How to not get promoted

So you’re a high performer who likes their current position, but your boss keeps threatening to promote you so you can take on more responsibility. Here are some surefire ways to get them off your back.

1) Ask for way more money than they can pay.

When management likes someone, they will raise the max salary cap just for you. Never underestimate the ability of management to adjust budgets to meet your asking price. The higher a performer you are, the more unreasonable an ask you will have to make. If you know the position they want to promote you into already pays a lot, you may have to double or even triple your asking compensation to scare them off.

2) Be indispensable in your current role.

Even if you’re the top performer, you still have more you can do. The trick is to take your productivity from being very high to extraordinary, ridiculous levels. If you’re currently delivering more than all of your team combined, produce several times of their maximum output. Management will then have to justify dropping productivity to a quarter of its current level when they make a case for your promotion.

3) Turn your peers against you.

Top performers are usually well-liked by the peers, so that has to change. One of the best ways to get people to hate you is to demean them in public settings. While being mean may be hard at first, remember that it’s a learned skill. Start small by cutting people off in meetings before they can complete their sentences. Work your way up to passive-aggressively dismissing the value of their contributions. You know you’ve mastered the skill when you are taking credit for other people’s work. The fewer people like you, the more pressure they will put on management to block your promotion.

4) Make your boss’s boss dislike you.

Your boss gets to see your contributions up-close, making them impossible to fool into thinking you are incompetent. However, you can trick their boss into thinking you are not qualified for a promotion. Wait until you’re in a meeting with your boss’s boss and make a fool of yourself. Your boss will be confused, but their boss will judge you based solely on what little they know of you. When all of their interactions with you are negative, no matter how good you are at your job, they will not support your promotion.

5) Avoid behaviors that make you seem like a leader.

High performers can accidentally fall into the trap of displaying leadership potential. The classic blunder is having your peers trust your judgment and want to follow your direction. Once you are conscious of your bad habit of leading, you can change your behavior for the better. A simple practice to break is to stop using “Us” and “We” and start saying “I” and “me.” When your peers ask for help, tell them you’re too busy. When there is an opportunity to speak up on behalf of your team, stay quiet. Once management realizes no one wants to follow you, they will think twice about putting you in charge of anything.

High performers often complain to me that they are not getting promoted, and I’ve found the reasons fall into the buckets that I indicated:

  1. Their motivation is to make more money, not to take on more responsibility. Their pitch is, “Pay me more money,” rather than, “Give me more responsibility.” As you become more valuable to the organization, the money will take care of itself, so don’t start there. If you ever feel like you are underpaid, that’s a separate problem with other strategies to address.
  2. They are too critical to move out of their current role. When promoting you means harming the company in any way, management won’t do it. Invest in coaching your peers to improve their performance, so things will not collapse when you move into a new position.
  3. Their peers hate them. Management tries to gauge the reaction of announcing your promotion, and if it’s going to be negative, they won’t do it. While you don’t necessarily have to be well-liked, you won’t get promoted if management is continually hearing complaints about you from your peers.
  4. Their boss’s boss has a negative perception of them. If upper-management has a negative impression of you, no matter how hard your boss begs on your behalf, you won’t get promoted. High performers have already won over their bosses, but they have to win over their boss’s boss as well. A typical problem is their accomplishments are only visible to their boss and peers, not to upper-management. 
  5. They don’t demonstrate leadership ability. Just because you are a high performer, it doesn’t mean other people want to follow you. When management sees that your peers are already trusting your judgment and taking your direction, promoting you to a level above them makes the decision much more straightforward.

The decision to promote you involves more than just your level of performance. Often, only the handful of people whom your work directly impacts even know you are a high performer. To be promoted, you need to manage not only your level of performance but also people’s perception of you.

4 thoughts on “How to not get promoted

    • It’s always going to be a personal decision based on someone’s individual life situation. If they offer to double your salary, but the new position will mean you won’t get to see your kids grow up because of extended hours and travel obligations, walking away might be the best move. If you’re young, like the company, and are up for a challenge take the cash and the promotion.

  1. Why not simply say “no” when topic comes up?
    Recently I was asked to lead a team for couple of month. I done that couple of times before (couple weeks here and there) and didn’t enjoy the experience. So this time around I knew I had to put hard stop on any future attempt to “take on more responsibility and learn business”. I was very nice and polite, explained that I’m only interested in technical stuff, I’m decent at it and effectively said “no thanks”.

    Surprisingly enough I was left alone. Perhaps my situation is simple, but being honest and more or less straightforward worked for me.

    • This article’s 1st half is mostly satire, and is only meant to setup for the 2nd half. Indeed, if anyone asks you to do anything you don’t want to do, “no” is generally all that’s required.

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