Your Time vs Their Time – The Mystique of Promotions

It’s January 23… and you’ve wrapped up one year and launched headfirst into another one. And buried within the holidays and celebrations is an end-of-the-year touchpoint. In that touchpoint discussion, managers will give feedback, a compensation review and sometimes a promotion.

It’s the “sometimes” that has created tension inside organizations. And while we work with many people to prepare for the end-of-year conversations, we also start coaching with people when they didn’t get what they want.

Promotions, or the lack of them, create tension in organizations, hard feelings between managers and employees – and a lot of misunderstanding with everyone. In fact, the tension around it has increased in recent years.

People managers feel like they get asked about promotions 3x more often than they used to. Most feedback sessions lead to “what’s in it for me,” and many employees want to meet frequently to be sure that their “promotion” and advancement is on track. Managers say that the language has shifted from “What’s my next opportunity?” to “You need to promote me” and “You owe me a promotion.” That’s a pretty demanding employee!

Employees are worried about falling behind. They’re worried about an increased cost of living. They want to hold onto the more flexible lifestyle and work style, and they’re impatient about getting to the next opportunity. They’re trying to shift the timing from when they want it to when the company is ready to do it.

That suggests that some employees don’t really understand how the timing of promotions works.

And the answer is: it depends.

There are some concepts that are universal for all companies.

  • Promotions never happen because an employee asked for it. Promotions happen on a company’s time and when an opening or increased responsibility call for it.
  • Promotions are rarely the sole decision of one leader.
  • Promotions are best impacted by what you do vs. what you ask for.
  • Promotions are more relational than transactional.

The concepts may seem clear. They may also seem rigid as if there’s little you can do to influence them in your favor. It may feel like there’s an invisible playbook inside a company, and some people seem to have one and you don’t. It’s more likely that some employees seek guidance and coaching and developed their own playbook for career advancement.

Here’s how we’d guide you to do the same.

Appreciate Feedback. Act on It.
Even though you aren’t in charge of when promotions happen, pay attention when these touchpoints occur. Even if you weren’t promoted, your career was discussed. Managers are most likely to share their thoughts –and the sound bites of others – as they go through a review.

Don’t challenge your manager’s perspective. Seek to understand it. If you come across as defensive or resistant, you won’t get much more. When you have constructive feedback, act on it. Not by trying to prove a leader wrong, but more by trying to shift an impression.

It doesn’t matter if impressions are accurate. It’s someone else’s perspective. And they have a right to it. You need to change it, not debate it.

In a coaching session, we ask you: what feedback you’ve gotten recently and what you’ve done with the feedback. Everyone answers the first question. Most people say “nothing” on the second one.

Managers vs Coaches.
Everybody has a manager, not everybody has a coach within that manager. And that’s OK. You shouldn’t put your career opportunities in the hands of one person anyway. Most promotions are decided by committee. But you should be savvy about where you stand with the manager you have.

In a coaching session, we ask you: where you stand in a manager’s pecking order. Are you the right-hand person for your manager? If not, are you second? And if not, chances are your manager may not be your best advocate. You have plenty of support in your current role. You just might not have the coach who’s going to help you move beyond it.

If there were an invisible playbook, page two would tell you to build an internal network. Build champions and coaches inside an organization, and they will support your future steps.

Results Speak Loudest.
There is an “I’m owed” mentality that is showing up in touchpoints. And it doesn’t fare well in a corporate setting. Promotions start with company needs, not individual ones. They will align, and promotions are likely. But you do more to promote yourself by your work vs. your words.

In a coaching setting, we talk to you about how you position your work and your brand. And this is often where some employees outshine others. They know how to package themselves more effectively. And instead of talking about what they should get, they talk more about what they’ve done.

Stop By, Say Hi!
We are still adjusting to new ways of working. The advantages of flexibility outweigh the trade-offs for most employees, but promotions are about visibility and relationships. And if they don’t know you…they don’t promote you. That’s not your manager’s responsibility, it’s yours. No matter how you’re working, you need to put added effort into relational time with your leader and others.

While we’ve heard a lot about how much employees need flexibility in their schedules, we’ve also heard what leaders say about adjusted work environments.

“If I’ve seen you in three Zoom meetings with 10 other people, I don’t know you.”

We know that promotions start with relationships. To promote you, I don’t just need to know your work. I need to know you to endorse you within the company.


Promotions are key points across a career, and as a result, they get a lot of attention. But worry less about timing and more about effort. Because there’s a lot you can do to greatly improve your chances.

If your year-end touchpoint didn’t go as you had planned, let’s talk about how you can proactively improve your opportunity.

As always, we’re here when you need us!

Want a free 15-minute consultation with us to see how we can help you or your leaders? Book a call now!

Sally Williamson & Associates