The market of a rising star career path involves getting jobs with increasingly greater responsibility in a relatively short period of time.

The average professional expects (incorrectly) that if they simply do a good job, that’s the basis for getting promoted.

This thinking leads to… S L O W career progress.

Here’s why. 

Employers like to make low risk hires. 

Re-read that last sentence 10 times. It is that important and so frequently under-appreciated.

When you are competent in your current job, that alone does not necessarily reflect competence in the next job you want.

The key to becoming a low-risk hire is to develop and demonstrate the skills of the next job you want before you ever get considered for a promotion.

(Re-read that sentence too. It is the 80/20 of superstar career thinking.)

As you move up the corporate ladder, the nature of work… changes.

You shift from being a do-er of tasks to 1) a decider and 2) a manager of do-ers.

This is a completely different skill set from being an individual contributor “do-er.”

When you’re lower on the corporate ladder, your company and your boss don’t give you a lot of independent decision-making power.

In short, they don’t trust you to make your own decisions.

Question: If you don’t get a chance to make decisions, how are you supposed to get better at it and move into decider-type roles?

Answer: You practice decider skills by providing well thought out recommendations to others (your boss, your boss’s boss, and your boss’s peers).

In a proposal review meeting, you will get two kinds of questions:

1) Questions that ask you to go into more detail about what you researched;

2) Questions about how what you recommend impacts the other parts of the company.

You had better darn well be able to answer the first type of question. That’s a basic level of competence that should be expected.

But, if you’re only able to answer the first type of question, you will get a pat on the back… but you won’t get promoted very quickly or easily.

Here’s why.

A big part of being a good decider is being able to make holistic decisions. There are two specific facets of holistic decision making that aspiring deciders typically have difficulty making.

The first is cross-functional impact.

How does what you’re proposing in engineering impact sales, marketing, and customer service?

This is the question your boss’s peers and your boss’s boss want to know.

These are the questions they will be wondering about (because these are areas of their responsibility).

IF you have anticipated their concerns in advance and have already thought out the answer, they will be impressed.

The second is time-delayed impact.

If we do X today, do we create a headache for ourselves in 6, 12 or 18 months later? This is what makes CEOs, Division Presidents, and General Managers worry.

Sure, you do your project today, but guess what? I [as the CEO] have to live with any negative consequences of your project next year.

Higher level executives hate it when a win for your little pet project creates a headache for them.

Here’s how to prevent that.

For any proposal you make in your area of work, set aside 15 minutes to think about the ramifications of your proposal for 1) others’ departments in the company and 2) for your department/company in the future.

How does this proposal impact customers?
… the sales team?
… the company’s marketing efforts?
… the next fiscal year?

Write down the list of anticipatable concerns… then address them before you present the proposal to anybody.

Sometimes it means making some small adjustments to your proposal that are slightly less beneficial for you, but prevent major problems for others.

Other times, you don’t change the specifics of your proposal… but you do change how you would explain the proposal to demonstrate you considered the impact on other departments.

When you’re able to do this, you’ll find people more senior than you will support your candidacy for a promotion.

When you demonstrate good cross-functional and short- vs. long-term judgment, others get some confidence that they won’t have to clean up your messes. This makes you a low-risk hire… and that’s exactly the way you want to be perceived.

On a personal note, this was how I got all my promotions in industry.

When I was in industry, my roles were all formally in product management. But, I spent a lot of time with the CFO, the top engineers, the sales team, and the chief counsel.

The CFO liked that I was financially savvy. Great, someone making product decisions is one of “us” (a.k.a., an honorary member of the finance department).

The head of global sales saw me as a deal guy. I was constantly helping them close millions of dollars worth of deals. He liked that my product plans deeply considered how you’d position a product during a sales meeting.

Chief counsel saw me as legally savvy — someone who worries about terms and conditions of deals and intellectual property considerations.

When all the top executives already perceive you as a peer, the promotion becomes more of a formality to officially recognize what has already happened organically.

That is THE key to the superstar career path.

Your work isn’t done when the last slide has been written.

Your work isn’t done when the last line of code has been written.

Your work isn’t done when the last spreadsheet cell has been finished.

Your work is done after you’ve spent 15 minutes thinking about how what you just finished on a preliminary basis impacts everybody else.

Only after you’ve made any revisions based on this extra level of thinking is your work done.

You get to be a better decider or thinker by… well… thinking!

(Not by avoiding this extra thinking.)

Now get to work… and save yourself an extra 15 minutes to think.

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