About five minutes into my conversation with Bill who was interviewing me as his potential coach, I said, “So you’re the guy who does all the work but never says anything about it.” He nodded his head vigorously and said, “Yeah, that’s me.” I said, “this is not a great way to get promoted you know.” Bill laughed. Then he asked, “When can we start?” As it turns out, Bill really was the guy that did all the work but some people did know it. But not necessarily the right people or enough of them.
Bill couldn’t have been a better human being. He always wanted to get it right and do what was in the best interest of the enterprise. He had a great brain and a great heart. If you have those two things you can generally learn the rest. People who knew Bill well, admired him for his personal and professional attributes. As is often the case with those who perform admirably below the radar, he was not always in the conversations about who would get a promotion. So we made a plan.
First we considered the context in which Bill operated. Although this seems like an obvious factor to take into account we don’t always do it. Again, we rely on talent, production and hard work to make our case for us. When we begin to get honest with ourselves and take a look at who is doing well within our organization we can then compare what they are doing to what we are doing. This allows us to identify some potential gaps. Why wouldn’t we do this routinely? Often it is because we are not sure we belong at the next level. Sometimes we don’t look around because we are pretty sure that we are not going to be comfortable doing what it takes to close that “who gets promoted around here gap?” The executives who were climbing the ladder within Bill’s organization were all widely known. They did not toil in anonymity. The gap we recognized was that not enough people knew Bill at least not well enough to speak up for him in talent reviews. We set about trying to change that
Bill, although extremely personable, is a fairly introverted fellow. He is comfortable one on one, in small groups and with people he knows fairly well. Bill’s next job, were he to get promoted, would put him at the Vice President’s level. A much higher visibility role in his company. This role should he want it and get it, would require Bill to push against the limits of his introversion. He would be in more meetings with higher level executives, some of whom he would not know very well. He would be interacting with larger groups more often. We worked together to bring some of Bill’s concerns to the surface. I don’t think he was fully aware of why he was shying away from opportunities. I asked Bill to take these concerns out of the mix temporarily and to consider how he would feel about being at the next level if he didn’t have to worry about them. He knew he had the technical and managerial expertise to function well as a VP in his arena. I encouraged Bill to think about those abilities and to trust that he could manage the other requirements of the new role once he got it. I promised to help him with that.
Bill’s stakeholder feedback confirmed that he was widely admired but not widely enough known. His stakeholders also provided some excellent suggestions about what Bill should do to become more visible to the right people and to enhance his brand. One of these suggestions was for Bill to work on a couple of cross-functional team projects. He had no trouble gaining sponsorship at a very high level in this regard. Once colleagues saw the value Bill could add to what they were looking to accomplish they held him in even higher esteem. Note that Bill did no self-promotion. He just did what he had been doing well for many years in the line of sight of people that had not known him well previously. When the inevitable next re-organization took place, Bill was asked to lead a very large new group. He jumped in with his typical work ethic and ability. He moved people into positions in which they could be successful, although in some cases this took some convincing. He created a strong, high- performing team very quickly. His promotion followed within a few months.
Bill’s upward trajectory has continued. He is now the General Manger and Senior Vice President the Division of his Fortune 50 company that is their most profitable. There was never any doubt about Bill’s technical or people skills. Since they have become more widely known, he is been able to make great contributions and a powerful impact on his enterprise.