This is a question that Sherry continually challenges those around her to consider in their career discernment. What she means is that you’ve got to think not only about what organization you want to work for and the kind of cause you want to serve, but the more specific, mundane stuff too: What sort of daily tasks do you want to do? Do you want to work in the U.S., or abroad, or be based in one place but regularly travel to many others? Also important is: What sort of environment do you want to work in? Are you more comfortable with a small nonprofit that has few employees and no bureaucratic structure? Or would you prefer a more “corporate” environment, in which things are much more structured? Perhaps somewhere in between?
Case and point of Sherry’s mantra: a friend and former grad school classmate has been with the same major international consulting firm for four, going on five, years. He has already received several promotions, but has now reached the level of needing to land the “big” promotion, or else his time there is short. Basically, there are 10 employees, including him, at his level. Only three of those 10 will receive the next promotion. The other seven are then expected to move on. He called it a “rank-and-yank” model. I’ll let Wikipedia explain more:
Rank-and-yank-like models are common amongst management consulting firms, often referred to as an ‘up or out‘ approach to evaluations. Specifically, Accenture [the huge international consulting firm---you see ads featuring Tiger Woods in every airport ever] uses an ‘up-or-out’ model with its staff: if employees do not get promoted after a certain length of time at their existing career level (usually no more than 4-5 years), they are ‘counselled out’ of the firm (shorthand for being fired – but on generous terms)…
This system promotes vitality in the firm, theoretically allowing only the strongest performers to reach leadership positions. In practice, however, this system has a tendency to dilute leadership, as individuals who may be better oriented toward upper management and executive positions leave the firm before promotion to those levels is possible. Additionally, due to extraordinarily high levels of employee attrition, Accenture is built on the need for enormous recruitment, particularly at the entry level. If, for some reason, the firm was no longer able to recruit the enormous number of graduates it requires each year – or was unable to attract a high quality of graduate – this model would falter.
My friend was frantically busy for several weeks pulling together the necessary documentation and support for his rank-and-yank evaluation. Soon after turning in his supporting documentation, he was called before a panel to do an oral evaluation of his performance (sort of like defending your thesis, it seemed).
This all stressed me out more than it did him. As much as I’ve bitched about the lack of clear advancement structure and salary hierarchies in nonprofits, I realized that at least nonprofits are the devil that I can deal with. Hearing these intimate details about the stresses of what a “corporate advancement structure” actually comes to mean made me want nothing more than to never, ever be involved with a rank-and-yank promotion situation. While my friend reveled in that kind of competition and pressure, just hearing about it made me break out in a cold sweat.
All of which reinforced to me the point that an ongoing consideration of how (and where) you want to spend your days is a vitally important part of your career.