135. (12. Building Great Careers) Scaling Your Career

Rama Nimmagadda
5 min readOct 27, 2023
Photo by Prateek Kumar Rohatgi taken in 2023 at Pench Tiger Reserve, India

“Big jobs usually go to the men who prove their ability to outgrow small ones.” — Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ever wondered why despite working harder than expected, you are not growing much? Working harder than expected is neither necessary nor sufficient condition for growth. You have no claim for growth without scaling relevant output.

Scaling output requires the right external conditions and the right internal levers. External factors can be controlled only to an extent. But, thankfully, developing internal levers is a lot more in your control. This requires acts of commission and acts of omission too. Let us dig in.

Do not be on Critical Path

Being on the critical path of work is a sure impediment to growth. If work gets held up without your active efforts, then all your time will be spent getting work done. This will leave you with limited or no energy and/or time to work on yourself. For example, if you are a key (or worse, sole) subject matter expert on your team, you will get pulled into all kinds of critical situations and projects, all the time.

At all times, you should be in a position to carve time out to work on yourself.

Make yourself Redundant

“Sometimes sitting and doing nothing is the best something you can do,” — Karen Salmansohn

You should work on making yourself redundant. I do not mean ‘redundant and useless’ but ‘redundant and useful’. You should be sufficiently hands on in keeping a clear tab on the progress of work and status of issues and risks. If you find yourself having to “get back later” on most of your boss’s queries, you are perhaps being redundant and useless. Redundancy leaves you the capacity to take on additional responsibilities (and thereby grow) as and when needed by your organization.

It always comes down to People

“You don’t build a business, you build people, then people build the business.” — Zig Ziglar

It is my abiding belief that long-term (career) success boils down to the quality of the people that you work with. Since my focus here is about scaling your output, let me drill down a little on aspects regarding people on your team and not so much on your peers and people above you.

Scaling comes from freeing your capacity by delegating work to people. This will work only if people deliver their work well. This means that it is critical to have the right people in your team. You should look to have the best possible people in your key roles. You should coach them actively and provide them with meaningful career opportunities. You should invest time in hiring for key roles in your team. Retaining good people is important but weeding out negative people should not be ignored.

You create leverage through your networking also. Many times, you will be able to get support and push through bureaucracies by using your relationships. If you are in the early stages of your career and have no team under you, cultivating meaningful network is how you scale.

Be a Leadership Factory

“Leaders don’t create followers, they create more leaders.” — Tom Peters

You should create challenging but achievable career opportunities for all the key members of your team. As you develop people on your team, once members grow out of challenging career opportunities within your set-up, you should be happy to help them get suitable opportunities in other teams within your organization. You should not hoard good talent. Instead, you should become a leadership and talent factory within your organization.

In the case of careers involving individual contribution primarily, you should focus on developing frameworks that address recurring patterns at work. These frameworks should be developed such that they are easily usable by other teams. You should become a framework factory. As you develop components of your work deliverables, where possible, build them in such a way that they can be reused with minimal changes in other deliverables. You should become a reusable component factory.

Operationalize Stuff

“There’s a lot of automation that can happen that isn’t a replacement of humans but of mind-numbing behavior.”- Stewart Butterfield

Try to distinguish between recurring operational activities and specific project deliverables. Automate operational work as much as possible and look to reuse components or frameworks from previous projects/deliveries as much as possible. The bigger point here is the mindset to automate and reuse.

Beware of metrics, though. I have often seen that gathering metrics becomes an end in itself. Don’t rely only on metrics for making decisions. Use metrics as good probing points. Metrics reflect symptoms generally. Avoid confusing symptoms with root causes.

Also, do things that don’t Scale

“Most of the gains in life come from suffering in the short term so you can get paid in the long term.” — Naval Ravikant

Do hard things before attempting to scale (read this wonderful essay by Paul Graham on this topic). There is a risk of falling flat if you do not understand the bearings of your real work deliverables. This can happen only by having kept your nose on the shop floor’s grindstone before attempting to scale.

Bottomline

“Growth is never by mere chance; it is the result of forces working together.” — James Cash Penney

There are a number of things you should do and a number of other things you should not, to be able to scale your career. All these things can be distilled into a mindset for scaling.

Scaling requires striking the right balance between being an artist (e.g., in dealing with people) and being a technician (e.g., reuse and automation).

You should have high standards for quality. This is indispensable for growth in the long term. Sub-par quality output tends to catch up and will necessarily take your focus away from growth into managing and fixing situations.

Scaling requires patience and tolerance for boredom. Instead of spending too much energy trying to force right external conditions, it is better to invest in creating internal capabilities like coaching people under you, creating redundancies, developing right organizational structure etc so that you will be able to seize right opportunities as they arise.

Scaling, like all good things in life, tends to compound.

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Thanks for taking time to read this. In this newsletter, I share my learnings that could help you improve your decisions and make meaningful progress on your goals. I try to share stuff that I have personally experienced or experimented with. If you find this newsletter worthwhile and if you do not mind it, please do consider sharing it with others.

A bit on my background

I help people make better decisions.

I coach people on “Making Better Decisions”, “Financial Intuition” and “Building Great Careers”. I’m open to run sessions on these topics in institutions — this will help me create larger impact.

I’m also an Investment Advisor (RIA) registered with the Securities and the Exchange Board of India (SEBI). As an RIA, I analyze and prepare financial plans to help people achieve their financial goals.

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