Chair Management – The Secret to Earning a Promotion at Work

A man with glasses and a suit jacket.

Posted by Kevin Miller

This article was published via Built In.

It’s a new year, and many people are looking for new professional challenges and a higher salary.

CM is an acronym commonly used to represent change management, but today I want to talk to you about a different CM — chair management — which is a critical skill to possess and demonstrate when expecting or requesting a promotion.

Many people think they will receive a promotion just because they’ve been in the same role for an extended period of time. Others think that by doing a good or even great job in their current role, they will be rewarded by being asked to fill a higher-compensated role with more responsibilities. Both of these trains of thought are built on faulty logic. While some people actually will be promoted for the previous reasons, most won’t.

Here’s why: Although your boss may want to reward you for doing a great job, the negatives of doing so almost always outweigh the positives for him or her. While promoting someone will usually keep an employee happy, at least for a little while, doing so leads to less money in the budget — and a skill gap that the manager now needs to spend time and energy to fill.

When push comes to shove, managers will usually save themselves the guaranteed aggravation of filling an open position and adjusting down their budget, even when it means potentially losing a good person on their team. Because the truth is, if someone doesn’t leave their current role as a result of not being promoted, the manager secures a win-win-win, by retaining a good employee, saving time and money. This is often why people expecting a promotion get the “you just need to be patient” pep talk from management.

In my experience, most people will not leave a job when they are frustrated at a lack of upward mobility — at least not right away. The odds of someone leaving are decreased even more during difficult economic times. Instead, most people become disgruntled, which usually negatively affects their performance, thereby justifying management’s reasons for not promoting that person.

So how does one handle a situation, which on the surface seems completely out of their control? I recommend solving your manager’s problems for them.

“You own your career when you find your replacement. It truly signals your desire to elevate someone up while giving you the opportunity to take on the next challenge.”

—Richard Wysocki, IT development manager at Ascensus (and my former boss)

Fill Your Chair Before Sitting in Another

While at first it may seem counterintuitive and risky, finding and training your replacement is an excellent tactic to use when eyeing a promotion — with your superior’s approval, of course. When you eliminate the need for a manager to find your replacement, you’ve alleviated a critical short-term headache for them. You may have also avoided a long-term headache for them — the budget — if all of your current responsibilities can be distributed to existing people. After all, why would a manager hire someone new if the work is already being handled by the current staff?

By training others to do your work, there is always the risk of eliminating your own job. However, if you’ve proven to be a valuable asset to your organization by performing your responsibilities admirably, the risk of them eliminating you is very low. Why would an organization want to eliminate someone who found efficiencies and ways to accomplish the same work with fewer people? That is the kind of person who should not only be kept around, but also be rewarded for their company-first mindset.

How Do I Fill My Chair?

First and foremost, do a good job in your current position. If you are not a good performer, you are fooling yourself into thinking the organization wants to reward you or take a chance on you, and many will just assume you are just lazy and don’t want to do your work.

Once you’ve established high performance consistently, you should identify people who can or should back you up in case you are out of the office for an extended period of time. Perhaps there is someone with a similar role who already possesses some of the necessary skills to perform your role. Or perhaps there is someone who is a level below you and is looking at your role as a new challenge for themselves. Identifying a back-up person for each of your major responsibilities is good for business continuity in case of major crises. (Can you think of a major crisis that occurred in 2020?)

Once you have people identified, discuss with your manager the possibility of training them for your duties. Don’t hurt your chances for a promotion by going rogue and training them without your manager’s support. This is also the perfect time to address the elephant in the room. Explain that you want to ensure your duties are covered in times of disaster, and you are willing to share your knowledge, but you don’t want to risk self-elimination. You’re going to need to trust your manager, so building and maintaining that relationship is essential.

Once you have your manager’s support, you can begin training your back-ups. When you feel you are ready for a new challenge, and an opportunity presents itself, you will be in a good position to make a move.

The second part of that last sentence is key. Organizations don’t succeed by raising costs for no reason; they succeed by delivering value. An opportunity needs to present itself, and for that, you will need patience. When one does, you can highlight your excellent performance over a long period of time, and the fact that your current responsibilities are already covered. This will reduce — if not eliminate — the main reasons for keeping you in your current role. Honest conversations are key to ensure all parties are on the same page when it comes to expectations and timing.

Your promotion may set off a chain reaction of other promotions. When you fill an empty chair, someone may fill your newly vacated old chair, and someone else may fill their newly vacated old chair and so on. In the end, your manager may eliminate a position or hire someone new. But hiring for positions lower on the career ladder is easier and cheaper than hiring for the higher-paying, higher-responsibility position you just filled.

“Chair management is a strategic decision and shows your leadership skills and abilities. It requires understanding of organizational vision and objectives — and empathy toward others who you can help with their career goals.”

—Jason Alba, CEO at

Once you understand the financial dynamics of promotions — as well as the chain reaction of new work that is generated when one occurs — it’s up to you to do what you can to lessen the burden placed on your manager for promoting you. Help them help you.