How to get promoted

Defmacro, 2020-09-28

Needless to say, this is quite a humorous article, but it’s good at developing paranoia.

Welcome to the Social Fiction

  • Many people assume the road to promotion is religiously following the usual procedures: crushing OKRs, continuously learning, getting mentored, having 1:1 with the boss and listening to them.

  • However, good performers are usually buried in the corporate obscurity despite their performance reviews.

  • Many companies seem idyllic from the outside, but by the time one leaves, they need some bloodletting to get the poison out. And the political games can drain all mental powers.


  • Rapidly growing companies offer money, growth, publicity, status – and it creates a self-selected queue of candidates seeking exactly that.

  • Not everyone seeking status and wealth has socially acceptable principles, and this shows most when these people try climbing the corporate ladder.

  • Because people are separated from the results of their work, it’s hard to draw the direct line between the person and the achievement, so the nature of achievement changes: it’s substituted with wealth and status.

  • It’s virtually impossible to protect the company from such artists, as the bigger the company gets – the more skilled these artists need to be to apply.


  • The most effective way to grow through hierarchy is finding the attack vector that can’t be remediated by the company.

  • The impact of any serious initiative in a large company is visible in 2-3 years, so there’s a temptation to exhibit the “achiever” behaviour and “own” the success of the company for 2-3 years before getting caught (or promoted).

  • Once a metric is in motion, it stays in a motion; observing the initiative’s success is like watching the light of a remote star – it was emitted way earlier. So “owning” the current success is literally being a free-rider mounting the success wave. The key to success is switching projects every 18 months – jumping from one wave to a higher one.

  • Growing companies are workplaces where things move so fast that people tend to forget the facts and remember only the good / bad feelings. Leaving a project soon to be in trouble saves face of the leaver and tanks the promotion potential of a new newcomer.

  • So doing something meaningful to impact the metrics is not needed; looking good and being likable – is.


  • Companies operate in one of the two modes: peace (when growing) and war (when stagnating or shrinking). In the peace mode bad information routinely gets ignored.

  • Properly packaged bad news is never individualized [MK: as Stalin liked saying: “Every failure has a first and a last name”]. It’s always presented as a chance to improve something, never “I”, but always “we”, and in very generic terms not to open up to becoming a doomsayer.

  • KPIs, OKRs, values, etc are just rituals for these people. Doing so means inevitable confrontation with other people’s reputation, career plans and the flow / distribution of money. The risk is that people retaliate and being criticized from several angles is never career-friendly.

  • Talking the management talk (USA) or drinking the drink (Russia, Japan) is more important to join the inner circle than actual work done.


  • Understand the baseline headcount for the growing firm and grow one’s team faster. There will always be work for idle hands as there are always new clients, projects and initiatives; the job of the manager is to make their team look well-run.

  • Copy other teams’ rituals, do 1:1s, run agile trainings, ship something every now and then and don’t attract objective evaluation until one has already moved to a new role.

  • Avoid obvious mistakes with high negative impact – they will bury the career. Ask for more funding and time to address non-critical impact. Some areas (security and infrastructure) are the ones with the lowest number of fakes.

  • One can easily hold contradicting beliefs that they need less meetings but keep scheduling more and more meetings at the same time. When a paycheck depends on this, it’s not too hard.