“How to Get the Promotion You Deserve”: Ali Littman, Director of Engineering at Modern Health (Video + Transcript)  

March 8, 2022

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Angie Chang: We’re going to be having our next speaker join us. Her name is Ali. And she’s a Director of Engineering at Modern Health. She’s passionate about companies with strong social missions and dedicates as much time as possible to DEI efforts. She has led Women’s ERG, served on Belonging Councils, mentored women on achieving their goals and has been a … I’ll let her introduce herself. Welcome, Ali.

Ali Littman: Thank you, Angie. Let me get my slides up. Good morning, everyone. Hope you’re having a great day at ELEVATE already. I’m Ali Littman. I’m a Director of Engineering at Modern Health. And I’m going to be talking to you all today about how to get the promotion that you deserve.

Ali Littman: This topic is very, very, very near and dear to my heart because there are so many hardworking people who might have the tools or might not have the tools in order to ensure the career growth that they deserve. So, I’m very excited to share some of my lessons learned throughout my experience and give you a tour of some things that you can actually try out in your career growth.

Ali Littman: So, brief overview of the agenda. So, I will get a little vulnerable with you all. I encourage you to get vulnerable with me in the chat and share some things that I’ve learned along the way.

Ali Littman: I’ll also give you some really strong tactical advice around how you can take control of your growth. This includes setting expectations around promotion, developing a plan and actually sticking to it, taking control of it and making sure you grow alongside it, and also how to properly self-promote and make your achievements seen.

Ali Littman: And then lastly, just walking through all the different people that might be already in your corner that you can leverage to ensure that they support you on your growth path. All right, so diving into lessons learned. Just to kick things off, I’ll introduce myself a little bit more and tell a bit about my story.

Ali Littman: So, I’m Ali again, Director of Engineering at Modern Health. I just switched over to Modern Health very recently. So previously, I was Director of Engineering at Omada Health. I have a pretty nonstandard background. I started my career doing like a large company, technical project management work. And then, over time, moved into startup technical project management work. And then, from there, grew into engineering leadership. So, very interesting growth path. And I can share some experiences along the way from that journey.

Ali Littman: I think some other things that I identify with that are important to share, I identify as a leader, a mentor and an imposter syndrome coach with a focus on evolving the workplace for women and other underrepresented groups. I’m also a woman and a manager. I have been promoted myself. There’s been times when I haven’t been promoted. And then also, I as a manager have made mistakes. Even as a very growth-oriented manager, I didn’t always get it right either. So, that’s something we’ll focus on a little bit more today.

Ali Littman: So, sharing some of those hard lessons. So, I’m going to share a few personal stories. And in the chat, share some times where you maybe learned the hard lesson as well so other folks can see that you’re not alone and I’m not alone. So, one big lesson, a common fallacy, I thought if I worked hard, I would get rewarded. In this particular case, my manager didn’t have sufficient visibility into my work, I didn’t have sponsors and I didn’t understand the power dynamics in the office, therefore I got less visibility and fewer opportunities.

Ali Littman: Also, I’ve had times where my manager evaluated me on things that had little to do with my output. I was judged based off of frustration shared in one-on-ones rather than the quality of my work. I didn’t know how to intervene and ask for a more fair evaluation. Additionally, I had one moment where I didn’t remind my manager to promote me. They wanted to but they just forgot. I didn’t remind them. And actually, in this case, a male counterpart had to remind my manager that I should probably be promoted and it was squeezed in the last minute.

Ali Littman: So, I’ve definitely learned some hard lessons along the way. This is the shortlist. And as a manager as well, I have made mistakes. This I think is a really important thing to understand. Even a manager who wants to support you and has a great plan around it, they might have a lot on their plate. They might still execute imperfectly. It is so important in all of this that you and your manager are very much on the same page and your team and your growth.

