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How to get promoted to Manager

May 4, 2008

If you’ve been in the workforce for a while, you would have noticed that far too many managers have atrocious people skills, poor judgment skills or terrible team-building skills. Sure there are some good ones but many would leave you wondering how on earth did they ever become manager.

Lets do a quick test. If you were an executive, which of these do you think will get you promoted to manager?

a. Working hard
b. Working smart
c. Natural teambuilder
d. Good results
e. Exceptional judgement
f. Being smarter than the boss

If you ticked any of the above, you’re probably new or been cooped up in your cubicle too long. Either way you probably won’t get to see a promotion anytime soon.

The problem with the textbook approach to promotion is that it doesn’t work. The do’s and don’ts can make you a good and productive employee but to make you manager in a typical Chinaman company as we call it in Singapore and Malaysia? Ha ha, what a joke. So what really counts then?

I’ll be blunt. The fastest way to get a promotion is to have friends and relatives in high places. You don’t even have to be smart. Be a distant nephew of the chairman or MD and you get an automatic passport to the higher levels.

Since most of you will have no such luck, the next thing to count on is your ability to make a deal with the person responsible for promoting you. That’ll be your boss or your boss’s boss if you immediate superior is not in management’s good books. To do that, you have to stand out by being like him. If he is a womanizing, conniving, foul-mouthed jerk who loves to drink, the only way get to his side is to follow him to the pubs, grope a few GROs together, come up with some conniving ideas and repeat his foul-mouthed charms like they are your own. You have to understand that even the worst managers think they are great leaders and would prefer to leave their legacies in the hands of another great person – someone just like them. And what better way to clinch the deal than to be the natural choice.

Thirdly, the seniority card always works in Chinaman companies. If you’ve been in the company for 20 years and you’ve never made headline news from the wrong reasons, eventually management will promote you out of guilt or pity. Its not ideal and it takes a looong time but its better than nothing.

I’ll be frank. I’ve never met anyone who got promoted simply for meeting their KPIs (key performance indicators). What I’ve met are managers who are afraid to promote high performers because they think it might hurt productivity. If you are the goose that’s laying the golden eggs, the last thing they’d want is to lose you. So how to move up? Connections. To put it bluntly, the 3 or 4 people who’ll be signing off your promotion form. I hate to say this but work on that and you’ll become manager sooner than later.

And by the way, you’ll notice that I mentioned nothing about performance so perhaps I should say something about it. Mediocrity will help you keep your job. Mediocrity with connections will get you the managers post. Now you know why losers can also become managers.

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6 Comments leave one →
  1. LC_Teh permalink
    May 4, 2008 11:50 pm

    All I know is, life in the rat race has turned a lot of us into cynics. It’s not Know-How but Know-Who that gets you anywhere. But I always thought of such know-who tactics as short cuts. Kiasuism seems to have overtaken the dignity of labour and a meaningful work-life that brings in the bread and butter to raise a family based on sound & solid principles. I must be too idealistic for this culture, which may be why I still stay in the cubicles. But at least I remain sane and hopefully healthy enough to enjoy my retirement when I finally decide to quit.

  2. Damien permalink*
    May 5, 2008 1:31 am

    The butterfly-cocoon story on your blog is a great narration of a Darwinian struggle – a struggle that’s necessary by design. I think the rat race is more like social Darwinism. I equate it to the jungle creeper. It’s all about getting ahead by any means, including short cuts. Notice how when news break out about rogue traders and big swindlers, the first thing people think of is not about sin or ethics. They will think if I can squirrel away $100 million in the bank and spend a couple of years in jail, its well worth it. And just like the jungle creeper, one takes advantage of every loophole to conquer the forest. We don’t like it because its unethical but from an evolutionary standpoint, maybe that’s how nature works?

  3. LC_Teh permalink
    May 5, 2008 2:18 am

    I should think ‘by any means’ doesn’t go right just anywhere. The jungle creeper has to get there for the sunshine and survival and its efforts are by no means an easy, simple short-cut. Besides, that’s a jungle. Out here in ‘civilization’ there are rules of the game. Taking a $100 million, or a corporate short-cut still puts one at risk of being brought down by law of reality. It may seem similar to the law of nature but it can be very painful. One has to be ready to pay for it. Speaking of jungles I also remember I wrote a little tale about a jungle creeper.

  4. Damien permalink*
    May 5, 2008 10:49 am

    Ha ha, is this a case of great minds think alike or what. 🙂 Talk about jungle creepers and one word comes to my mind: opportunist. Like many ppl in the rat race, creepers are parasitic. It capitalizes on any opportunity to get ahead and will backstab (kill) the very people who gave it life. Its an interesting phenomenon, many ways to look at it.

  5. May 7, 2008 2:22 am

    Learn the art of polishing shoes.

  6. Damien permalink*
    May 7, 2008 9:58 am

    Mybabybay, yeah that’s what everybody tells me. 🙂

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