How To Get Promoted In A Company With No Managers?

lukekyte
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- 9 min read

Self-management. Self-organising. Teal. Sociocracy. Holacracy. All have something in common – the fundamental belief that decentralising power is the right way to run a business. To do this, middle management is ripped from the system and replaced with high-functioning, cohesive teams that come together and lead on decision making.

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And whether it’s the Kumbaya consensus approach, or risk-inducing advice process, decisions are made at the heart of the team. Equality, purpose and unity rule. Which is great.

But a shared purpose doesn’t pay the bills. Equality doesn’t put food on the table. People still need some form of progression, and a knowledge that they’re moving their career forward. In a hierarchical structure, the ascent to greater wealth is often a linear promotion ladder. You climb the rungs one, two or three at a time – or sidestep to another organisation.

Career progression in a self-organising business

In a self-organising business, the concept of career progression is less defined. Circles, bubbles and teams are often working fairly fluidly. In the classic examples of self-managing go tos – Buurtzorg and Morning Star – people are often fulfilling a very similar role. What can (or will) you be promoted to?

The BBC also speculate that a remote working approach will make it even harder to be promoted. So, we need a solution that has clarity and fairness for people who want to see their career moving forwards.

As a quick side point – not everyone will have career progression front and centre of their thinking. But with the Great Resignation in full force, and in competitive industries (such as digital) – the ability to find a remote role with flexible working, and paying more money – is a lot easier than pre-COVID.

So again, we come full circle to management. And with its removal from flat organisations there are a few questions to pick at:

  • Without line management, who promotes you?
  • How can you progress in a way that’s clear (and fair) to everyone?
  • How can you factor in remote-first complications or concerns?
  • Will progressive orgs lose talent because of their single biggest identifier of removing managers?

And perhaps the biggest question of all:

  • If you want to be progressive and forward thinking, but still with opportunity at every turn for your team, who do you look to for answers?

A lack of management forces you to adopt new ideas. And many of these have been tested and trialled around the world. For example, you can tweak and rollout the following with relative ease:

  1. Happy replaced managerial annual reviews with coaching check-ins.
  2. Wellbeing Teams have team agreements to create accountability.
  3. Dennis Bakke from AES coined the advice process.

And so on.

But there’s little information about how a self-organising team would script promotions.

So, we created one. Which can hopefully give you food for thought.

In a self-organising company, you own your future

First things first – at Reddico we launched a process of self-promotion in April 2021. In that 12-month period, four people (10% of the organisation) have been promoted. Plus, 75% asked for a salary increase during the most recent panel application process.

We also provided everyone in the team with a one-off bonus to counter National Insurance increases in the UK, and increased our pension contribution in April 2022 from 3% to 5%.

This is important, as it demonstrates an ability to support the team financially. Not every company or industry is able to sustain this – and whilst these processes might not work in their entirety, there may be parts you can consider in your own organisation.

So, let’s get down to the nitty gritty.

Often, career progression is tailored around one area – the skills, experience and expertise you’re able to demonstrate in a role. Whether you’re gunning for a promotion or interviewing with other companies, your technical competence and ability is put to the test.

Largely, there’s often less of a reliance on softer skills (ironically the core ingredients you need to be an effective leader).

To create career progression in a self-organising structure, we need three focal points.

  1. Technical ability
  2. Soft skills
  3. A business safety net

Technical ability

When I talk about career progression, I’m not referring to upper levels of management – but rather the opportunity to develop and be more successful in your chosen field. This isn’t applicable to every industry and in some roles there won’t be a natural progression path.

However, in many technical roles, there is a clear difference between a junior and senior. This is no more apparent than in Reddico’s core service, SEO.

  • An executive is new to the industry, learning the concepts of SEO, supporting on client accounts, and carrying out a lot of research-driven tasks.
  • A consultant is leading on various accounts, the point of contact for customers, completing advanced audits, and providing strategic recommendations based on years of experience and knowledge.
  • A senior consultant will lead on enterprise level accounts, be a ‘go to’ for anyone in the team, and will often act as a mentor to others in their development.

