I wanted to share how I think about career development in general but also specifically at Amazon. Take is as what it is, my personal view. However, to go with Colin Powell: “It worked for me.”
Grow your equity
Invest in yourself!
In my mind, career growth is primarily about how you invest in yourself. It’s about what new skills you can learn, what new experiences you can gain. It’s about how you can expand the scope of your impact as you get better at what you do.
You can think about it through the lens of a job interview. We all do plenty of those as interviewers. What stories from candidates excite us? What stories can you tell and what do you need to do to expand the set of interesting stories about your professional life. Your career growth plan is how you build up the examples that will excite other people and yourself. As experienced interviewers, we know that it’s never about the title a candidate brings, but it’s always about how they solved complex problems and overcame challenging headwinds in creative and inclusive ways.
Promotion is a by-product of career growth
Career growth doesn’t equal promotion. Promotion is a by-product of career growth.
At Amazon, we deliberately only have a few levels. Therefore, the time between promotions is longer than in many other companies and the difference between levels is greater. However, the growth opportunities in a level are plenty and will allow you to build the anecdotes and data to prove that you are ready for the next step when you are ready.
Looking back to a previous life that seems far away, I remember that at Microsoft we plopped from level 63 to 64 to 65 every two years. There was lots of instant gratification, but it was also somehow meaningless, since in most cases the job title didn’t even change. At Amazon, we take big deliberate steps with longer personal growth periods in-between. The scope, responsibility, and impact we are given as individuals during those growth periods are mind-blowing in comparison to other companies.
Know where you want to go and start being that person today
Where do you want to be in 2-3 years?
Be clear in your mind what you want to do in 2 or 3 years. Understand how you will operate in that role. Look at people who are already performing in that role or at that level and understand what they do differently from you. Then look for opportunities to do the same. Work in the same way (the ‘how’ much more than the ‘what’). Talk to your manager and make sure she knows where you want to go, can provide you with proper opportunities and give you relevant coaching and feedback along the way.
Seek opportunities to learn how those role models do what they do and then find ways for yourself to show similar behaviors and outcomes (don’t just copy them, nothing is more depressing than a bad copy). Deliver at that quality bar consistently, and people will notice. Once enough people notice you will get promoted.
For example, at promotion Amazon is not a bet of leadership that you might eventually be able to grow into a new level. We don’t follow the Peter principle (i.e., you get promoted until you fail in your level). At Amazon, we promote people who already perform at the next level. We promote once people have consistently demonstrated that they are ready. Promotion at Amazon is an acknowledgment that you already have what it takes, not that we have high hopes that you might eventually get there.
Make personal growth goals
Make a plan, be clear, be deliberate, and understand what the bar is.
What is it that you want to work on? What scope do you want to expand in? Where can you help your organization? What things can you take to the next level to role-model for the rest of your team?
Understand where you want to go. Understand what the expectations are for that role and level. Understand where you need to add to your existing experiences (regular career discussion are a great tool for that). Make a plan!
Those plans don’t need to be tied to a next level though (in my mind in most cases they shouldn’t). I’m coming back to my first and most important point – it’s about how you grow your skills and equity. For example, for me, I wanted to widen my focus and impact beyond my direct PM team. I made it a goal for this year to find ways to help coach the broader org so that we can all be more effective and fulfilled. Will I learn a lot? For sure! Will that get me promoted to Director? No way. Do I worry much about that? Not a minute. It’s a ton of fun and I learn many new things along the way.
Did you like this article? Want to read more?
I will keep posting articles here and I have them lined up way into summer 2020. However if you want to get it all in one comprehensive, structured, and grammar-checked (!) view, check out our new book:
Put On Your Own Oxygen Mask First
A practical guide to living healthier, happier and more successful in 52 weekly steps
By Alfons and Ulrike Staerk
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