5 Hidden Things that Affect Your Promotion (that Nobody Tells You About)

You are being judged at work.

Here’s the kicker—most companies won’t tell you what they are judging you on.

For sure, there are objective metrics that people assess, but many times the things we are judged on have nothing to do with our core performance.


Well, while each of us have true value we bring to a company, the people above us often don’t know exactly what we do, so they rely on other factors to form an impression. Luckily, you can influence this “perceived value” if you are aware of what people notice.

Here are the 5 hidden things you are being judged on (that nobody tells you about):

1. How well you deal in your company’s covert currency.

Every company has a “covert currency.” It’s the thing that people value that isn’t directly stated. And to make things even more confusing, many times it is in direct opposition to what a company says they value.

There is—however—a place you can look for clues. Listen to the “hero stories” your company tells. For example: You may work for a company that says they value work-life balance. But if every “hero story” tells the tale of working into the night and having to meet the deadline by dashing to the FedEx location at the airport, then that is not what is valued. What is valued is the “diving catch.”

That doesn’t mean you have to give up work-life balance to be part of that culture. What it does mean is that you’d better be able to make a “diving catch” and have a few hero stories of your own.

Other hidden value propositions might be about prizing frugality over investment. (If the company says they value investment, but all the “hero stories” are about how people saved the company money, it’s a clue.) Or basing worth on how much you travel (all the hero stories are people comparing airline status).

To figure out your company’s “covert currency,” all you have to do is listen. Then start dealing in it.

2. What you wear to work.

Of course, the clothes we wear have no bearing on how valuable we are to our companies—however, everyone judges people based on what they wear.

Don’t think it’s true?

Imagine that two people walk into a meeting you are attending. One is dressed in an Armani suit with a pocket square and the other is wearing cutoffs, a t-shirt and flip flops. Be honest. Which one would you assume was the presenter? (The sad fact is that we all make judgments based on first appearances and much of that has to do with clothing.)

Professional dress varies wildly based on industry and geography, but if you want to be judged well, dress for the position you want, and not the one you have. If you want to be C-suite someday, match your attire to whatever that level looks like at your firm whether it is conservative, casual, edgy or wildly creative.

While you don’t have to spend a ton of money to achieve this, you will have to spend some. Luckily there are things like thrift and outlet stores to help you out. Don’t have talent in this area? No worries. Ask a friend who is, check out services like Stitchfix, eshakti, Dressing Your Truth (or Dressing Your Truth for Men), or set aside a larger amount of cash to use a personal shopper at Nordstrom’s.

3. What you say around the water cooler.

Stephen Covey, in his book, the Speed of Trust, writes about behaving in ways that build trust. He also highlights that one way that either builds or chips away at trust is how we talk about people who aren’t present. Even if others join in talking about a competitor or a former colleague, people will come away with impressions of how much they can trust us based on what we say about others.

Whether we realize it or not, we are constantly making an impression about our trustworthiness.

Covey highlights that in order to show loyalty and build trust we need to give credit freely acknowledging the contributions of others. He reminds us to speak about others as if they were present and to never bad-mouth others behind their backs.

Our credibility is on the line when we are speaking and we are judged by it.

4. Whether you respect that leadership has more skin in the game than you do.

We leak the way we feel about things.

No matter how well we think we cover, most of the time our attitudes come off of us in waves--even if we don’t want to.

Respecting that leadership has more skin in the game than we do can be a healthy framework in balancing the way we pitch ideas. (It also influences how we feel when our ideas aren’t invested in.)

While most of us could walk out the door tomorrow and make a lateral move, the higher people are up the leadership structure, the more difficult it is to do that--and the tier above us usually has way more on the line in terms of managing the budget.

Keep in mind that leadership has more at stake that you do. It leaks off of you as respect.

5. How well you make your immediate supervisor look to the people they care about.

While most of us are conscientious about giving credit to the people below us for their good ideas, it is also beneficial to do it in reverse. Making our direct supervisors look good to the people they care about--whether it is the next level of leadership above them or to their clients--goes a long way in affecting our perceived value in a company.

We’ve all seen this done in smarmy ways--and nobody respects a suck up. So do this with integrity. It’s about being on a team and having your leader’s back. About making them feel seen in a way that lets the people who matter to them see it too.

Another reason to do this? Well, if your boss stays in place, you will never get that job. Helping your boss rise, can help you rise too.

Working to influence the 5 hidden ways we are judged gives us the power to impact our perceived value. And no matter how objective a company tries to make the promotion process, there is always a subjective component. Those who happen to notice and work with that component have a better chance of getting promoted than those who don't.

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