Ali Littman: And then, lastly, I personally have had successes with promotion. I have coached others on how to get success promotions. And even in one case, I was promoted against all odds. I was told that I was unlikely to get the promotion I wanted on the timeline I wanted, but then I met with my manager, made an overt plan with them, executed against it and was actually able to get the promotion that I wanted on the timeline that I wanted.

Ali Littman: So, I’m very excited to share with all of you how you might be able to replicate some of the successes I’ve had from the lessons I’ve learned. Feel free in the chat, too, to share some of your favorite promotion success stories. I’m not the only one who has learned some of these lessons and I think we can all learn from each other on this.

Ali Littman: So, let’s get into those tactics I mentioned. All right, so first thing, setting expectations around promotion. This is one of the most important things that you can do is signal your intentions. So, clearly communicate your growth goals. You see a statement here, “I want to do blank by blank.” So, I think what’s important here is to make sure that you really state your career goals. They shouldn’t be a secret. They shouldn’t be a secret aspiration. They should be something you’re constantly talking with your manager about. Have them be front and center in your one-on-ones.

Ali Littman: I often put them at the very, very, very top. So, they can’t really be ignored. They’re not a secret. They’re always top of mind. So, find that central spot for reference. Make sure it’s clear what you want. And as you’re talking about these things, maybe for the first time with your manager or maybe it’s not the first time, make sure that your conversations are around goals. It should be a very collaborative conversation, understanding how they can support you. I strongly recommend against any setting of any strong expectations or ultimatums. This should be really collaborative and goal-oriented.

Ali Littman: And I think another area to get strong alignment with your manager on, I’ve already do this a few times already, realistic promotion timelines. Setting expectations around the timeline is an important way to put pressure on making sure you get what you want by when you want. And also to show that you’re serious. There might be some standard line that your manager might give you around needing to be performing at a certain level or being with the company for a certain amount of time. These might be real requirements that they need to ensure before they can promote you.

Ali Littman: So, make sure that you have this conversation so you can understand how your manager can pitch this potential promotion to leadership in the future and so you have good expectations around what timing looks like.

Ali Littman: Okay. Next up, this is one of the more important things, aligning with your manager on where you’re at. You and your manager need to agree that you’re operating at the next level. They need to be able to articulate whether you are or whether you’re not. And as they make that pitch for promotion, they need to state the case as to why you already have been doing the job that you want to do.

Ali Littman: In this case, I would strongly recommend doing evaluations against whatever your manager might use to do your performance reviews. So, this might come in the form of a career ladder or leveling framework. We’ll talk a little bit more about that in a few minutes. But I strongly recommend doing a self-evaluation using that tool and sharing the results with your manager. That way, you can have a strong conversation around where you might be aligned in terms of your performance next level or where you’re misaligned.

Ali Littman: There might be cases where you’re saying, “Hey, I’m a fantastic cross-functional collaborator or something like that and here’s why.” Maybe your manager just hasn’t seen those five examples that you have. And maybe they thought you were actually not operating at the next level, but now you can convince them that you actually are. Or maybe there is a legitimate gap that you need to work on. And this is a great point to understand. Here’s exactly what you might need to do in order to demonstrate that you are ready for the next level.

Ali Littman: And then, yeah, so we’re all business superheroes here. We’re all trying to actually solve some important business need in the work that we’re doing. So, I think part of the expectation-setting process includes identifying that business need that you’ll be filling upon promotion. So, this can be a tough one for folks sometimes I think especially in engineering. But if there’s no clear role that needs to be filled or if there are business roadblocks outside of your control but you’re still looking to grow, I would say ask for alternate pathways to growth in the way that you want it.

Ali Littman: Have that documented, this is really important, so you can at least get the right experiences or navigate around the blockers. An example here might be maybe you need to demonstrate that you can manage managers but there’s no new managers in your organization. So maybe you can look into switching teams or mentoring all of the new managers, things like that. You can find alternate pathways to that growth and still make some progress.

