Your promo is a project and why that’s the best way to think about it

Up until reading this post (or my book) you may have never thought of getting a promotion the same way you think about your work projects. A promotion is a reward, not a project. A promotion is a transition, not a project. A promotion is a promotion, not a project. Well, here’s the thing, if you don’t treat it like a project, you may never get that reward, make that transition, or well, get that promotion. This post is going to explain what it looks like to treat your promotion like it’s a project and provide you some evidence for why it really is the best way to think about this important goal.

If you like where this is going and want to learn to grow as a professional and set yourself up with your best chance at promotion in about 12 months, check out Entry Level Escape:

Promotions are no longer automatic

If you’re in your first professional job then your previous experience has largely been academic. Academic environments create false expectations when it comes to job advancement. This is one of the reasons I think early career professionals get so frustrated after a year or two working, the unmet expectations. To illustrate think about advancing through high school.

  • You start out as a freshman. Then you do roughly 9 months of freshman things. Finally, after nine months of successful freshman things you automatically move to sophomore year.

To make the transition from freshman to sophomore you showed you were a competent freshman and your freshman to sophomore transition was scheduled and obvious. As long as you were competent you (and all of your classmates) would advance on the same schedule (September to June, roughly). This would repeat for all four years in a highly predictable way.

Now look at the professional environment. Pretty much everything is different.

  • You start out as an entry level professional. You do entry level work. And then…?

Rather than being a cohort of dozens (or hundreds) of students on the same trajectory you’re following your own career with its own unique trajectory. Yes, most of us work for the same number of years (give or take 40) but the path is unique. Even if you joined as a cohort, this is especially pronounced in professional services like consulting, you’ll quickly get separated naturally over time. Getting more specific, here’s some of the key differences between professional promotions and academic ones:

  • Professional promotions are not on a schedule, it might take one person 6 months to earn a promotion, it might take 5 years.
  • Professional promotions require you to exhibit “next level” behaviors before you’re able to move up. In other words, mastering your current role isn’t enough.
  • Professional promotions are lagging indicators, a person is generally performing “at next level” for 6 – 12 months before the promotion is made official.

As you can see, you’re in a whole new world playing a whole new game. For this reason, I want you to approach your promotions in a whole new way…i.e., treating it like a project.

The project mind set

First, let’s define project for this context. A project is a series of activities that culminates in a single big goal. Often times projects require multiple months and multiple stakeholders. If getting promoted is your big goal, then treating it like a project means breaking it down into activities that get you there. If getting promoted requires manager’s (and often other’s) support then you’ve got stakeholders. Finally, give yourself a year (and therefore check the “multiple months” box).

Sound good so far? Let’s keep going…

  • Projects have charters which define the goal, the timeline, key deliverables, and have executive support. In this context the executive support is your manager and their support.
  • Projects have regular check ins to ensure steady progress. Just like your projects likely have regularly planned check ins to ensure everything is on track, so should your promotion.
  • Projects socialize key results to build consensus before big decisions get made. Here’s part of my mentorship secret sauce, if you want to really lock up your promotion you need to get in front of your manager’s peers and build consensus about your readiness. I’ll show you how in another post but for now, just keep the idea in mind.
  • Projects have clear roadmaps – if you want to build a One Year Plan to get promoted in 12 months you need to layout the key milestones between then and now.
  • Projects often create useful artifacts – you’ll need a promotion journal to ensure you don’t forget any progress over the one year and you’ll need a one-pager promotion case for stakeholder management.

Most importantly, treating your promotion like a project transforms your promotion into something that happens for you not something that happens to you.

Why wouldn’t you want to be the author of your destiny?

Putting it all together

By now you should be convinced that treating your promotion like a project is the best way to pursue and ultimately earn your promotion. Here’s how you can get started. First, commit to the journey, it’s a full year for many of us. Second, get time with your manager and ask them two things:

  1. What is it going to take to get their support for a promotion one year from now
  2. Would they be opposed to meeting every other month to ensure progress

Third, start your promotion journal and capture your wins, capture your praise, basically anything that might help you later. Once you do that, you’re off to the races pursuing your promotion. Towards the 8-month mark, write up a one-page promotion case highlighting Impact, key projects, and other evidence. Once you’re happy with that, start sharing it with influencers in your area, get their feedback (and by extension, their buy in and support). By the time you and your manager do a final check in around month 10 it should be a done deal. If not…well that’ll be a separate post, but hopefully you won’t need it.

If you found this post helpful and want more ways to grow as a professional and set yourself up with your best chance at promotion in about 12 months, check out Entry Level Escape:


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