I was chatting online earlier today with a colleague of mine. This colleague has been highly successful over the years in large financial firms, taking on ever larger problems and fixing them, getting accolades and, along with them, promotions. He is a person whom I very much respect, especially his ever-present sense of humour.
He had an insightful line during our conversation: “I have discovered that the most important relationships are with your peers – they decide in the end who gets promoted.”
At first blush, this makes no sense. After all, it is your manager who most directly decides if you get promoted, or at the very least his/her manager. Even in large companies, where committees or executives several steps removed make promotion decisions, your manager is the one who writes your reviews, recommends candidates for promotion and highlights or quashes other recommendations.
So why would my friend highlight peers?
My friend is not a salesman, but I believe he has instinctively come to the realization that promotion is a sales process. In all sales, you have important actors. There are champions, influencers, blockers, etc. If you are trying to get promoted, you need a champion – either yourself or your boss – but you also need to win over influencers and minimize blockers. Your peers are both of those. If you win them over, despite their being, to some degree, your competition, they can be positive influencers, affecting not only your direct manager but others, especially in the case of promotion committees. At the same time, if you have a negative relationship with your peers, they can poison your reputation and, hence, your promotion, acting as blockers.
Promotion is a sales process. Want to get promoted? Sell your services at a higher level inside the company, with everything that sales entails.