Promotions: Pulled up or Pushed up?

October 12, 2015

Probably the number one problem people have come to me with is around promotions. How do I get promoted? What can I do to get promoted faster? Why did get promoted before I did?

At a very high level, there are two ways to get promoted: being pulled up and being pushed up.

Pulled Up Promotion

Being pulled up means that the managers above you are pulling you up into your new position. I just finished watching an episode of Law and Order: SVU where the main character, Liv, is asked by her boss to apply for the Lieutenant’s exam. They’ve identified her as someone they think can do the job and they’re pulling her up. (In turn, she’s pulling up someone on her team to backfill her.)

To get pulled up, your efforts are typically around making sure your bosses know what a great job you’re doing and that you possess the right skills for promotion.

It’s the classic promotion strategy. The interesting dilemma is how your interactions with your team, peers, and managers are effected by your desire to get promoted. When your boss asks you a question, are you giving proper credit to the team that helped do the work or are you framing up the answer as though it was all your doing?

I want to be clear — being pulled up works. You can get pulled up without compromising your team and peers around you. I’ve seen fantastic people get pulled up for well deserved promotions but I’ve also see examples where the management team thinks their phenomenal but their team and peers feel that it was at their expense.

Pushed Up Promotion

This is when your team, your peers, those not above you, push you up and help you get your promotion. When your peer wants you to be their manager, it’s a powerful endorsement that you’re ready for the job.

I think this is less common in the workplace not because peers don’t want to help you get promoted but because the promotion path isn’t always transparent. Managers often hide the promotion trajectory so that they can keep people motivated if they’re not next in line.

One of the things I loved about working at KPMG was that when your peers saw that you were ready, they’d rally to get you promoted. My first promotion at KPMG was in 2001 and the group of people I worked with helped me or pushed me up for promotion. When I was in the process of getting promoted to Managing Director, my team was constantly asking how the process was going and what they could do to help. I remember coming back from interviewing with our management team (it was a long and complicated process). The entire team knew where I was and asked my boss for a debrief on how I did. They were motivated to help me get promoted.

It’s Not Black or White

Of course, back to my own example, it’s actually a combination of both that gets you promoted the fastest. If my team set me up for success but my management team didn’t see me at the next level, it wouldn’t have happened. Focusing on either approach singularly will lengthen the process. The art of the promotion is being able to both get pushed up by your team and pulled up by your management.