Growth = Promotion?


Some years ago, I was introduced to a training exercise where some provocative statements were displayed on the screen, and participants were asked to move to one side of the room or the other depending on whether they agreed with the statement or not.

One statement which usually resulted in separation into two distinct groups was “Growth = Promotion”.

The “ayes” – and there are usually many – would argue that at the end of the day, promotion is the most visible, tangible indicator of growth. What’s the point in growth if there is stagnation in a role, they’d challenge. In high-power-distance cultures (like India), a promotion to a higher position appeared to be the most powerful aspirational goal for anyone.

But thankfully, whenever such an exercise is done, there are a number of people among the group who do not see Growth and Promotion as the same thing!

Their perspective is as follows:

– One can grow in so many ways – role is just one aspect. New responsibilities, new markets, new products or services, new team members, new organisation structures, new benchmarks … all of them are associated with growth – in capabilities, in perspective, in relationships, in maturity and understanding. And these things could happen with or without a promotion.

– Personal growth and development, learning new skills – is a critical aspect that we often forget. “Learning is only for youngsters” is a dysfunctional belief. So many organisations have IDP (Individual Development Plan) programmes that are under-utilised (often even unutilised). In the worst case, they remain an annual paper-and-pen ritual! I’ve met so many senior executives who don’t explicitly set “learning goals” for themselves – under the assumption that “I already know everything I need to know, else I would not be in this senior position”. I am reminded of Thomas Szasz, who said “Every act of conscious learning requires an injury to one’s self-esteem. That is why young children … learn so easily, and why older people, especially if vain or self-important, cannot learn at all”.

– Often, organisations promote people who are not yet 100% ready for the role … and the growth and learning is expected to take place after! [Unfortunately, it doesn’t always happen – reinforcing the “Peter Principle” about being promoted to your level of incompetence. But this is a silly idea – because competence is a moving target!]. Having said this, clearly any organisation would prefer to promote whoever is most ready for the new role … and so it makes sense to focus on growth even before promotion!

– Managing one’s own growth and development is within one’s control – whereas getting a promotion is beyond one’s direct control, sometimes even beyond the organisation’s control. There has to be a vacant position, after all – which is dependent on the current incumbent, competitive ecosystem, overall economy/ industry growth and so on.

As a coach, I have had many conversations with clients about ‘growth’. When they first mention it as a concern area or goal, I invite them to explore the ‘real story’ – are they talking about promotion? Or are they talking about the more holistic idea of personal growth?

Because “growth” is definitely not the same as “promotion”!



Leave a Reply