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Career: The Tribal Council

We already talked about getting your spending rate down (See our article on Needs vs. Wants) but to recap; there are essentially two levers you can pull to decrease your spending rate:

  1. Decrease spending (Thank you Captain Obvious)
  2. Increase income

The most effective strategy of course is to tackle both but the primary objective of this career article is to figure out how to maximize your income if you happen to be fortunate (or unfortunate) to work in a large company.

In college, you might be lucky if your school helps you with your resume, gives you some general tips on how to interview or how to negotiate your starting salary at your first “big boy / big girl” job.

So what is missing from all of that? How promotions and raises actually work at a Fortune 500 company is what’s missing.

The bigger the company, the more likely there is a formal process in place to determine who gets raises or promotions each year.  You might have had it referred to as “HR season” at your company.  I have stuck with a single company my entire 15 year career and I have been able to more than triple my starting salary by navigating this process successfully.

Before getting into middle management, I had theories about the process and many of them were ultimately confirmed.  I figured out the proper strategies along the way and knowing what I know now, I’m sure that I would have accelerated my base growth even further.

This is why this article is really a letter to my past self, in case we somehow develop time travel during my lifespan.  (Now that I wrote that out loud, I am suddenly distracted by all the superior methods to get my past-self rich; lottery numbers, stock trades, the Biff Sports Almanac from Back to the Future II) So here it goes…

Dear “Guy” (You aren’t a Super FI Guy yet so keep reading!),

There is a lot you need to understand if you want to take the train to “CEO Town”.  I’m not here to try and talk you out of that ride because you are super motivated and the money you earn and save in your 20s is going to go directly into my own pocket. So do “all of the things” and most importantly take the following in to consideration:

  1. Understand what HR Season really means:  Every year you get ranked against your peers.  Your peers are the other people at your level / title working in your immediate group and even outside your immediate group.  How you stack up to them in terms of skills and what you have accomplished will determine if you get a raise this year and how much money they throw at you at the end of the “season”.  This also determines if you are ready for a promotion.

  2. It isn’t a person who ranks you but a “tribal council” (Think of the reality show Survivor).  Your direct supervisor isn’t always on the council.  They may be feeding their boss or their boss’s boss information on you and making a “suggestion” of how you stack.  But the council, along with HR will determine what your “rating” is for the year.  Only so many strong ratings can be assigned out and there is a vote on who gets what at your level.  If you don’t have multiple folks fighting for you on the council then you will be downgraded from your boss’s “suggestion”.  The higher the level you are, the more important this becomes.

  3. You are going to hate hearing this but POLITICS MATTER.  You need to figure out who is on this council and become FAMOUS to them.  If there are seven people on it, you need all seven of them to know who you are and you need a few of them to be willing to fight for you.

  4. Find opportunities to become FAMOUS.  Volunteer for projects that are outside of your department; especially if these projects involve objectives of other council members.  Every council member has star players underneath them.  You need to combine forces with these people to solve the company’s problems.  Success is contagious.  Have what it takes and work hard, but if you surround yourself with top talent then it will rub off too.

  5. Do work that matters to the organization.  The objectives you volunteer for should help as many people as possible.  If something was easy, it has probably already been done.  Figure out what is painful and even if it is hard, solve it.  Accomplish what has been previously stated as “impossible”.  Bring in other likeminded folks from outside your immediate team to accomplish this and share the glory.

  6. GET A MENTOR!  Be strategic with this selection:  pick a tribal council member who your work doesn’t already intersect with their sphere of influence.  Building a strong relationship with a mentor will make them invested in your success.  It’s much more powerful during the council meetings if you have someone in your management chain (your boss’s boss) AND outside of your chain (your mentor) fighting for your rating.

  7. Understand the politics but actually DESERVE the rating and promotion.  Don’t take credit for other people’s work; be a good person.  Someday a team member might even be promoted into your council!  Burning people and making enemies will lead to bad times and lead to dead ends; career-wise.

  8. Always take on responsibility much higher than your current level to accelerate your career.  Do your assigned objectives but strive to go well beyond that by volunteering for optional assignments that are outside your team.

  9. Consistently provide “wins” for your management chain each month or quarter throughout the year.  Actually listen to what is important to your management team and figure out how that intersects with your smaller team.  Advertise your team’s success and link it back to your management team’s strategy. 

  10. When you finally become a manager, be a good one.  It’s not about just “I” anymore:  Its “we”.  An individual on your team getting positive recognition still reflects on you.  Give them the opportunity to become FAMOUS.  If you are a front line supervisor, the only way you can make sure that they are rewarded appropriately is to make them visible to the other tribal council members.  Failing at getting them the appropriate rating will make you lose credibility as their manager and it will be a lot harder to keep them motivated (or even on your team).

The top 10 list of what you need to know in order to understand the tribal council and receive the recognition you deserves is officially complete. Now remember: 

Recognition takes two parts; doing incredible work and having the right people realize it. 

If you are all in on one, you won’t get very far.  You’ll either be pushed in to a corner as a “worker bee” or you will be labelled an “imposter” as soon as people realize you are all sales and no substance.  Now stop reading a blog and go make me some money!


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1 Comment

  1. Stuart

    Wow, incredible blog layout! How long have you been blogging for?

    you made blogging look easy. The overall look of your website is wonderful,
    let alone the content!


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