Your Ever-Changing Role in a Growing Organization

I’m pretty fortunate to have experienced the challenge and struggle of working to build a growing organization on a few separate occasions throughout my career. But it took me awhile to figure out exactly what was so fortunate about it. For a long time, it felt like a continuation of this inability to define myself. When you wear a ton of hats, how do you come up with a title? How do you define your role?

Director of Awesomesauce/Chief Troublemaker

The inability to articulate my title is not foreign to me. It feels like all my life, I’ve carried an asterisk around. I was the floating peg, not quite finding that any particular hole fit. From the earliest age, my “position” was always that of an expanded role.

The Kindergartner who also participated in the First Grade lessons. The Girl Scout who also managed the cookie coordination. The bank auditor who also took on the duties of Admin Assistant and MIS Specialist. The Realtor who also negotiated everyone else’s Short Sales for them. Oh, and that’s just barely a glimpse.

When LinkedIn came along, I struggled quite a bit to create job descriptions for all the things I had done. What am I? What do I do? Hanger of Coats. Sweeper of Floors. Herder of Cats. Collector of Awesome. Drinker of Drinks That You Ask Me To Hold.

I don’t care what you call me, just don’t call me late for dinner.

But really, what do you do?

The truth is that I did care, but only because it became difficult to have conversations with folks I’d like to work with. I’ve been a member of several early-stage startups. I’ve helped communities, organizations, and companies grow and be better. But that ended up sounding like “I jump around from place to place, doing this and that.”

Molly Graham, now VP of Operations at Chan-Zuckerberg Initiative (and formerly of Google, and Facebook, and Quip…) has spoken about how important it is to “give away your job” every couple of months in growing organizations.

She eventually turned this into one of the most amazing and life-changing talks I’ve ever experienced at a conference. I had an absolute Hallelujah moment when Molly presented 9 Things I Wish Someone Had Told Me About Working Inside A Scaling Organization. I realized that rather than worrying about my job title, I knew the most important thing was this: just be useful.

Be useful in a growing organization.

Working in technology and delivering innovation means that the world around you, your customers, and your organization is growing fast. The only constant is change. Whatever you’re doing today is not going to work in some number of time – weeks, months… perhaps even days.

Grow. Fast.

“Your only job is to learn and grow as fast as you possibly can.”

“What you come out of a scaling organization with, is not a really fancy title that shows the world everything that you’re capable of,” Molly added. “What you get is a story. If you are the most useful person in the room at all times, you get all sorts of opportunities.”

You’re an asset to the company. Take the opportunity to grow your skill set. Explore these new challenges to poke and prod at what you might be good at. A growing organization is, by its very nature, going to be unable to anticipate its own needs. A useful person can help solve these unanticipated needs.

Speaking of that…

Be self-aware in a growing organization.

In a rapidly growing company, job titles pretty much can’t be static. They need to evolve. Your role needs to evolve.

So, more important than knowing what your role is, will be to know what you’re extraordinary at.

Take a chance and seize a challenge

It’s “better than business school,” Molly says, to move around a growing organization and be able to try things on for size in your journey to figure this out. Take every opportunity to do this. When a challenge comes along that you’d like the opportunity to solve, call it out and ask to be given a chance. This is how you become self-aware.

“Be able to describe, in very specific terms,
what you are the best in the world at doing.”

I am extraordinary at pushing to always get the entire story, so that a message can be delivered sincerely and logistics can be strategized carefully.

I don’t print that on business cards. But I know that if you need an operations-minded person to create and build, I’m your person. You probably didn’t know you needed that person, and might never think to hire that person. But I can find my way around projects and plans and put these skills to work.

I’m pretty good at that, but as I evolve, I may discover that I’m even better at something else.

Learn what you don’t do well

Just as important as knowing this is knowing what you’re bad at. What wouldn’t be a great fit for you. Again, we’re talking specific skills, not job titles.

In “The Difference Between Amateurs and Professionals“, Shane Parrish illustrates this point eloquently.

“Amateurs focus on identifying their weaknesses and improving them. Professionals focus on their strengths and on finding people
who are strong where they are weak.”

So, as you think of things you’d like to try out, explore, and learn, don’t wrap your job title around them to decide whether it’s appropriate for you to pursue it.

Explore where the “You-Shaped Hole” exists.

This advice isn’t for everyone.

Perhaps working in a scaling organization is not your bag. It is ok to decide that you are someone who prefers a set course with all objectives laid out and unchanging. The truth is that the skills and processes that take place in growing companies are not necessarily intuitive. And Molly acknowledges this.

Opposite career advice

“I want to acknowledge that when most people give career advice, they say ‘Focus on your title. Fight for your compensation. Build a big team. It will serve you well.’
And I just told you to do all of the opposite things. I told you to give away your job, to focus on the learning, and to think about your time and your career as a story that you’re building.”

In a scaling organization, your job description has to change a lot. You need to grow in order to do well in a growing company.

“A lot of the things that make sense or just are historically true about careers – in fact the opposite is true inside these organizations. So, lean into it, and have fun.”

What’s your extraordinary skill?

What role would you fill if you had the chance to try your talents on for size? What is the you-shaped hole that exists within your growing organization? I asked some admirably self-aware coworkers to “describe, in very specific terms,” what they were the best at doing.  Here’s what they said.

know what you're extraordinary at

So, let us know: What are you extraordinary at? What have you learned about changing roles at growing organizations? Scary? Awesome? Scaryawesome?


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