You can approach a job in one of two ways:

1) Do the minimum expected to not get fired.

2) Do the maximum possible and massively exceed what’s expected.

Keep this thought in mind for a few seconds as I introduce a different concept (then integrate the two).

There are two ways to think about a promotion:

1) “Promote me, and I’ll step up my performance after I get promoted.”

2) Step up your performance before you ever get promoted.

These two concepts are very much linked.

If you do the minimum expected, by definition you won’t step up your performance unless you get promoted.

From your employer’s point of view, you’re a high-risk promotion.

If you’re promoted, your employer has no idea how you will perform. You’re a risk.

The other approach involves doing the maximum possible and massively exceeding what’s expected.

In this approach, by definition, you end up stepping up your performance before there’s ever any discussion of a promotion.

From your employer’s point of view, promoting you is low risk.

Your employer already knows how you’ll perform after the promotion because you’re already doing it.

In this case, the promotion really just formalizes a transition that has already taken place informally.

Recently I hosted another office hours session for members of my Inner Circle mentorship group.

I received a number of questions about how to ask for a promotion or raise.

Initially, I was struggling with how to best answer the question.

When I thought about it, it occurred to me that I’ve never actually ever asked my employers for a promotion or a raise.

In every case, they gave me one or the other or both without my ever asking.

In the years I worked for others, I averaged a promotion every 12 to 18 months and received annual raises from 15% to 50%.

(This occurred at McKinsey, a public company in industry, and a private company in industry.)

Looking back, I realized that I subscribed to the approach of doing the maximum possible.

At the time, I wasn’t doing so in order to get a promotion or raise.

I never strategized about either of these because I was too busy strategizing how to do a better job, improve the performance of my department, or help the company succeed.

I did the maximum possible for one very selfish reason.

It was the fastest way to learn and improve my business skills.

I was successful in growing my skills; the promotions and raises were simply a byproduct of that.

(Incidentally, this approach works best when you work for a growing company in a growing industry.

Taking a “good” job in a shrinking industry or a declining company is extremely risky.)

It’s fine to plan your career targeting promotions and raises.

However, don’t forget that at some point you must also grow your skills to sustain a career-long trajectory of promotions and raises.

In short, better skills matter… a lot.

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