Ali Littman: I think on this one, I’ll also say if the company wants to retain you and believes that you’re ready to make an impact at a higher level, they’ll make it work usually. This might not be straightforward but it is possible that the role that you want doesn’t exist, in which case, take stock as to whether this is the right role with the right company. If it’s not, there’s no opportunity for you to actually grow the way that you want.

Ali Littman: And also, things change rapidly. People leave companies. So, just always be on the lookout for the next opportunity you can take advantage of as the business itself is shifting.

Ali Littman: Okay. Now, how to make a growth plan and take control of it? Great. I would say, ask this question early and often, what is getting to the next level entail? What do you need to be doing to make it? This is a really critical question that you need to be able to answer and build a growth plan around with your manager.

Ali Littman: A big piece of this puzzle is understanding if there is a growth ladder or a career ladder, a leveling framework, whatever that might be, some kind of framework where you can evaluate the skills and capabilities that you need to demonstrate at each level so you can understand where you land on that ladder. You need to have a clearer picture of what the roles and responsibilities are and expectations so you can defend the fact that you’re ready for that next challenge.

Ali Littman: I would ensure that you know this ladder inside and out. And ask for evaluations, relative ladder, at least twice a year from your manager. I would recommend doing them right after your performance reviews because often, those do not reference the growth ladders at various organizations. So, it might be a good opportunity to follow up with the feedback you receive to say, “Okay, and what does this mean? How does this translate into the leveling framework?”

Ali Littman: Or after performance reviews, does it make sense? Maybe you got a good sense of where you landed. Doing this in between performance review cycles could be another good call. In a lot of cases especially for folks who work at startups, there might not be a growth ladder.

Ali Littman: So, I would recommend asking for one or making one. This is a tactic I’ve seen use several times and used by myself as well. If a ladder doesn’t exist, go ahead and make one and see if that’s going to be useful to your manager, ask if that’s something you can start. That way, you actually can put input into what goes in there that might be helpful for you. And it can expedite you having something to evaluate your performance relative, too.

Ali Littman: And if you don’t like the ladder, give feedback to management on it. And it might need to change to actually be supportive of folks’ growth of your company. And then, building that growth plan. So, growth plans can take many forms but this is something everyone should have. Maybe you’ll have a very specific growth document. I’d strongly recommend this in the event that you are struggling to get that promotion, you want something more formal. Otherwise, it could be something that’s part of your one-on-one document, Trello boards. I’ve seen it all.

Ali Littman: But in a perfect world, your growth plan should have some of the following elements like, what exactly are those skills that need to be demonstrated in order to show you’re ready for the next level? What actions do you need to take to demonstrate those skills? Maybe it’s a project. But also, how is your manager going to catalyze your ability to demonstrate those skills? It’s not a one-way street here. You need to be connected to some of those opportunities to show off what you got.

Ali Littman: And then lastly, having measurable goals or tactics for assessment and a plan for recurring measurements. So, having these things be as quantifiable as possible is going to be important. But sometimes, you might only get qualitative feedback, in which case, just understanding that the measurement mechanism is that feedback and getting good feedback in certain areas.

Ali Littman: And then lastly, I would refresh this growth plan regularly. Make sure that you take a look at it ideally monthly but refreshing it fully maybe about quarterly would be what I would recommend. And then, I always say the feedback is a gift. And so, be hungry for it. It’s a gift just like cookies. Cookies are my favorite gift. So, yeah, ask for feedback as often as possible. This is a really important part of this growth process. And set expectations with your manager on how often you want that feedback to be reviewed.

Ali Littman: I’d suggest at least monthly. I would also ask your manager to collect feedback from certain people in certain growth areas. So, they might not know or always be talking to all the people that you’re working with very closely, so ask them for more feedback on a recurring basis. And lastly, curate your reviewers. This is a great thing that you have control over. So, who do you want to wow? Who gives you helpful constructive criticism?

Ali Littman: I would say ask for feedback regularly from these people. So, by the time you hit the review cycle, you already have their buy-in and know exactly what they’re going to say. So, this feedback is useful in the reviews but it’s even more useful before the review and long before the promotion cycle comes.

