What happens when you missed a promotion? One that you’ve been waiting on and working on for so long. What’s the next step?  

How it starts

This is your chance! Its your turn!

You have been working (really) hard in the year (and years) leading up to the promotion round. You feel like you’ve done great work, you have great relationships and are ready to take that next step. Your ducks are in the perfect row.

Then, the unthinkable happens – the promotion round comes and you miss out.

What comes next is the full gambit of mixed emotions. Disappointment. Anger. Embarrassment. Hopelessness. Even feelings of unfairness and inequity.

While it can hurt to miss out on a promotion that you feel you rightly deserve, it is the decision that you make next that matters most.

This is the decision to either throw in the towel, mope around and go into a deep dark hole of despair, OR, the decision to pick yourself up and make damn sure that next time, the promotion is yours.

If you take the first option, it’s pretty simple course of action. Be hurt. Talk to everyone you can about why the decision was unfair and how wronged you are. Do the bare minimum. Be angry, cynical and proud. You can even go extreme and vocally describe how you didn’t really want it anyway. This may feel really great momentarily, but is unlikely to ever turn into anything good. In fact, it can turn you into the ‘angry, loser’ guy/girl (and let’s be honest, those people never end up winning).

So let’s focus our energy on the second option and look at the three simple and practical steps you can take to move forward from ‘disappointment’, to positioning yourself better – as the absolute best pick in the next promotion round.

Step one – Understand why you missed out

Get real feedback to understand the reason/s why you missed out. Get specific. What skills/experiences/behaviours were needed? If it was a case of a better person being picked, understand what made them better.

Gaining this level of detail is not an easy ask for you or the person giving the feedback to you. It can sometimes be an awkward conversation to get the core of what you’re missing or why you weren’t first choice.

No matter how hard this discussion is for you personally, focus on the greater goal – gaining the information you need to get the promotion next time.

Make it as easy and possible for the feedback to be given. Suspend judgement. Don’t argue or disagree with the information provided. Instead listen and ask probing (but not interrogative) questions to get to the crux of the issue/s. Thank the person for their honesty and tell you’re committed to focusing future development around this feedback.  If you’re really serious, you may even be able to get this person as a key Sponsor to help you land the promotion in future.

Step two – Dust yourself off

It is normal to be disappointed if you miss out on something you really want. It is important however not to dwell on it and let this story become a big part of your narrative within the organisation (Oh Sophie… Isn’t she that angry girl who missed out on the promotion and keeps talking about it?).

Dusting yourself off is not about hiding or ignoring feelings. Instead it’s about finding a safe space to vent and explore these feelings (perhaps with a group of friends or family – definitely outside of the workplace) and then channelling this energy into determination.

Then. Just getting on with it. No excuses. No complaining. No living in the past. Just doing what needs to be done to move you forward.

Step three – Get busy

This is the bit where the rubber hits the road – where you do the things that matter to be ready for next time, the next opportunity. After all, we all understand resilience is the name of the career game, but its not ‘surviving’ disappointment, it’s about bouncing forward to a better space from the experience, no matter how tough it is.

Do great work in a great way

This is the ticket that helps you move past GO and collect your $200.

Make sure your work is outstanding.

Put in extra effort, take pride and make sure people see the quality of what you are producing. It needs to be unquestionably excellent.

Take on hard assignments (we all know those tough gigs/clients which are almost a ‘career rite of passage’) and take opportunities which make you visible. Work in a way that makes you easy and fun to do business with. Great performance and behaviour is best basis to move forward from. Make sure both are in the bag.

Get your Leadership and Sponsorship right

Let’s start with Leadership. Do you have a great relationship with your Leader? Do they believe in you? Support you? Coach you? Invest time and effort into your success? Do they like you?

The relationship you have with your leader is the most important one you will have at work. If this relationship is broken, or is not great, and it’s unlikely to ever be great – look for ways to work with a better leader. Move teams or assignments. Even if this means it starting a new relationship. A great leader that is genuinely ‘rooting for you’ is worth more than the pain or effort that is needed to start a new relationship from scratch.

Now sponsorship. Do you have the right people in the organisation saying the right things about you? If the answer is no, or you are not sure, get sure. Build relationships beyond your normal scope. Make sure your capability, work and drive is visible to those that can make a difference. You want people looking out for you, finding great opportunities or thinking of you when great work comes up.

Really (seriously) focus on your development

Go broad. Do the hard work to be the best version of you. Focus on your gaps and deficiency areas and really deeply address them. Learn new things that could make you better at work (they may even be slightly left of field of your current sweet spot). Understand how you are perceived (through feedback or even a formal 360 degree review tool), and then work on leveraging great perception points and remedying those that are not so great.

Share the development work you are doing broadly (with your boss, team mates, sponsors and network). Make your efforts and improvements visible. Be comfortable in being fallible and understand that even beyond the next promotion, there is always going to be more development that needs to be done. It’s a lifelong process. And, as you get to the pointy end of businesses, or your career, you’ll only be up against great competition. You’ll need to be better!

Missing out on promotion sucks. But it doesn’t mean the end of your career.  It’s not the last opportunity you’ll ever have. The faster you can reframe disappointment to be a springboard on which to bounce forward, the better shape you’ll be in. In the context of your overall life and career, if managed well, disappointment can fuel a step change in your own development, your own possibilities, and your own determination to succeed. In short, it can make you better than you ever thought you could be!