What does it mean to be 3-D and why it’s important to be 3-D if you want to grow

If you’re reading this, you’re probably career minded and looking for ways to advance. That’s great, it’s one of the most important first steps to advancing. Once you know you want to advance the next thing to figure out is what is the best way to advance. That’s my goal for this post. I am going to offer a framework to help you think about your professional development and advancement then tell you why it’s the fastest way to grow. If you want to give yourself the best chance at achieving a promotion keep reading.

If you like where this is going and want to learn to grow as a professional and set yourself up with your best chance at promotion in about 12 months, check out Entry Level Escape:

The three dimensions

In order to become three dimensional, you to understand the three dimensions.

  1. Primary Skills – these are the skills core to your role. They are often laid out in your job description. Statistics and programming for a Data Scientist, Excel and accounting for a Finance professional, and so on. In addition to the heavy overlap with your role these skills are also have heavy overlap in your formal education or training, e.g., things you learned in your major
  2. Complementary Skills – these are the skills that make you more effective at your role but are not necessarily in your job description, in fact they may not be required at all. For example, project management skills for a Software Engineer or public speaking for an Analyst.
  3. Impact – this is how much your work advanced your organization’s mission. In a for profit organization, it’s how much your work reduced cost, increased revenue, or both. For a non-profit, it’s both of those and perhaps how your work advanced the social mission.

The two Skills dimensions form your base and your Impact ultimately determines your height. They key to make an Entry Level Escape is to quickly and purposefully broaden your base so you can maximize your Impact. This is what is meant by becoming 3-D, you need a plan to grow on each axis.

Growing in three dimensions

Think about every professional, not just you, not just your team, but everyone, as existing on a 10 scale for any skill. In other words, someone may be a 2 / 10 in accounting, an 8 / 10 in public speaking, and so on. In this system, simplistic as it may be, you can assign people to below (2 – 4), at (5), or above (6 – 8) average. Think of your proficiency in the three dimensions as the sides of a box and you total professional capacity is the volume of that box.

  • Volume of a box = length x width x height
  • Professional capacity = Primary Skills x Complementary Skills x Impact

Here’s the kicker about professional growth, you get bigger faster when you bring up lagging dimensions. Consider the following illustration:

  • Typical Entry Level Talent: 6 / 10 Primary x 2 / 10 Complementary x 2 / 10 Impact = 24 total
    • 6 / 10 Primary due to being credentialed / qualified and “above average” by definition
    • 2 / 10 Complementary due to limited, if not zero, training (or worse bad habits to lose)
    • 2 / 10 Impact due to being junior, lacking exposure to higher Impact work, unable to deliver it yet
  • Hyper Specialized in Primary: 9 / 10 Primary x 3 / 10 Complementary x 4 / 10 Impact = 108 total
    • 9 / 10 Primary = incredible focus, borderline worldclass specialist
    • 3 / 10 Complementary – picked up some skill as a “collateral benefit”
    • 4 / 10 Impact – strong individual contributor, but behind the scenes and more reactive than proactive
    • Note: this person went from 10 total points to 16 total points
  • Base Broadening Generalist: 6 / 10 Primary x 6 / 10 Complementary x 4 / 10 Impact = 144 total
    • 6 / 10 Primary due to emphasis on applying what they knew but not getting new skill
    • 6 / 10 Complementary due to focused acquisition of enabling skills like project management, public speaking, copywriting, etc.
    • 4 / 10 Impact due to being junior but involved in a diverse array of work in a variety of roles, e.g., the project manager for one project and an individual contributor on another
    • Note: this person also went from 10 total points to 16 total points but has 33% more potential

While these are illustrative numbers there is an important lesson – you can substantially increase your professional potential by attacking weak links, 144 vs. 108. Furthermore, it’s much easier to become “good enough” at lots of things than to become “world class” at a single thing. Therefore, growing yourself in three dimensions by strengthening your weaknesses gives you the biggest competitive advantage with the least amount of difficulty.

Becoming world class in a skill is a life’s work; becoming “good enough” in a skill is a month’s work…

Getting “good enough” at many things will give you the widest possible base and therefore the highest possible Impact. While the previous scenarios are made up, I’d still argue in reality, the Base Broadening Generalist would also have more Impact through sheer volume of opportunities to add value and higher Impact is the ultimate driver of promotions.

Putting it all together

If you’ve ever poured sand or dirt onto a flat surface, you already have intuition about this post’s key lessons. The sand expands before it rises and you need to adopt the same mind set if you want to secure raises, bonuses, and promotions in order to make your Entry Level Escape. Broaden your base with Skills so your Impact (peak) can be as high as possible. You’ll grow faster and higher if you push on your weakest dimension, which will be Complementary Skills given you’re already strong in Primary.

If you need any more proof to back up this principle, look at your boss’ boss, or even your boss’ boss’ boss. How much Primary Skill do they use in their day-to-day? If you want to get there some day, why not start building the breadth you need today?

If you found this post helpful and want more ways to grow as a professional and set yourself up with your best chance at promotion in about 12 months, check out Entry Level Escape:


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