How to Get Promoted

The seven habits of marketers who get promoted

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👋 Hi, it’s Naiomi and Erik and welcome to Demand our weekly newsletter to help you become a top 1% marketer. Welcome to the 151 new Demand subscribers who have joined us in the last week. 🎉

This is Part 1 of a 3 Part Series on Career with a focus on promotion. Part 2 will focus on how to handle being passed over for a promotion. Part 3 will deep dive into three examples from my experience and how I handled them. The guidance in this article largely applies to performance in medium sized startups to big tech. If you are at a startup <50 people, you know that these processes are largely informal.

Over my nearly 15 year career I’ve been fortunate to move from IC to Manager to Director and beyond. I have experienced the high highs of moving to the next level and the low lows of being stuck for years without ‘title’ progress. Even while receiving a string of exceeds and greatly exceeds expectations. I’ve sat through many calibration sessions – each with their own politics, figure heads, and shifting cultural norms. Along the way, I’ve learned a few lessons I think can be helpful for those who are navigating the promotion spectrum.

As we exit performance review season, some are feeling full of gratitude, but likely many more are feeling contempt. Feeling like they were passed over. Or that their contributions aren’t being recognized. And especially in this environment, where near-double digit percentage increases to base have been reduced below inflation

Many type A folks will hit this wall. Where our career acceleration plateaus and the expected promotion doesn’t happen. 

How do you avoid this? 

How do you increase your odds of getting promoted? 

What follows are 7 actionable steps for helping you navigate the notoriously ambiguous promotion process and get promoted.

1/ The average marketer understands their next play. Marketers who get promoted understand the entire game, every position and anticipate the next play.

It’s been surprising to me over the course of my career how many people have never asked for the job expectations or career ladder of their role yet are intent on getting promoted. I’ve  known more colleagues that I’d like to admit who didn’t even know what their level was. These are table stakes. In order to get to the next level, you must not only understand your role and what’s required of you, but you must fully understand the context in which you are operating. At the most fundamental level, you must know your job, know your level, know the expectation of what it means to perform at your level, and exceed at your level. This is generally outlined in a career development ladder and it’s an official artifact that is available to you. It’s standard and will outline performance expectations by level and job type. 

But this is just the start. You need to understand how to play the game. Who are key decision making players, what are the broader strategic goals of the, org and company, how does your role fit in, how are you advancing key company OKRs for this year, who are the key stakeholders with an input or influence on your performance review? What visibility do they have of your work? Do you have a relationship with them? How are you managing visibility and expectations of cross functional peers who will contribute to your reviews? 

Here’s an unwritten rule. Yes, there is a career ladder and ‘objective’ measures of what it means to exceed at your level but there are also many subjective components which are not captured in a career ladder. These include things like – how well do you play with others? What are you known for in the team or organization? Are you someone who does excellent work but steamrolls your team and throws partners under the bus? These behaviors are critical and will almost always surface during promotion discussions. 

2/ The average marketer is a passenger in their career journey. Marketers who get promoted are in the driver's seat. 

Sorry to break it to you but your job is not your career. It’s one step in your longer journey. You should have a sense of where you are in your journey and where you want to get to. Marketers who rise to the top are the DRIs – the Directly Responsible Individuals – of their own careers. They take ownership, they hustle, and they make sure everyone knows it. With a bit of polish. 

In my early 20s, my manager who was fairly blunt said:

“We are each responsible for the success of our career. You care the most about your career and I care most about my career. No one at this company cares as much as you. You are the DRI of your career”  

This line has continued to live rent free in my mind. You must be proactive and take charge here. Have a vision, a plan and strategy for your career. In your current role, do not expect your manager to take the lead. Schedule and drive career chats on a quarterly or monthly basis with your manager to align on expectations for what it means to exceed in your current role. What must you do to receive an X rating. And if you receive that rating, how long will it take you to get promoted? Be explicit about what needs to be done for you to get promoted, align with your manager and hold them accountable. Remember your manager is likely overworked and over capacity, they have multiple direct reports and will be unlikely to remember your goals and your progress so you must keep it front and center.

3/ The average marketer is a box ticker. Marketers who get promoted are malcontents.  

Box-ticking gets you a participation trophy, not a corner office. The best ones? They're not afraid to take risks, to experiment, and to deliver far beyond their job responsibilities. There is your day job and your ‘role’. Then there is your impact at the company. You will need to work your butt off. Not only should you be performing at your level, you should be performing at the next level. And not just for a week or two. You should be performing at the next level consistently for 6+ months. 

