How do you determine success metrics for a promotion for product managers? Are there any key metrics someone must meet before they qualify?
Promotion readiness varies quite a bit between companies, but I think there are some common themes that most agree on:
- Performing at the next level. If you're meeting expecations for your role at your current level, the chances are you'd be underacheiving at the level above. That's why most organizations would like to see sustained performance at the level above where you are now. In cases where the diffferences between levels are clearly spelled out, this would mean you can take a look at the criteria where you fall short and work on those areas. For companies that don't have a well defined ladder, you should look to your peers and management across the company to see how others at levels you wish to reach differ from you. Are they working on more complex problems? Communicating more effectively? Working across a broader intersection of the company / industry?
- Delivered impact. As well as showing you are already working at the next level, you need to prove that you havea strong track record of delivering results. "Results" will look different for every PM so have some early conversations with your manager about what is expected from you to show impact. For long running projects, be prepared to talk about how you've made progress through concrete milestones.
- Scope. With every promotion, there is an expecation that you can handle a larger scope. This won't always mean taking on more projects. For example, the difficulty of projects could change as you progress. I've seen promotion cases not make it because despite a strong track record and solid results, employees could have been taking on bigger challenges to help the company towards their objectives. This is another super important topic to discuss with your manager ahead of time.
- Business justification. Something a lot of individuals don't think about is whether the company/division even has a need for someone performing at a level beyond what they are performing at. As mentioned above, with a level increase comes the need for expanded scope. If the company doesn't have more to offer employees, you end up with overleveled employees which can lead to unhappiness.
Obviously this looks different at varying levels of tenure and experience, but key themes are:
- Customer focus
- Business impact
- People / relationships
Customer focus speaks to if this person is able to put themselves in the shoes of the customer, whether b2b or b2c, and experience the product the way our end users do. Can they empathize with the user we are building for and their unmet needs?
But this needs to tie back to results and impact. Is this person able to understand what success looks like for the business, take a data-driven approach to making decisions, and does this show in the results?
Lastly, the “how” is as important as the what. Have they done so while bringing the team along the way? Can they earn trust and provide context, so even the most junior person on the team knows what they are doing and why. And can they create a culture that lives the values of the organization?
How do you know you’re on track? You need to really push for clarity with your leadership on what success looks like for your role. This is also steeped in good communication skills. Ask for feedback, really listen, and bring that feedback back to your day-to-day life. This is relevant to a promotion because if you worked for me, I may say, “You’re really doing good in this area, but I want to see you improve in that other area.” If you get that feedback, and work on it, it’s what will really help you know you’re on track towards the promotion you’re working towards. At a high level, keep those communication channels open with your manager, peers, and even direct reports. Build strong opinions loosely held, and be willing to work on feedback.
This varies by organization. Regardless of the size of your product team, you should have the expectations for each level of product well defined and socialized throughout the organization (typically APM, PM, SPM, Group or Principle PM, Director etc). Even if you are only a team of one, it helps to have these levels defined, especially if you hope to hire new team members in the future or you want to make a case for yourself down the road for a promotion.
That being said, I take a number of factors into account.
- Is this PM meeting or exceeding the expectations for their level?
- Are they taking on some of the work/expectations of the level above them?
- How impactful are the features they deliver and the problems they are solving for?
- How are they regarded by their cross-functional peers?
- Do they communicate effectively outward and upward?
- Are they actively working to improve their skill set and seeking out feedback regularly?
These are just a few examples of success metrics, and, as mentioned earlier, expectations will vary from org to org.
On another note, if you are a PM hoping for a promotion, here are some things that have worked for me in the past:
- Make sure you are aware of level expectations. If you aren't, ask your manager. If your manager doesn't have these defined, you should feel empowered to ask, at least for your current title and the title above you.
- Once you know and understand those expectations, have clear and defined examples of how you exhibit them at your current level and potentially the level above. For items you don't have examples of, work with your manager to identify opportunities to lean into those areas.
- Don't be afraid to toot your own horn. If/when you get kudos from team members, capture and save it, be it a slack message, and email or a shout out in a meeting.
The most important criterion for a promotion is:
Are you consistently performing at a level that would allow you to meet all expectations of your next level.
This requires three things:
- A clear articluation of what it means to perform at the next level: Typically this includes a framework with levels, skill categories (strategy, vision, execution, etc) and a description of what is expected at each level for each dimension.
- A role with an opportunity to perform at the next level: Often this will require being in a stretch role for a few months so you get the opportunity to demonstrate skills at the next level. This is especially true the more senior you get (first management experience, more scope, etc). Clarify with your manager whether you are in a role that allows this.
- Evidence of meeting expectations at the next level for X months: X can be as low as 3-6 months in more junior levels, but expect that this may extend for more senior promotions as many longer term bets and bigger initiatives take a while to bear fruit.
As such, promotions are a lagging indicator of your performance
The rationale is to avoid a scenario where you are promoted into a level that stretches you too far and creates performance issues that threaten your continued success at the company - so ideally it's in your interest.