Friday, June 19, 2020

Job Promotion: Scaling-bound or Opportunity-bound?

This is my thought after reading a conversation on how promotion to some levels is harder than some other levels in Facebook. The promotion is easier when the next level is the same job as your current level but a more mature version. It’s harder when the next level is a different job that requires new skills.

Based on this I would break down promotion requirements into two categories:

  1. Scaling your current skills.
  2. Learning and practicing new skills.

Promotions that mostly require the first category are the easier ones. The next level is more or less the same job. Let’s call it scale-bound promotion. Promotions that heavily involves the second category are the harder ones. The next level is like a different job. I’ll call it opportunity-bound promotion.

The first step to optimize your promotion is to identify whether your next level is scale-bound or opportunity-bound. In the conversation that I read about, people divided Facebook levels into buckets – [3, 4], [5], [6, 7], [8, 9] – and it’s the same job in the same bucket. Crossing the buckets requires you to learn and practice new skills because it’s a different job.

Opportunity-bound promotion is harder because you need opportunities to learn and practice new skills that are required by your next level while your current level doesn’t provide such opportunities. Usually, those opportunities come to you naturally when you are at your next level. This becomes a chicken and egg problem – you are not at the next level so you don’t get opportunities required by your next level.

Even if the promotion to your next level is opportunity-bound, you need to deal with the scale-bound part well first. Otherwise, when someone offers you an opportunity you might fail because your current skills don’t scale enough. That person will regret offering you the opportunity. The next opportunity will be harder to come by. It’s better to make sure your current skills are mostly scaled to meet the expectation of your next level first.

When you are confronted with an opportunity-bound situation, the best-case scenario is having a great manager. The manager should connect you with the right opportunities to develop the skills you don’t have. These opportunities should push you out of your comfort zone but not too far away. That’s the tailwind setup. You are in good hands.

The meh scenario is when the team is functioning okay but your manager isn’t actively optimizing the part of the team that you are in. That means your manager isn’t actively helping you with new opportunities. This scenario is common when your manager is too aggressive and spread himself too thin. It’s also common when your manager is complacent and doesn’t want to further develop the team.

You need to have better than average (comparing to your peers at your level) soft skills to build relationships with a broader group of people in your company. Learn about the broader business your team is in and discover opportunities yourself. You might also need to perform better than your peers when there are fewer opportunities than the people who are qualified.

The worst-case scenario is when the team is malfunctioning. People don’t know what they are supposed to do or what they can do to meaningfully help the team.

It’s like war. There are casualties. People can’t perform well because the team is broken but they got fired anyway. People who don’t get fired will realize the situation they are in and might jump ship as fast as they could. Interestingly, war heroes only emerge from the war. Field promotion can fast track you at a speed that’s not achievable in peacetime. Opportunities open up when there are casualties and deserters.

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