The “escalator of success” is straight-up broken

The escalator to success is broken

Cool article from John Brandon on Inc about “the escalator of success” and how it’s broken/running on fumes. Had only heard that specific term once or twice in the past, but as for the concept that it’s broken? Could.Not.Agree.More. It’s interesting because Mad Men is ending in the next couple of weeks, and Mad Men represents a time — maybe the last time in American history — where people really stayed at the same place for decades, moved up the ranks there, had legitimate shots at advancement, etc. I’ve been working for 12 years and I have job-hopped, yes — I’ve worked in a bunch of different industries — but I’ve never really seen a culture that was anything more than “rich get richer.” One of the most painful things to have happen as a rank-and-file at any company is to be at an all-hands meeting and hear a bunch of promotion announcements, and all the promotions are stuff like VP to SVP. That’s just brutal, and it’s also in-group vs. out-group. People with promotion-deciding power spend time with other people at their level, then promote them. What about the people down at the bottom doing the actual work and closest to the client/customer? WHAT ABOUT US?!? Look at the inverted graphs in this post, for example.

I’ve only been in my current job about nine months, and I like it. Don’t get me wrong. It’s somewhat of a flat organization in some ways and I doubt I’ll be promoted very much, if at all, in the coming years. But after a tough job search process, I consider myself grateful. That said, I do understand the core tenet of the article — that basically, the “millennial generation” will eventually leave jobs and try to start their own thing because the “escalator of success” isn’t taking them up the ranks at all. I could see myself trying to start my own thing someday, although I lack self-confidence so the beginnings might be a challenge.

If you watch the HBO show Silicon Valley and saw the end of last night’s episode, there’s an interesting context around all this. The basic plot is that the start-up guy (Richard) gets an offer to sell his company to the big bad established company (leader is named Gavin).

Richard’s argument is that he can’t “sell out” and it’s “his thing” and he’ll “do it the right way,” and Gavin’s argument is that everyone always says that, and really … when you become a $1 billion company, are you going to start helping your competitors out and being gracious? No. You’re going to try and become a $10 billion company, then a $50 billion company, etc. That’s the nature of the beast.

So sometimes I wonder how virtuous the idea of “going at it yourself” really is, if there’s always this goal in the back of your mind that you’re going to get bought up by a big dog and make some more scratch. Isn’t that the dream/model for a lot of people?

Final deep thought around this: sometimes I think that the idea of “employee engagement” — which I personally believe in deeply — is somewhat of a scam that was cooked up by consultant thought leaders for top-dog C-Suiters who realized “Well, we can’t really promote anyone anymore, so maybe we should come up with a concept where we claim to value them without jacking their salary…” That would explain why it seems like only a handful of people actually get/care about engagement, to an extent. It’s all a bit of a game/farce.

The fact is, the workplace is really all a game, and the game is all about relationships (the base work is actually pretty easy, most of the time). If you can manage the game and the people, you’ll be OK in a company large or small. You won’t make that much more money, but you’ll be OK and find some purpose here and there. Problem is: even if you “get it” about work, most people don’t. That creates a lot of challenging situations.


Ted Bauer