The Cella Slant: Getting Promoted—what’s driving the desire?

By Jackie Schaffer

Managers of all functions often hear “I want to be promoted” from their team members. What’s critical for those managers to understand is what is behind that desire. For some it’s money, for others it’s a title, credibility, or a desire to create a greater impact. Understanding the driver helps managers and their direct reports identify how to move forward.

If an individual is seeking more money or a title, managers should ask them what additional responsibilities would accompany increased pay and a new title. In addition, this is an opportunity to discuss whether a business need exists for those responsibilities—unfortunately even whether there’s talent, there’s not always a business need that can justify the increased expense. If the individual wants to be promoted because they feel undercompensated, it may be necessary to review industry resources such as The Creative Group’s Salary Guide and/or the AIGA|Aquent Survey of Design Salaries to determine if that is potentially true.

Sometimes individuals feel their titles don’t match their responsibilities, and therefore they aren’t receiving the respect they need in order to perform their roles. This sometimes happens when the Creative Director can’t be called Creative Director because they aren’t considered “director-level” at their organization. Other times, staff feel they ought to have “senior” in front of their titles because they’ve been in seat for a substantial period of time (not a valid reason for a promotion) or hopefully because the quality of their work is superior. These challenges can be especially tough for the in-house community because of titling and grading protocols. In these cases, managers need to hear out the staff member and the challenges they perceive to determine what solutions are possible within the framework of the department and overall organization.

The answer I loved to hear from my team was “I want to have a bigger impact across the department/organization.” Of course, there are times this is a forward-looking statement as the individual may not be ready yet, but knowing that is their goal motivates the manager to increase coaching opportunities for that team member in order to maintain their engagement and excitement about the future.

So whether you are the team member asking for a promotion or the manager hearing the request—address the why not the what…it’s far more important.

Jackie Schaffer, vice president and general manager of Cella Consulting, is a former in-house leader who has consulted for teams of all sizes, including Fortune 500 clients, government entities and educational institutions and has the unique opportunity to speak with hundreds of creative leaders each year. Cella helps creative leaders and their teams identify and execute strategic priorities, so they can increase their effectiveness and focus on creating high-quality creative.

Cella is a co-author of the In-House Creative Services Industry Report and authors weekly blogs on business operations topics pertinent to the role of creative leaders.