Recently on my podcast  Unstoppable Women, I interviewed Heidi Williams, who is the former VP of Platform Engineering at Box (a fast growing technology company that went public in January 2015).  Prior to Box, Heidi spent 17 years at Adobe working her way up from being an Engineering IC to Product Leader.

In our discussion, Heidi shared some creative and actionable insights around self-advocacy. Whether it’s asking for a raise, asking for a promotion, or sticking up for yourself in a meeting—self-advocacy can be a challenging and fear-inducing proposition. There are many articles that share tips on asking your boss for a promotion, but few have detailed a process that goes beyond the conversation itself.

Heidi and I chatted about how she created a 360 process to show that she deserved a promotion to VP.  I’ve included a quick outline of her process below, or just listen to our conversation here

1. Build your own rubric

Most organizations will have a rubric written down, but it may be too vague to really explain what it takes to get to the next level. In order to understand the difference between where you are today and where you aspire to wind up, do this:

  • Observe: Look at leaders of other divisions. How do they lead their teams to make progress? How do they work strategically and cross functionally? What impact do they have on the business?
  • Ask: Interview leaders across the company to get their interpretation of the rubric and what it takes to be a VP at the company.  
  • Synthesize: Distill your learnings into your own rubric.  Fundamental goal — do you understand what the differences are between the level you are in today and what it takes to perform at the next level?


2. Reach out to colleagues and conduct in-person feedback sessions

Talk to VPs both within your department and outside of your department to get a cross functional perspective.

Key Questions to ask, with the goal of getting some tangible answers, include “What does being a VP at this company mean to you?” and “What skill sets are important?” and  “How does this show up on a day-to-day basis?”

When speaking to VPs in your own department, ask “When you are looking to promote someone to a VP, what are you looking for?”  And probe how they evaluate whether someone is performing at the VP level.

The last question, scary to ask but important, might be, “What do you feel my strengths are? How do these line up in what you look for in a VP? What do you feel my areas of development are? And “How important is that area of development in being a VP? “On a scale of 1 – 10, how ready do you think I am in this area?”

The beauty of collecting this feedback in-person is that it allows you to ask follow-up questions to understand the feedback. If the feedback is positive, then ask the individual to be a reference for you. Talk to many people!  If you only speak with one or two people, you will anchor on one answer or the other too quickly.  


3. Build out your case

  • Take your rubric and the feedback that you received from your colleagues and build out your case. Tell your story.
  • Heidi mentions that she effectively built her own rubric for VP, one that showcased her unique ability to bridge both the technical and the business teams in a way that no one else could.  
  • Take your case to your manager, your manager’s manager, and HR.


4. Have an accountability partner

  • Do you have a friend going through a similar process? You can help each other be accountable to your to-do list, and also by providing feedback and sharing progress.

My biggest takeaway from the conversation with Heidi is the power of being your own advocate.  It’s important to have others who are in your corner, but you have to take the lead.  If you don’t, you risk missing out on interesting roles, promotions, or opportunities!