Promotion in today's work environment: Still possible?

This week's prescription: Study your target job. Photo: Ujwala Prabhu/Flickr

WASHINGTON, November 3, 2013 – In today’s work environment, promoting their own personnel is the last topic on management’s mind. Instead, they prioritize things like managing cash shortages, juggling benefit packages like health care, handling personnel problems and issues, and growing the business.  With such priorities at the fore, they are more likely to considering laying individuals off than promoting them.

Even so, there is some good news with regard to the promotion front. Every organization must have leaders, managers and supervisors, for without them, the hands-on office worker, manufacturer, inventor, and technician would receive no professional development or encouragement. Perhaps more importantly, there would be no one in place to prepare future leaders for these organizations.

Assuming the American workforce has limited promotion potential, what can employees do to distinguish themselves from the pack?

The most important activity for employees who wish to be promoted is to learn everything about the target job he or she desires. Practically speaking, this means observing your supervisor, asking questions of your supervisor about his job, and trying to literally assist your supervisor with his work.

For example, if you sat down for lunch with your supervisor, could you ask her about her day? What task has she performed so far today? Who has she met with? What positive aspects of her day can she share? What obstacles has she faced?

If you work in close proximity to your supervisors, you can observe their daily routines. Are they in the office before start of the official work day? Are they responding to emails, phone calls and other correspondence? Do they attend meetings? With whom? How do they interact with your peers, their peers and their supervisors? Is this effective or ineffective? Can you brainstorm how these job behaviors might be improved or performed more efficiently?


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Typically there is a great deal of literature you can review on this subject as well. For example, you can review your supervisor’s job description. You can review the company organizational chart. You can go online and read everything in print about your company. Also, does your company have written policies and procedures? You should know them inside and out.

Most supervisors need help. They invariably have more work than they can handle. If so, they are likely to assign some of their work to their subordinates. Employees attempting to learn as much about the job as possible must increase the likelihood that they will be selected to provide this kind of assistance.  So if you notice that your supervisor is looking for someone to assign additional work to, offer to do it.

If you offer to help and they are hesitant, don’t push too hard or you may overstep your bounds and become irritating, defeating your original purpose, so tread lightly at least at first. After all, employees who are trying to absorb as much as possible about their supervisor’s job should not be annoying. There is a fine line between studious learning and irritating behavior.

If your supervisor is not open to questions and observations, steer clear. Instead, rely more on others who may know about your target job and the literature review you conduct. Not surprisingly, ambitious subordinates seem threatening to some supervisors. But do not let this stop you from becoming proficient in the skills involved in their job. Instead be subtle in your actions and the way you go about this.


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Once you have learned a great deal about your target job, identify the knowledge, skills and abilities you need to develop to be competent for that job.  Take training, online learning or formal educational classes to develop or enhance those competencies. Find a mentor, maybe another supervisor in your company, who can assist you if necessary.

Learning the target job you desire is the best method to get selected for it or something like it when it becomes available. That’s because, when the vacancy occurs, you will have already developed the competencies for the job. You will be able to demonstrate that in a selection process such as an interview, and you may be noticed and/or handpicked ahead of time because you are clearly performing the tasks of the job before the vacancy occurs.

 


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Cassi Fields

Dr. Cassi Fields has provided expert opinion on career and workplace issues for nationally recognized media outlets including Forbes, TheStreet TV, MSNBC.com, FOX News Live, US News & World Report, Recruiter.com, WUSA9, News Channel 8, HR.com, and more. Dr. Fields, who received her Ph.D. in Industrial and Organizational Psychology from George Washington University, lives in Virginia with her husband and two children.

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