I worked for one of the largest and most celebrated manufacturing organizations in the world for  a week or so. I was there for a very short time because I realized instantly that it was going to be and overly hostile environment for the sales position that I was hired into.

Even though I was only an employee for a short period of time, throughout the course of my training I learned a great deal about the company’s advanced and highly automated system of management. Specifically with just a couple of clicks the CEO could literally drill down to the individual performance of any one of the companies tens of thousands of sales reps.  The CEO, and any level of management for that matter,  could see your quota, where you were on your plan, and what the trend line was for your potential success.   All the different challenges in how this tool could be abused for micromanagement with the different layers of oversight would make for a fascinating article, but that’s not the point of this missive.  

The point is that in the environment there existed a single CEO, a very limited and thinned out middle management level, and the individual contributors. Everybody with any oversight could see exactly what the individual contributors were doing based upon their sales plans.  These plans may or may not have been developed with the reps input. It was only because of automation that the situation was able to exist.  Even at the regional level you only would have a single manager and dozens upon dozens of individual contributors underneath them.

While explaining the space elevator theory an analogy to business came to my mind.    I have discussed the idea that there is less and less middle management as organizations thin out their middle ranks.  This does not stop organizations from growing.  Using a pun, these organizations continually shoot for the stars. As they get bigger and bigger they’re spreading out on the bottom layer but management pyramid is getting thinner and thinner to the point where it starts to look like a straight line.   This is when the analogy of management track being a ticket on the space elevator came from.

To quote Wikipedia:

A space elevator is a proposed type of space transportation system.[1] The main component would be a cable (also called a tether) anchored to the surface and extending into space. The design would permit vehicles to travel along the cable from a planetary surface, such as the Earth’s, directly into space or orbit, without the use of large rockets.

The space elevator is an accelerant.  Few people can get on, but when you do you shoot up.  This is  because you are ‘in the club’.  As an example a director of operations for a geographic area the size of a nation would have to come from somebody who’s covered a large regional area.  Only these people would need to have the prerequisite experience in that business sector and currently be at the regional level so they can quickly understand how to  manage at the next level up. the problem is with the cutting and cutting and cutting you only have one or two people who would have that large Regional area who can aspire to the next level up.  In the end the club is very limited.  If you are one of those two, then eventually you’ll get that next level up.   

So we just get on the elevator, and the situation takes care of itself, right? And therein lies the problem if you have a large batch of individual contributors at the bottom level getting onto the first rung of the space elevator in the corporate world is nearly impossible. I’m not talking about the supervisor or director level who has to spend 80% of their time doing the task at hand and coordinating more than managing. I’m talking about the first level where the majority of your time is spent managing people not doing an end facing task. That’s when the population ratio for the promotion goes from 50 to 1.   If you’re the one then you’ve got your ticket paid for.  If you just do the right things so you don’t fall off then you can enjoy the ride up over the course of your career. It’s getting that ticket which is so difficult.

So how do we get the ticket? That’s the million-dollar question, or I guess in the case of a space elevator it’s the multi trillion-dollar question.  One way is just luck, right place right time. This is when you’ve got a good reputation and nobody else happens to be available at that moment for a position that needs to be filled very quickly. For the record the positions always need to be filled quickly because there is rarely a deep bench of middle management who can pick up the slack while the new senior manager gets vetted and selected.  Another way is simply to lie and make the move to a different organization. I hate to say this but it’s absolutely the truth that manipulating your LinkedIn to convey a fanciful story that shows credentials, skills and experiences far beyond what one actually has done has become an art form that far exceeds the tweaking of resumes in the past.  So we have luck or lying. As much as I’ve seen both of them work over the years that’s not my style and it’s never been anything I’ve been comfortable with. Luck is simply not in your control, and you can always get caught lying although those that are very good at it rarely do because they’ve moved on to the next thing before the last linked in or resume based fairy tail is figured out.

There really is only one other option.  This is the brute force attack.  The brute force attack is where you spend every waking moment getting every possible credential you can that may help your chances.  You spend your days working long hours at work and taking on lots of extra tasks.   Outside of work you are doing additional training including paying for and earning multiple masters degrees.  Other activities include voluntary leadership in industry related groups as well as local company related civic and non-politically charged government organizations.  The Brute Force attack will work, the problem is that it is a huge commitment. There is no balance in your life if you are spending every waking moment running around and getting credentials and being involved with every organization even peripherally associated with your industry and career. The only benefit to the brute-force approach is that it’s not as backstabbingly competitive as playing the corporate game in a large organization.  You still may lose out to the organizational politician with the corporate connections, but if you are so much more overwhelmingly credentialed that you start getting recruited by competitive organizations then you’ve pretty much earned your ticket on the space elevator of corporate ascendance one way or another.  

So those are your options, but one option is missing. It’s missing because it doesn’t exist. that’s the option of showing up and doing a good job and hoping somebody will notice and give you raises and promotions and expanded responsibilities based upon the fact that you did an excellent job while balancing your life and desire to get promoted.   The elevator is simply too small, there’s not enough space available for people who do good jobs to get promoted just because.  I’ve always dreamed of reaching the stars in my career but when I look at what’s involved I have to think to myself is acquiring that ticket really worth the price of admission? I’m not so sure it is.

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the Blog: www.PelusoPresents.com/

With hundreds of published articles, Peluso Presents is your weekly source for commentary, ideas and insight in navigating the collision between work and life.

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to the Podcast:  http://pelusopresents.libsyn.com/

For those who are on the go, every episode of the Peluso Presents podcast includes a reading of a highlighted post as well as other great entertaining information.  Available wherever you get your podcast fix from!  Subscribe and please don’t forget to review it on iTunes!

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Posted by Mike Peluso

Mike Peluso writes is about the collision between between the business / professional world and life. He also writes about the journey involved with the Peluso Presents efforts including the Blog, Books, and Podcast so that others may benefit from his efforts. Read the Blog: www.PelusoPresents.com/ Listen to the Podcast: http://pelusopresents.libsyn.com/ Support the Effort: https://www.patreon.com/pelusopresents

One Comment

  1. […] opportunities for additional responsibilities.  But a track that leads to management aligns to my space elevator analogy.  If you are not at the right place in the right time, then there is limited chance you can secure […]

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