I began my hospitality career in April 2008 as a houseman. Having no experience in hospitality whatsoever, this was one of the only positions I could obtain. A houseman is a person that cleans common areas, makes deliveries, and does pretty much anything that anyone in any department asks to be done. In addition to those tasks I also drove the hotel shuttle. And you know what else? I hated my job! As I referenced in my memoir Elevators in My Mind, I spent almost every free moment I had available looking for a new job. And then, one day I had an epiphany. It came to me in a flash and I thought to myself, "What if I used all of the energy I'm spending to find a new job in the effort to move up at my current job?" Such a simple thought with such a deep impact on my life. The question is: how did I use that energy to move up?
Let's start with these two words: value and perception. It is these two words that I utilized as a guiding light through the darkness of minimum wage to reach my goal. Even though I loathed my role as a houseman, I'd never made that obvious to anyone at work. But what I had done was laid the seeds of value and good perception, which made my endeavor much easier when I decided to reach for a promotion. The results that followed were a series of promotions that ultimately led to me being the area general manager of two hotels. All of this occurring in a four-year time span.
Let's look at the concept of creating value for a moment. In 2008 the United States was planted firmly in a recession, which resulted in many people losing their jobs. There was no discrimination of the axes in terms of low and high salary jobs. Anyone could be laid off, especially if their role was not seen as being essential. To say that this could not occur again would be foolish. The question is: when the powers that be are looking at employee rosters and debating about who should be let go, will your name be one of them? The only way to prevent this from happening is to take the same action needed to be considered for promotion: You must create value for yourself.
People ask me for advice frequently about how to move up, and when I tell them to create value for themselves they seem to get agitated. The answer is too simplistic for them. They're looking for some Yoda-like advice told in riddles. Well I hate to break it to everyone, but getting promoted is not that complicated as far as figuring out what must be done. I am asking you now, what value have you created for yourself at your current place of employment? I want you to give that question some good thought for before you move on. Be honest, because lying to yourself will not help with the subsequent work that needs to be done.
Years ago I had a manager that really felt she'd been slighted by the company because they'd kept her in the same role for years. One day I called her into my office for a one-on-one, and asked her two questions: (1) What have you contributed to the company?; (2) How have you helped another employee's growth and development? She was immediately thrown aback and unable to put two words together. I understood that I'd caught her off guard with the questions and so, I gave her a week to think about it. After the week was over were supposed to meet back in my office once again at the same time to discuss her answers. A week passed and we met in my office once again. Sitting face to face across my executive-style desk I asked for her thoughtful answers. She was once again empty handed. It was then that I explained to her this was the exact reason they had not moved her from the current role. But now she knew what to do--if she so chose.
When I speak about perception there are two specific things that I'm referencing: What people think about you, and most importantly, visibility. Does anyone outside of your immediate colleagues even know that you exist? If your answer is "no" then you obviously have some work to do here. Some people are probably reading this now and thinking to themselves, "If I don't work around these people, how can I get that exposure?" This is a valid question, however, I also have a question. Have you ever contributed an idea to the company for "free"? I have heard a lot of people say that they're waiting for a promotion or a raise before they start contributing more to the company. This is the most backwards thinking that you could possibly have as someone seeking to move up. Beyond that, it's just not how things work. You must demonstrate your capabilities first before anyone will even think about giving you an opportunity. Offer up your services for a project or company initiative when possible without looking for anything in return.
Do not kid yourself into believing that your boss or anyone in HR knows your desires about the future. Make sure that you are transparent about wanting to move up, or you may never end up doing so. Express it to the people that matter, but not in a day dream kind of manner. You want to convey a thoughtful and well planned path you already have set for yourself that could be expedited with the right help. But even still, when the chance arises these decisions are not made or influenced by one individual.
So when your boss is asked about you, what will he say? What does he think about you? What does his boss think about you? Because that person will have just as much say. I once had a manager under me that understood well how perception worked. Every time someone higher up was in the building he would stuff a rag into his back pocket, and constantly be seem walking briskly past wherever they were while breathing heavily. Believe it or not, this actually worked. Even though I was doing all of the work, they had been fooled into believing that he was actually the hardest working employee in the building--even more so than me! I know this to be fact because my boss told me to my face. Even though he knew the truth, it didn't matter because the people that he answered to had already formed their own opinion.
Make sure to keep people who do not work with you informed about the things that you are doing. I gave this advice to a colleague once and she kind of scoffed at me, not seeing it as something necessary. In fact, she thought it was overkill. Here's the thing: People who do not work with you are not psychic. There's no way for them to know what you're up to unless you tell them. When you have a plan that you want to execute, run it by someone. It's not for their approval... If it's a good plan no one will stop you, but now they know what kind of intelligence you're bringing to the table. Now they know how your results are achieved. At the same time, if there are impediments make them aware of those was well. This way they know that the results achieved were a direct result of your resilience, and not because that's the norm. And if things do not go well, they are also aware of the fact that it was not from lack of effort on your part. This visibility can produce a promotion even in dark times. lack of visibility in dark times can lead to termination, because all higher-ups see is the bottom line. They understand numbers, not people.
Getting a promotion is not something magical. It requires hard work, sacrifice and also a plan. It is not an overnight process. I've had so many younger employees invite themselves into my office to request a promotion after one good act. This is just not the way the world works. Make sure you have a plan and be ready to execute. I have given you some tips in this article that can get you going if utilized properly. Use the benefit of others experiences and mistakes to achieve your goals. I'm sure there are some points left out, so if you would like to add something please feel free.
Jarray Davis is an author and hotel general manager.
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