Create your balance. Design your life.

10 Rules for Surviving and Thriving in a Stack-Ranked Company


With all of this talk about large companies with employee ranking systems, I wanted to share my 10 rules for surviving and thriving in a stack-ranked company. In addition to co-founding this website my day job is at a large consulting firm that has a stack-ranking system much like many companies you are seeing in the news lately (Microsoft, Yahoo, Amazon, etc). Surviving, thriving, and advancing your career in these organizations is easy if you follow these simple rules that I often provide to my counselees:

1. Ensure the ROI you provide to your company and their clients significantly exceeds your compensation and the ROI from a new hire. This keeps your job secure and replacing you with a fresh face not worth it. This means if you make X, your value should be 5-10 times X. The higher your individual ROI is, then the more incentive the company has to keep you around.

2. Your boss isn’t the one that promotes you, your peers do. Nurture those relationships and constantly demonstrate that you are ready to take on the next level. When enough people are asking “Why is _______ still a ______ level? They should be a _____.” then you are ready.

3. Keep track of your successes and their short/long term impacts. You should maintain a constantly updated list of the problem, how you (or your team) solved it, what the impact was, when it was implemented, and a dollar value to the company. Not only is this good for referencing at review time and makes your boss’s job easier, it also makes updating your resume incredibly simple. I reserve a 2 hour window once a month for myself and my team to document our personal wins to make sure we always have time to do it.

4. Be your own cheerleader. No one else can or will communicate and sell your successes the way you want. You have to be the one to craft and sell the story, because everyone else is working on their own. No one will know how awesome you are unless you tell them. There is a fine line between communicating what you have done and bragging. You are sharing the update in a way that benefits your audience. Every one of your successes are also your boss’s successes, so tell them in the language they understand and that will help them craft their own success story.

5. Develop your team and teammates. If you are really good at something teach it to someone else. While you may think that indispensable task that you do is keeping your job secure, it is also what can be preventing you from moving up because there is no one else that can do it. By sharing that knowledge, not only are you being a “team player”, you are also freeing your time for next level tasks and showing your “promotability”.

6. Admit when you don’t know something… then figure it out. Our brains can only hold so much information and we choose what to store. You aren’t going to know it all, so don’t come off like you do. If you aren’t sure, say so and find someone that is. When you find out the answer share it with others. Understanding what you know and don’t know demonstrates self-awareness and even helps to humanize you.

7. Conduct your work as though you want to eliminate the need for your position. You may think this will back-fire, but it actually helps solidify rules 1 and 5. By working with the intent to eliminate your position, you end up documenting what you do, discovering the most efficient ways of working, using technologies to make things easier, delegating work more often, and preparing a succession plan. All of these activities help to improve your individual ROI, demonstrate your leadership ability, and free up your time to create the career you want to have.

8. Know your peer group and leapfrog the competition. Find out who you are being compared against. This is no different than doing competitive analysis for a business. Know who the competition is in your “market” and stay ahead. The same strategy techniques you would use on a business can be used in your career (e.g. Five Forces, SWOT, etc.). Understand where you are, where your competition is and plans to be, then leapfrog that plan with your own work. If your comparison group contains John and Sally and they are both providing a higher value to the company than you, then you need to find more ways to improve the business, increase revenue, or figure out a way that you can help John and Sally’s project be even more successful. Either way, everyone is working toward the same success goal. You may need to reevaluate your role toward meeting that goal.

9. Plan for and accept change… then roll with it. Trust that things and even the people will be different months from now during review time. I have had leadership and counselor changes right before review time. None of that will matter because you are reading this and following the rules. Your story will already be crafted and quantified because you follow rule 3. The people around you will be selling your successes because you followed rules 2 and 4. You will be ready to promote because you followed rules 5 and 7. You will be ranked well because you follow rules 1 and 4. You will be successful with any change that comes across because you follow rules 6 and 8. You are okay with any change that happens because you are already successful and you know you are since you review your list of accomplishments, know what you are worth, and you are highly valued. Run with the change. Change is good. Change is how things get better for the whole and fix what went wrong.

10. Don’t be a dick. No one wants to work FOR one or WITH one.

There are many other rules that I will save for another time, what rules do you follow that you wish you could have learned early on, and why? Put them in the comments below.

Here are two fantastic books that I highly recommend about improving the performance appraisal process and managing your career:

Performance Appraisal Toolkit    The Performance Appraisal Toolkit by Paul Falcone and Winston Tan

This is a great book that helps organizations define standards for appraisals, calibrate employee scoring, set goals, etc.




Business Model You

    Business Model You by Timothy Clark, Alexander Osterwalder, and Yves Pigneur

This book will help anyone better understand their role, define their “customers”, and help you fill in those gaps you may not be know exist. Those gaps may include interpersonal relationships, compensation, the type of work you do, or identifying the best fit role for you. This book helps step through each area of the Business Model Canvas and apply that technique to your current or desired role.


Christopher Cronk is Director and Co-founder of the Work Life Balance Protection Agency (WLBPA, He also works for a Fortune 500 multinational management consulting, technology services, and outsourcing firm in the United States managing Next Generation delivery for 17 high profile, well known telecommunications, high tech, pharmaceuticals, healthcare, and consumer goods client accounts. He also manages a global team (North America & APAC) specializing in customer experience analytics for one of the firm’s Diamond clients. Christopher can be reached by emailing

Stack/Tack Photo by Joseph D. Smith

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