Ali Littman: Now, let’s take a minute to talk about self-promotion. So, one of my favorite other top topics is self-promotion. So, there’s three different levels but I’d recommend really focusing on the core one, no surprise, based off things I’ve been saying, your manager. And then there’s also the department and the company. So, when it comes to your manager, do whatever you can to brag to them. In one-on-ones, proactively share like, “I got this feedback. I achieved this goal. I did this extra thing, I solved this problem.”

Ali Littman: Ask your manager how they want to find out about your achievements and funnel all of them through that pathway. I usually have an FYI section that I have in every single one of my one-on-ones with my manager just to let them know all the great things that I’m doing in case they missed them. I would also say share wins at the department level. This could mean being the one to present a group achievement at an all-hands or sending that launch email.

Ali Littman: I would also suggest being very vocal in public forums. There’s always a set of public forums in an organization where management’s evaluating how people are showing up as leaders and contributing. Understand what those are and be present in those. They might be a guild meeting demos, etcetera. And also, volunteer to lead initiatives that leadership cares about. This will give you some additional departmental visibility.

Ali Littman: With the company, I would suggest to share wins. Find reasons to share your achievements. If they’re impactful, people might legitimately need to know about them. So, see if you can present at a town hall, send an all company email, etcetera. And then lastly, and all this is classic advice but write a killer self-review. This is very important in order to solidify your promotion but it should be what catalyzes it. So, it’s like your self-pitch but you should be self-promoting along the way. And this should be like the summary of all your self-promotion you’ve been doing. All right.

Ali Littman: So, last section here, growth takes a village. So, who do you have in your corner that can amplify your growth and successes? So, here, I strongly recommend finding a sponsor who can promote your work to the right leaders and give you the right opportunities. This can take many forms and often is a matter of sharing your goals with everyone and seeing who gets excited about them.

Ali Littman: Also, understand how your manager maps to executive leadership. This way, you can understand who to wow and what your manager needs to do to get you promoted and identify if there’s any communication breakdowns on how your performance is being evaluated and discussed with the promotion decision-makers. I’d also recommend just telling everyone you work with what you’re aiming for in terms of growth.

Ali Littman: Focus on experiences and feedback and the support you need. And take time to get their feedback, get their support, wow them especially if they’re an executive leadership representative. They’re the ones in the room come promotion time. All right.

Ali Littman: And then lastly, just a reminder, people really want to help you. I think we all forget this sometimes. But studies show asking for help really, really goes a long way and people are very likely to want to help. So, make meaningful connections. Ask for feedback. Ask them to amplify your good work.

Ali Littman: I would say also find a mentor, this is really important, both internally, externally on different topics, whatever you need, get that help, get their perspective. Also consider coaching. I’m a fan of life coaching, this really helped me clarify not necessarily that I wanted to get promoted, but exactly what I wanted out of my time, what I wanted out of work so I could ask for the right experiences that then align with my career growth.

Ali Littman: And lastly, your manager wants you to succeed. So, just my final plug, lean on your manager. They’re in your corner. They might be busy. They might actually not be doing their job or not doing their job well. So, manage them and managing your growth. And they’re going to be there for it. They will.

Ali Littman: So, I know we’re at time. So, we might need to revert to your questions via email so you can reach out to me. Find me on LinkedIn. And I’m happy to answer questions and provide support in your career growth journeys.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: Thank you so much, Ali. I was going to say you’ll see some questions on the chat and through the Q&A section, you could even choose to respond there.

Ali Littman: Okay.

Sukrutha Bhadouria: But this was really insightful for me. Even though I’ve been in the industry a long time, I feel like I learned so many new things, as well as got refreshed on all the things I should be doing as well. So, that was really, really helpful even for me. So, thank you so much.

Like what you see here? Our mission-aligned Girl Geek X partners are hiring!

Share this