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People often say “don’t fix what isn’t broken.” Said another way, keep doing what has worked before. The problem with this mentality is that what worked in one context may no longer work in the next. People often fail to update their assumptions and change their actions which is why I think many people’s careers stall and they don’t even realize it.

For people transitioning from individual contributor roles to more manager/partner levels, I often give this career advice:

"Most people assume just doing their current assigned job well is enough – so many associates at law firms think doing all the paperwork and litigation properly is the road to partnership, and many PR account executives think that getting a few articles written about their clients will earn them a promotion, but becoming a principal, partner, or senior executive with P&L-level responsibility requires a completely separate set of skills from entry and mid-level jobs."

A venture capitalist, whom I respect, has written about “crossing the people management chasm.” He contends that even after getting to the manager level, that there are multiple levels of manager roles that you can’t just re-use previous skills you’ve accumulated. \

First, you are a team lead who manages a handful of people with 50% of your time and still continue as an individual contributors for 50% of the time. Then you become managers of team leads who really are team builders and don’t do any individual contribution to a team’s effort. Last, you become a manager of managers who need to identify, hire, and evaluate managers whose contributions aren’t easily identifiable in the form of deliverables or individual work.

As managers move up these tiers, they often find that their previously finely honed skill set just doesn’t work for succeeding in the new role. The key is to understand this reality and assume you have to always be learning. Otherwise, you’ll stay stuck by doing the same old things but in a new position. This fact underpins PaperG’s culture and hiring requirements of finding people who are always learning and investing in their skill sets.

Promotion at PaperG on a managerial level is based on whether you’ve shown the abilities to do the next tier’s work rather than simply promoting you based on having done really well on your existing tier (this isn’t to say you can’t get salary raises for staying in your tier and just keep doing that well and better over time). We’ll do trials where you might get some managerial responsibilities on the next level and set expectations on what it takes to get the actual promotion. Otherwise, you end up promoting the managers who are absolutely terrible at their new jobs and can’t get promoted further but then keep their whole team down by being terrible in their current role.

Ultimately, I believe if you ever find yourself stuck in your career, you have to ask yourself if it is because what you used to do is no longer enough in your new role.  What got you here isn’t going to be what will get you there.

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I always thought life is a game where for the most part, you have to figure out the rules to succeed. In school (aka. pre-real-life), the rules are clearly explained for how to succeed. You know when you’re taking a test and what the evaluation metric is. After that, it starts becoming harder to understand how to succeed.

imageAt jobs, when you first start working, all you have to do is the work assigned. If you do it well and on time, you get a raise and hopefully a promotion. Eventually though, that isn’t enough and a lot of people find themselves puzzled about what they are no longer doing correct. 

The game changes and no one tells you the new rules. I’ve seen law associates get frustrated when they don’t make partner even after they did all the paperwork and litigation right — all the i’s and t’s dotted and crossed. I’ve seen account executives at PR firms frustrated why they aren’t VPs after they get a lot of publicity for their clients. 

There are two universal truths I find in promotions no matter what level though they get more and more important the higher you go up. First, the less your boss worries about you, the more he or she values you. Second, the more value you deliver the firm beyond your assigned work, the more likely you’ll get to the next level.

All managers are stretched thin. It’s like being a teacher in a classroom where you have some outstanding students and some challenging ones. You often end up teaching to the lowest common denominator to ensure no one gets left behind. The kids who can self teach or pick things up quickly are the ones who get the least attention and become a pleasure to teach. Employees who don’t need to be managed are the ones managers value a lot.

Not only can managers not spend much time helping people do their job but they actually don’t have as much time as you might think to come up with new ideas or work beyond the day to day and what’s been given to them. So people who can come up with projects and execute on them without direction are ones who are creating value for the firm and not just fulfilling on it. 

Every industry has different things that a firm would value. A venture capital firm wants deal flow ultimately and not just due diligence done. An investment bank wants new trading ideas or M&A deals to work on — not just a pitch deck or excel spread sheet made. Law firms need new clients and not just good services to existing ones. Big multinational corporations need new $100MM+ products or partnerships. Startups need just about everything and can rarely rely on founders to come up with every solution to every emerging problem.

You can get by doing your assigned job well for a while even with titles like managers or directors but generally as you get to VP or higher, you aren’t given exact instructions from your superior and you’re just expected to deliver.

In fact, no one in these industries really ever sits you down and explains that to make it to the highest levels you need to start doing work outside of your day to day work. They don’t tell you that you need to be out there meeting new potentials business or keeping up with industry trends on your own time. They don’t tell you that you need to come up with a project to do your assigned work even better than was originally planned — cause they didn’t have the time to think of something better. They don’t even explain to you in a structured manner “here’s how you go about doing this work” since it’s not your job yet — you’re at best an apprentice who needs to keep an eye out to learn. They just don’t have the time to teach you that. 

So if you want to get promoted, keep these things in mind. Your manager isn’t charting your career trajectory because your manager is just trying to keep today’s operations running smoothly. You need to do today’s work, but the more you can deliver on tomorrow’s needs, the brighter your future will be at the firm.

This is an expanded answer to my earlier one to the Quora question: “What are a few unique pieces of career advice that nobody ever mentions?