Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Seven Reasons Why People Get Promoted

In line with my posts about how executives fall up, I thought I would put in a word or two as to how people get promoted, some justly deserved and others into their level of incompetence (Thanks Laurence J. Peter). This is true of all businesses, not just advertising. People get promoted for both good reasons and for bad ones.

1) Merit 
Often, people get promoted because they simply earn it.  They assume the next level long before it is given and the promotion is anticlimatical.  About a year ago, I posted about how to get promoted and covered the anticlimactic promotion.  Promotions come in different ways.  

2) Time In Grade
Initially, in all businesses, one must pay dues.  After a certain amount of time in grade, promotions come pretty much automatically.  Most are based both on time in grade and merit.  But there comes a time when other factors kick in which determine a person’s career trajectory.

3) The Right Connections
Sometimes, people manage up well.  They have mentors to whom they are loyal and those mentors like to bring these people along with them because they trust them and know that they will do their bidding.
Sometimes, especially in advertising, people are lucky enough to get on growing accounts.  As the accounts grow, they grow.   This is especially true if there is a client with whom one is joined at the hips.  As one gets promoted, so does the other.

4) Big Billers
In law firms, he who bills the most gets promoted.  Ditto advertising.   If an account is big, provides lots of income and is profitable, agencies don’t like to upset the apple cart.  But as the Peter Prescription goes, someone who is good on one account may not be good on several accounts where the skills required to run those businesses are different.

People get promoted when they have have ideas; make suggestions, recommendations and are confident enough to express those ideas. At junior levels they are unafraid to speak up. As they progress up the ladder, they learn their businesses well enough to make significant contributions. Their proposals are not always executed, but they are valued by co-workers and clients.  They earn respect for thinking about their business and get promoted as a result..

6) Great Resumes
Sometimes (all too often) people get hired because they have great résumés.  But those résumés may have nothing to do with the business at hand.  We have seen executives who have seemingly perfect experience flunk out in a new position because the experience they have has not prepared them properly to handle the issues that will confront them in their new job, despite what their resumes say..  This happens a lot when the underlying skills required to handle a job are not carefully defined up front so that candidates can be measured against that criteria.

7) Convenience
All too often people get promoted as a matter of convenience.  I once had a job running an organization (not advertising).  After many years in that position, I felt it was time to move on.  No one in the organization was capable of handling the assignment, so the only person who volunteered to step up was incompetent. The board knew it and they gave it to him anyway.  This often happens in ad agencies where a person simply outlasts his or her competition.  And since the evil you know is better than the evil you don’t know, it is easier and more expedient to promote someone known rather than bring in a stranger. Management does this hoping that the person will grow into the job.  Sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.

I wish life were just a meritocracy.  But it doesn’t always happen that way.  If it did we would have better leadership in every field of endeavor. 


  1. Excellent points. Particularly the last one about merit. In fact I just wrote about that: http://roundseventeen.blogspot.com/2012/07/in-advertising-you-need-rabbi.html

  2. Building the right connections is always a must in getting a promotion. One must be with the right people to support and help him/her in pursuing that promotion. In one way or another these right connections maybe of great help in getting that promotion.

  3. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    1. Harsh: I am about to take your comment down. Please do not use my website to promote your business. Paul

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