Can we all just stop talking about promotions like they matter? A promotion has meaning when someone is moving up the corporate ladder at such a slow pace that every small step is grounds for celebration.

But there are no more ladders because no one stays long enough at a company to get up the whole ladder. And even if someone did try to climb, they’d probably be laid-off outsourced or off-shored before they got to the top.

So what is the point of a promotion? Titles do not matter because they are accoutrements of hierarchy in a nonhierarchical workforce. And no one cares about getting MORE responsibly that implicitly comes with a promotion, they want the RIGHT kind of responsibility — which means interesting work and a chance to expand one’s skills set.

So all that’s left to justify continuing to talk about promotions is getting a raise, which is hardly a notable event. Here is a headline from Salary.com: “Raise Outlook Better than Employees Expected”. The article goes on to say that the average raise was something just above three percent. Let’s say four percent. This means if you were making $100,000 a year, you’ll get $4,000 a year more. SO WHAT? After cost of living and tax adjustments you are looking at a little over a thousand dollars. That will not change your life in any significant way, that’s for sure.

When someone tries to give you a promotion or insult you with a $1000 a year raise, tell them you want someone that really matters. Here are some suggestions:

1. Growth opportunities

Learning new skills is worth a lot more to you than some ridiculous 4% raise. Ask to get on a team that will teach you how to do something you think is important. Ask to work with the clients who are doing the most innovative projects. Request a training budget and send yourself to a bunch of seminars. The best way to learn is to role-play, which everyone hates to do, so go to a seminar where someone is forces you to do it.

2. Mentor opportunities

Ask to be matched with a mentor in the company. This is not a revolutionary request. Human resource executives have been studying this process for more than a decade and they know how to pick someone good for you. They just need to spend a little time doing it.

3. Flex-time opportunities

If you are so great at your job that you have earned a promotion, suggest that you keep your current job but do it from home or do it four days a week. After all, you’ve already shown you perform well. Heck, ask to work from Tahiti; you should be able to do the job however you want as long as you maintain that stellar level of performance.

4. Entrepreneurial opportunities

Just say no. To the promotion, that is. Now that you have a sense of how much time and energy your current job requires, now that you’ve mastered the scope, you can try something on the side. The safest way to experiment with running your own business is to do it while you still have a regular paycheck. Who cares if it doesn’t include that 4% raise? Think of that paycheck as a research grant for your ideas for a side business.

Instead of letting last century’s carrots dictate your workplace rewards, think about what is right for you, right now. What do you really need? You don’t need a promotion. It’s something else. Think about what would really make a difference in your life and then make it happen. While the rest of your organization is focusing on titles and money you can slip under the radar and get something truly meaningful.

238 replies
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