Very early on we understood the need to provide clarity to junior members of the team joining Reddico, creating a career matrix (skills & knowledge based) that would guide them in career development.

This is explicitly tied to marketplace research carried out every year – so at every stage of someone’s journey they’ll know what salary could be earned, and what they need to achieve to reach that point.

It ties in well with our self-organising approach, and team members are free to work on personal development as they see fit. There is no cap to the number of training days you can take, the team can utilise an unlimited training budget, and apply for a salary increase off the back of their progress.

We also use the Advice Process, where team members can document their work and experience and gather thoughts and feedback from the team on their expertise in a particular area.

Here’s an example of a career matrix.

Soft skills

As mentioned earlier, technical competence is often a measure of success when it comes to seniority. That’s where we wanted to change the game – and have a clear focus on soft skills.

This comes in two parts:

  • Self-awareness.
  • Feedback from your peers.

And symmetrically, there are also two parts to a soft skills review:

Personality types Using Myers Briggs, people going through a promotion process complete their MBTI and discover their personality type. With the report, individuals can start to document their:

  • Personal thoughts on the report outcome.
  • Suggested blindspots & how they’ll work on them.
  • Evidence of self-awareness and improvement over time.

Soft skills The second section takes core soft skills that are relevant to your role. For instance, in a senior role there would be an expectation for strong ability in the following areas:

  • Communication.
  • 1-1 feedback.
  • Organisational skills.
  • Commitment to self-improvement.
  • Humility.
  • Integrity.
  • Open mindedness.
  • Standing for inclusion.

With examples provided, individuals score themselves on the above and provide necessary actions and evidence of improvement. This can take place over a three-six month period.

At the same time, you choose two other people in the team to provide the same level of feedback – giving a full soft skills review that gives you actionable ways to improve and develop in these core areas.

There is a passing score needed in this section (30/40 for both reviews), so if you don’t achieve this at the first time of asking, you’ll need to work on self-improvement over a period of time before requesting a second review.

Here’s an example of a soft skills template.

A safety net

It’s a process people own themselves. Driving responsibility, people have the processes in place and can use them as they want. But with it, you can be forgiven for thinking things could become a little disorganised, chaotic and difficult financially.

How does an organisation plan for its future if everyone owns their career path?

What if everyone decides to promote themselves in the same month?

This is where some level of foresight is needed, with:

  • Annual planning: During the process of planning for the financial year ahead, everyone in the team provides information about their career plans for the next 12 months. This helps to map out expectations on the number of people using the self-promotion system.
  • Salary panel: A salary panel runs twice a year (January and July), meaning there is an element of structure to the financial burden. A separate committee reviews all applications against marketplace research, the career matrix, and various other elements.
  • Open communication: Throughout the process, individuals provide updates on their progress and expectations. The advice process is also used with the finance team before any promotion – ensuring the business is in a sustainable position to support any increase.
  • Clear expectations: For some areas of the business, there won’t be a business need for someone to move into a higher band. When instances like this crop up, this is explained – though that person would still be eligible to apply for a salary increase against other criteria, such as the annual marketplace review.

Not perfect, but progress

Last year, I tackled the subject of progression vs. perfectionism. This very much falls into the same category.

For us, it’s a step closer on our progressive journey – our vision of making work a better place, where people can own their careers, take responsibility, and be in control of their future.

It may not be perfect, but it provides people with clarity. Clear guidelines of expectations that support our team to upskill technically, and develop crucial soft skills and self-awareness (needed to thrive in any organisation). No doubt it’ll be tweaked in the future.

But for now, it’s our own way of creating better work.


This is a guest post from Luke Kyte, Head of Culture at Reddico a company that puts trust and freedom at the heart of everything they do. For more information on Luke and the company, check out his rebel page.

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