How to Be Promotable: 3 Surprising Things You Need to Know

What does it take to get promoted?

Most people think being good at your job is enough.  They’re wrong.

I met a woman on a plane a few weeks ago who told me she was up for a promotion.  Full disclosure, it was a long flight, and I’m one of those people who others confess their secrets to.  The woman was focused and smart. She told me about her role and her team, and their great results.  But I don’t think she’ll ever get promoted beyond her current function.


Because when I asked her about organization’s customers were and their market position, she didn’t have a clue.  She understood her role, but she didn’t fully understand the actual business she was in.

If you want to advance, you need to know more than your job; you need to understand the world in which your organization lives.

In my consulting practice, I routinely see people whose careers stall because they’re siloed in their job or function. It doesn’t matter if you’re the best IT person, or even the highest profit plant manager. Whether you’re an aspiring entry level or trying to crack the C suite, there are three things you need to understand about your organization.

 1. The market

This goes beyond being able to name your top three competitors. No matter your role, you must understand the industry you’re in. How have things changed? How is technology impacting your business?  What are some of the challenges your industry is anticipating over the next year, or 10 years? To deepen your understanding of the market, make a proactive effort to educate yourself. Join LinkedIn groups, read the news, and talk to other people in the industry, especially those not in your function or organization. Future leaders need comprehensive understanding of the market place, and you need to stay up to date with new developments.

 2. The financials

How does your company make money? What does customer turnover cost? What are the profit margins, if you’re in a for profit business? If you’re in the non-profit world, where do you get funding? Every area of the business impacts and is impacted by these figures. Understanding the numbers is key to mastering your role, and proving you’re ready for the next step. If your company is publically traded, a lot of this information is very accessible to you. If not, ask questions and start to understand the process, you want to know how your organization makes money, how much, and where it comes from.

3. Your customers

Even if you’re not customer facing, understanding your customer base is critical for understanding your business. Even if your organization serves the public, you have customers. Take a deep dive into your customer’s world. What are their goals? Their challenges? And how does your business fit into that? If you can, get in the field and talk with your customers. If you can’t, find someone in a customer-facing role and ask specific questions. The better you know your customers – their businesses and lives –  the better you’ll be able to make strategic decisions.

Your understanding of the organization as a whole and the market conditions help you add value that matters. It shows other leaders that you are aware, strategic, and willing to put the effort in.

If you want to move up, think beyond your role, understand the full scope of the business you’re in.