
  • Fixes bugs involving a number of services and can investigate production issues
  • Uses appropriate algorithms and data structures to solve problems
  • Writes automated unit and acceptance tests
  • Implements simple RPC handlers
  • Writes correct Go code following accepted best practices
  • Uses appropriate design patterns
  • Designs new schemas comprising multiple tables
  • Implements complex asynchronous messaging flows
  • Co-ordinates complex deployments and database migrations
  • Implements distributed systems consisting of multiple interacting services
  • Produces technical designs that include a consideration of scalability
  • Handles complex error cases in RPC handlers and message consumers
  • Debugs production issues
  • Considers metrics when building a new system
  • Writes idiomatic Go code
  • Mitigates race conditions and partial failure states in distributed systems
  • Implements complex RPC handlers
  • Proactively considers security implications of their work
Leadership-/--/-
  • Onboards / mentors new engineers
  • Finds learning opportunities for others when reviewing their code and follows it up

As you can see there are different topics and different levels. Assuming you are a Level 1 Engineer and aspire to get promoted to Level 2, you can have a look at the different topics. If you are strong already in Communication, have a look at the responsibilities and key areas that you could apply already. Create some OKRs regarding these requirements to act on the level. If you have room during your work left, even follow these principles of the targeted level.

Review Your Actions

As you read already in previous chapters, reviewing your actions is mandatory throughout the whole process. Reviewing the actions is hard though. A technique that helped and is supported in our application is tagging the notes. Every action you take regarding an OKR or even in a generic way can be tagged with a specific label. These labels are normally the company values or leadership principles. An example could be the Klarna Leadership Principles, that are also described in more detail in one of the recent blog articles.

  • Customer Obsession
  • Deliver Results
  • Let the team shine
  • Challenge the status quo
  • Start small and learn fast
  • Courage
  • Hire and develop exceptional talent
  • Detailed thinkers

The leadership principles differ from company to company, and some companies do not even have a vision or these principles. In these cases, you can look through a collection of different company frameworks since a lot of them are also quite generic. In our application you can find the LinkedIn 2020 Leadership Principles that include the following principles:

  • Creativity: Employees need to be creative. The ability and focus on bringing up new ideas let companies strive and grow. Creative people are contributing massively to this.
  • Persuasion: For companies, it is important to share the “why” behind decisions so everybody is onboard and pursues the common goal. People can also question the “why” that is supported, but communication to colleagues and stakeholders why the “why” might not be the best reason is encouraged.
  • Collaboration: Working in a team motivates everyone. Every colleague is trying to be the best but also praising other people’s successes is an important part of the team culture. It increases trust and improves the productivity of the whole team and the company.
  • Adaptability: Businesses and companies are in constant change. During the digitalization age more than ever before. Employees need to adjust to new situations, team changes. This requires an open mind, professionalism, and the will to change according to the situation.
  • Emotional: Emotional intelligence is the ability to perceive, evaluate, and respond to your own emotions and the emotions of others. This describes how you react to other people’s opinions but also how you can present your thoughts to other people in a recognizable way.

These principles are quite generic and can be applied to most jobs and professions. Tagging your notes will help you to keep the notes organized somehow and this will be useful later on.

With tagging the notes you can also create better reviews. Most often the leadership principles contribute to specific OKRs defined in the process before. Connect them and see with your notes how these notes might be related to the OKRs.

The review cycle should be something you can also plan. Getworkrecognized recommends summarizing your notes monthly. With this monthly review, it will be also easier to focus on more important goals during your Self-Review or Performance Review. It will exclude unimportant notes but also highlights your most impactful contributions.

The monthly reviews can also be used in the 1-on-1s with your manager to discuss progress on the OKRs. In general, they will help you to have an overview of your biggest achievements helping you in your whole career.

Ask for your Promotion

One important of every promotion is starting the process. Companies normally do not want to give out promotions since they do not get a lot of value out of the promotion itself. It is expected for most employees to act on the next level already for getting to the next level. When the company is not appreciating this, not increasing the salary they can play with their employees, letting them do work outside of their responsibility additionally to what they get paid for. Companies most often act in their interest and deny or delay promotions to keep the pay of their employees low and increase profits of the company overall. Because of this process, an employee should be always showing the desire to get promoted and speak up. Otherwise, you might get ignored and left behind. Take your shot.

Preparation

As we learned previously, you should always ask for your promotion by yourself. But preparing for the promotion is an important part that should be done before actually requesting the promotion.

The first two steps are described in earlier chapters: Tracking your Work Achievements and Tagging + Grouping the notes. The Review is also mentioned in the last chapter. After all of this, you can go through your work achievement notes again and create a good Self-Review or Brag sheet. This document is the baseline for your promotion. It should include all major achievements but also weaknesses. We wrote a guide already on what to focus on while writing this document. Basic learnings are:

  • Structure by KPIs or Leadership Principles
  • Start with the "bad" things, give a good last impression
  • Write an outlook

The Talk

After preparing your brag sheet or Self-Review, you can contact your manager. Instead of asking for a regular 1-on-1, you can ask them if they have more than 30 minutes to review your current work. Regarding this talk, you can also say that you prepared a summary of all the work achievements you have reached in the past time. Link your brag sheet or Self-Review. Then wait for the talk.

Start the talk like a normal 1-on-1. Ask some soft questions first and get more serious over time. Try to bring up the promotion topic quite fast in the meeting. Something along the lines that you are doing work that is exceeding expectations heavily and you are acting already on the next level. A promotion would be the right next step for you so that you can even try to grow more and impact the company even more in a positive way. Now your manager will react. Pay close attention to their words and how they are laying these words out. If they are happy with you, they will promote you. Ask about a salary increase and all the legal stuff as well. If they react negatively ask why they do not want to promote you and what is missing for you to get promoted.

After the Promotion

If the promotion was successful, hey congrats. If not, work on the things that your manager has told you. One thing that stays always there is to write down your work achievements because work is getting forgotten quite quickly. Use getworkrecognized to have an efficient way to do this. Try now.