Workplace Doctor: How to get promoted during these times of belt tightening

What's the best way to secure a leadership position during a slowdown? Alex Davda advises.

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Moving up the corporate ladder is a very important step for an employee's productivity. I want to take the initiative and ask my manager for a promotion as I feel a "blind eye" approach has been taken towards my contributions. I am aware that most of the companies are tightening their belts in the region due to low oil prices. What are the correct steps or the best way to get the promotion to be a leader? AA, UAE

During tough economic times companies tighten their belts. But the cost of promoting high potential talent in an organisation is significantly less than the cost of replacing them when they are lost to the competition, which bodes well for you.

Be aware, however, that the world of work is very different than it was in the past. In the 1970s, ‘80s and even early ‘90s, it was assumed you’d join a company, work hard and over time slowly climb the career ladder. Those were the unwritten rules of the corporate life, but fortunately the world has changed. Employees still want to climb to the top, but there are now a variety of routes available that they can take. Remember climbing to the top does not necessarily mean climbing in a straight line.

Modern workers, especially those from Generation Y like myself, are impatient by their very nature, and want to ascend the career ladder as quickly as possible, or at the very least receive stretching developmental activities in different parts of the organisation. This was how my move to the UAE from our London office came about.

There are no hard and fast rules or prescribed formulas for getting promoted because every person and every organisation is different. However, there are tactics you should consider.

Firstly, take time to consider your strengths and development opportunities. To really get to know yourself, ask for feedback, especially from your boss and co-workers. You may want to undertake a 360-feedback tool and get a clear picture of how you are seen in the organisation. Also talk to experienced senior people so you can benchmark and identify where you are and where you want to get to and then begin laying out the route to get there.

The next step is to use this information to create your road map to get from where you are now to where you want to be. Aim to pull together a clear track for your own growth within the organisation. You need to be the engine that navigates the path, as no one is going to do it on your behalf.

Once you have sought feedback and created your plan, then start the engine by marketing yourself. Make yourself likeable, and spend time making your boss’s job easier. Proactively keep senior people regularly updated versus waiting until they request a status report from you. Ask yourself two critical questions – if new positions come up am I the person they would come running for? If a new opportunity came along outside would they fight to keep me?

Set up regular meetings to keep them up to speed with opportunities or challenges that you see. By acting as someone on his or her side, you can gain their respect and raise your profile. You may feel like your contributions have been overlooked, so be proactive and make further contributions that cannot go unnoticed. Get firmly on their radar.

Also, build your network beyond your current boss and to other key people in your organisation. It may be that they spot positions for you and can support your career progression. If you are planning on taking this journey with your organisation, you need a host of supporters cheering you on, rather than a rabble of sceptics putting up roadblocks and creating potholes.

Finally, focus on your contributions, keeping track of your accomplishments, involvements, successes and key learning. Most leaders are open to learning and feedback and are aware if one route is blocked they will find another. Be early to work, be dependable and be the person that is not afraid to get outside their comfort zone.

Navigating your career path requires you to be self-aware and open to feedback while having a clear route set out of where you would like to go. Remember no one will drive for you, although some may help you steer.

Alex Davda is business psychologist and client director at Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School, and is based in the Middle East. Email him at for advice on any work issues.

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