I’m not sure why I ever thought promotion was something that just happened if you were good at your job. I had no basis whatsoever for thinking that, since I don’t recall ever witnessing that particular chain of events. My main exposure to promotion has been in the context of making partner in a law firm, where nobody who was ever simply good at his job ever made partner. Promotion in a law firm required something more (or different), and what was “good” was something of a moving target:
Partner: “Kate, thanks for coming in. As you know, you were being considered for partnership again this year.”
Partner: “Well, yes, I’m sorry, ‘were.’” You did great work this year, but when the partners met in a conference room at an expensive resort for a few hours between golf matches and spa treatments, when the dart hit your name we decided you needed a couple more years to really, uh, evolve into partnership material.”
Kate: “I see. You said the same thing to me two years ago, and in response to your concerns I brought in several new marquee clients, increased my revenues by 500%, won the two Supreme Court cases I argued, and received an offer to become a D.C. district court judge. What else could I possibly have to do to make partner?”
Partner: “Well, uh, you know, uh, Janet’s out today and I really need someone to pick up the cake for my son’s birthday party this afternoon.”
Kate: “Excuse me?”
Partner: “Or you could just blow me.”
More realistically, my observation was that dorks, no matter how good their work was, didn’t make partner. That’s simple grade school psychology – the popular kids only want others they perceive as being just like them to belong to their club. In the context of a law firm, that usually means elevating people with borderline sociopath personalities to the status of partner, while creating new, fake categories of “promotion” for the people they don’t like personally but can’t afford to lose. They don’t want to share their money or even a drink with these mere mortals, hence the establishment of “non-equity partners” and “of counsel” roles. The ostensible trade off for this middling placement in the hierarchy is that the counsel can find time to coach his daughter’s soccer team, while the illustrious partner can continue to occasionally attend one of her games without ever taking his eyes off his PDA. And everyone is “happy,” at least the partners.
It turns out the corporate world isn’t a lot different. I think that’s probably OK with me for the time being, but maybe I will reconsider when I have any spare time to care.