Ask Our Boss: What Does It Really Take to Get a Promotion?



In our new monthly column dedicated to helping you succeed faster, our publisher Alison Rice is answering your most pressing career questions. You know, the stuff you really want to ask your boss but can’t. Have a question? Ask it on Instagram or Facebook by tagging #AskOurBoss.

What does it take to get a promotion? Great question. It all starts with your definition of promotion. Most of us were taught that being promoted means more money and a more senior title, but in my experience of managing teams, I disagree.

Good organisations and managers will map talent. That means we're constantly mapping your development path in line with the business' needs against key performance indicators, like your strengths, weaknesses, your willingness to learn and grow, how you receive feedback, your work ethic, and your ability to collaborate and communicate effectively. This mapping work enables us to personalise our approach to managing you, but also help shape a progression path that plays to your strengths.

Well before the formal promotion stage, I will start giving team members who have been consistently nailing their current role more responsibility. It could be a special project or a new avenue the business needs to explore, but it’s through this higher duties work that I can assess someone’s ability to plan, lead, meet deadlines under pressure, foresee any problems or issues ahead of time, make informed decisions, problem solve, and so on.

Will vs. Skill

In my experience, it is the employees who don’t know how to do something, but really want to prove they are capable, that standout. This is high will, low skill. Very coachable and their energy tends to be contagious. The opposite of that would be employees that see new projects as additional work. They can likely do it or have maybe done it before. They understand the amount of work involved, so they don’t find it as exciting or see it as an opportunity to develop. This is high skill, low will.

While I can’t speak on behalf of all managers, I can tell you most of us prefer to work with people who have great energy and are excited by new tasks or opportunities. We don’t want our growth ideas picked apart or for someone to tell us what might go wrong. Instead, we want people to help us explore a way forward. The thing is, we don't always know the way or have the answer. That's why we're so focused on building diverse but collaborative teams. 

If you’re worried you don’t know how to do something or you might get it wrong, then good! This is the definition of learning on the job. Trust your organisation and your manager to guide you, but be ready and keen to receive feedback. It is a pivotal part of the learning process and it isn't personal. Don't be ashamed to admit when you don’t know the answer, and remember to ask serviceable questions. Asking questions for the sake of it can make you look misinformed and tends to overcomplicate the process.

In summary: people-focused organisations will prioritise developing employees who have the right attitude, a desire to learn, and the maturity to receive and implement feedback. 


There’s a few behavioural traits that I look for when elevating employees. Some might seem really obvious, but you’d be surprised how few people actually execute on all of them, and consistently. It’s not easy but that’s what makes great talent standout. You can’t be shiny for a week or a month and then stop trying when it gets hard. High performers are consistent with their work ethic and display great behaviour day in, day out, for sometimes years before they are formally promoted. It’s through this hard personal work they gain trust from senior members of the business.

Being consistent with your team is just as important as being consistent with your manager. I’ve seen employees change their tone or mood when I walk away. A good manager is always observing. If you’re all sunshine and roses when your boss is around, but then a complete nightmare to your team, you will fail to grow an internal following. Having one of those is a key performance marker. Do people trust you? Are you authentic? Do you always represent the business’ best interests or pedal your own? I will always take feedback from the team before promoting someone so remember to work just as hard on your relationships with your peers.