How to get faster promotions and higher performance rating

In my experience of working in professional services firms, I have observed the following hacks for faster promotions and higher performance rating.

Understand expectations – clarify goals. Have a conversation with your career coach or counselor at the star of the year. Talk about your aspirations for this year. Usually this means either progression (e.g. Senior 1 to Senior 2) or promotion (e.g. Senior to Manager). Be explicit if needed. Don’t leave it to chance. Most your career coach or counselor has been through the same journey. So, they know where you are coming from. Ask them what it takes for you to reach to the next level, whether there is any concerns, or who you should talk to.

Communicate your aspirations – don’t expect others will know. “I am really happy that I have been leading projects and assuming more responsibilities as a Manager, so I would really want to operate as a Manager next year.” Be ready to give a few examples.

Work the stakeholders – find sponsors. Find out who will be in the roundtable. Get to know them. Create opportunities to work with them. Grab them for coffee every now and then. There is no guarantee that your career coach will push for your case. So, you want to have a contingency plan. Make sure someone will be there to sing your praise if your coach happens to be weak.

Check in regularly – build trust. Consider scheduling a monthly or quarterly checkpoint. Most people want to be chased – it makes them feel important and it helps them to always appear busy. Grab coffee, food, or leave together with your career coach or stakeholders. Don’t leave before them. Leave with them. Create that sense of one team. Understand what they are working on. How you can help.

Ask for feedback – do good works. “What would be your advice for me in the coming year?” “What do you think I should work on more?” Or “I’m thinking of doing more of X. Do you think that is a good idea to improve my case?” Document their advice in an Evernote or Google Doc. Make plans to improve. Tell them about it. Next time you guys catch up, say “Yea, I’m working A, B, and C areas that you mentioned last time.” Show that you take their advice seriously.

Align your effort with what matters. If your coach, counselor, or stakeholder says there may be concerns on your ability to lead a team, then you should find opportunities that can demonstrate your leadership skills.

Treat your promotion case like a project. Open a case for promotion. Use tools like the “1-page status report”, “1-page project summary” “Stakeholder Map”, “Communication Plan”, “Improvement Plan” or “Testimonials.”

Give a summary of your projects. Summarize what you have done throughout the year in “1-page project summary”. Organize them into 4 categories: 1) Client Tasks, e.g. projects, proposals, etc. 2) Client Relations, e.g. networking event. 3) Non-client Tasks, e.g. internal projects. 4) Non-Client Relations, e.g. team building events, drinks, gathering, etc.

Gather evidence – document the feedback and appreciations. Some firms have feedback channels officially (e.g. feedback form in a system) and unofficially (e.g. emails). Whatever it is called, look for them and document them. Save as PDF for emails that say “This project couldn’t have been a success without you.” “I’m really pleased with your performance. Please keep up the good work.”

Consider printing the supporting documents for your coach or stakeholders. Don’t go crazy. Just give them the relevant cases. All of these efforts aim to only do two things: 1) make it really easy for others to fight for your case, and , 2) make it really hard for others to turn you down. You can tune this up or down depending on how cut-throat your competition is and how well you align yourself with positions of your coach or stakeholders. Economy is not good is always a BS excuse. Don’t make it easy to BS you.

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