Delivering against OKRs is a given. But you need to go beyond your role. You need to have a sense of pride in the company – the product, the marketing campaigns, the culture. And when you see something that is below the standard, you bring attention to it. It’s what Boz, the CTO of Meta calls the ‘Malcontents’:

There is an important, under-appreciated group at every company who are never content no matter how much success they or the company has had. There is a set of people who care so deeply about the company and its products that they take any shortcomings personally. They are offended by bad products and angered by cultural deficiencies. They write passionate notes that nobody asked for and rally people on comment threads in groups they aren’t required to be a part of. They speak truth to power because they are righteous and speak for those who might otherwise have no voice.

Boz AKA Andrew Bosworth

In calibrations there often is discussion of the impact that the candidate has made on the culture.  Proactively taking on and leading extracurriculars is essential in increasing your odds. Volunteer to take on other projects your manager doesn’t have the bandwidth for, mentor a younger teammate, join a culture committee, host a team offsite, participate in industry events on behalf of your employer – there are a number of ways to demonstrate you’re not simply doing a great job at your job but you’re going above and beyond. 

4/ The average marketer judges their individual performance. Marketers who get promoted understand their  performance relative to their peer set

This matters because in any given performance cycle, promotion counts are capped. There is a curve being managed to. It’s unfortunate and has been a problem for me on multiple occasions but at the end of the day, they are going to give out a set  number of promotions and if you’re going up for promotion, understand who you are going up against so your expectations are calibrated and you have an understanding of what great looks like at your level relative to your peer set. 

On the flip side, as a manager, and as a collection of leaders on the marketing team, you should be assessing your entire team and sequencing promotions accordingly. It’s poor form if you’re trying to promote >50% of your team in one cycle (unless they all kicked ass which lets be honest is rare). Managers should be looking multiple cycles out to understand if they should try and pull a promo forward by giving that person more responsibility, impact, and opportunity to shine or if they need to rebalance timelines and candidates to ensure a cycle that is as fair as possible. 

5/ The average marketer puts promotion ahead of impact. Marketers who get promoted understand it’s a lagging indicator of performance. 

Your promotion will always come after you’ve consistently exceeded expectations in your role, oftentimes for multiple cycles. If you are obsessively focused on getting promoted each cycle without nailing performance in your role (for some time) it’s not only poor form, it will reflect poorly on your personal brand. 

Too many times I’ve seen people focus  exclusively on getting promoted. They bring it up in nearly every 1:1. It’s always top of mind. While that clarity of focus is commendable, it can hurt you. Your focus should be on your performance and driving impact in your current role Yes, you should have a goal of getting promoted but bringing it up at each career conversation without evidence (objectively) of why you’re ready will not only annoy your overworked manager, it will deplete your energy and make your manager question your credibility.

6/ The average marketer is happy to have their manager in their corner. Marketers who get promoted understand their manager must be their staunch advocate 

Your manager will be the main advocate in securing a promotion. They will be the one advocating for you in calibrations and ultimately without their support, you cannot be promoted. So get on the same page, ensure they have your back and will go to bat for you. It is quite literally the ONLY way to secure a promotion. If your manager does not agree that you are ready, you will NOT be promoted under any circumstances.

A corollary is you should make your manager look damn good by consistently delivering high quality work and impactful work for the team. It’s a two way street. As you rise in the ranks and drive more impact, they will as well. 

7/ The average marketer defers to their manager. Marketers who get promoted do the heavy lifting for them. 

Assuming you have earned your promotion by exceeding the expectations of your current role and met the promotion criteria (time in role, business need at next level etc), don’t expect your manager to do all the work. Help them put together your promotion packet with examples of your work, impact, recommendations from XFN partners etc. Once that work is done, there is little left to do except let your manager go to bat for you in the performance calibration discussions. 

Have you penned your hype doc?

One more for Directors and Above…

8/ The average marketing director coasts (Fat RSUs and unlimited PTO anyone? :). Marketing directors that get promoted are forces of nature.

You're on the periphery of becoming a VP or CMO. You’re advising startups and you receive inbound offers weekly. Marketing Directors+, like you, who are exceeding in their role are forces of nature. Your impact is company wide and you are a trusted partner to all corners of the business. You don’t just look after the marketing team, or your function (say Growth, Product, Brand, Lifecycle), you have an impact on the entire company strategy. The engineering team wants your input on how they’re resourcing their teams. The legal team wants you to present at their monthly all team meeting. The board knows your impact. Hell, depending on the company size you should be on a first name basis with a handful of board members. You have a relationship with the CEO and they are supportive of your next stage in your career and even if it means leaving the company (which would be devastating given your performance). 

This article focused on getting a promotion. If you’re like me and have been qualified for a promotion you were passed up for, what do you do? Stay tuned for Part 2 on this. 

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