Recently, several outstanding employees were promoted at Intuit®. It reminded me how important it is to take the time to celebrate promotions, and also prompted me to reflect on my own career.

As a leader, having someone on my team take on new, greater responsibilities means that I’ve done my primary job – I’ve gotten out of the way so that an employee could do the best work of their lives. Often, a promotion may result in “losing” one of your most talented employees. However, I think that sense of “losing” is a narrow perspective.

Letting an employee go means you are building a team that is sustainable and durable. Giving more responsibility to one of your talented employees means that their impact will result in a greater benefit to your entire organization. It also means that you cannot just rely on one individual’s talent – you need to build and rely on a strong bench. If you really want to lose an employee, keep them in the same position and don’t present them with new opportunities and challenges for growth.

Further reflecting on promotions and how to get to the next level, here’s a model my father shared with me:

  1. Entry level: Your job is usually project based. If you consistently exceed expectations on projects, you are doing well. From an organizational standpoint, you are being trained.
  2. Second level: At this level, you usually are a first-time manager and you likely have a dual role: both assigning projects to employees and also actively doing projects yourself to achieve your “unit’s” objective. If those projects deliver or exceed expected results, you will likely move up to the next level. Organizationally, however, you are training the entry-level employees, rather than truly managing.
  3. Third level: While you are now responsible for a portfolio of “units” and managing people whose jobs you understand, you no longer do the actual work. This is a big leap because you are learning to motivate and encourage, rather than “do.” Organizationally, you are putting together a team to achieve business outcomes.
  4. Fourth level: Finally, the last level: you manage people whose work you do not understand and have never done. You rely entirely on the management skills you learned at the third level. Organizationally, you now look for talented leaders at the third level who can help put together the pieces your team needs to succeed.

This framework really helped me as I moved through each level. It made me realize that what got me to each level wasn’t going to get me to the next level. It also helped me understand that my ability to move to the next level was not only a result of my work, but also the work of my team and the employees I depended on to get the work done. As I moved through each level, this model helped me coach employees who wanted to work toward a promotion.

For talented, early-career employees who experience promotions at a steady clip within the lower levels, it’s hard for them to adjust to the fact that promotions slow down as the organizational pyramid narrows. It’s even tougher within flatter organizations. In fact, moving up a level is often more easily accomplished by joining a different organization than rising up the ranks at the same company. How many times in one organization might you be promoted? In today’s world, seven would be a big number, even in a big company. So, if you’ve been promoted or know someone who has, it’s truly a worthy accomplishment that won’t come around many times in a career.

I’ll leave you with one final thought: when I worked in Chile, they had a wonderful tradition called Pago El Piso (Pay the Floor). When someone was promoted, that person had to take the team out to celebrate and pay the tab. Teammates had great fun running up the bill, and sometimes, I’ll admit, a promotion initially felt like a punishment. But, Pago El Piso served as a great reminder that no one gets promoted based solely on individual accomplishments. It’s the people around you and the accomplishments achieved as a team that got you there. Never, ever forget that.

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