How the Theory of Sponsored Mobility Predicts Your Career Success

One thing which has shaped my view of career progress, and informed how we treat people at Health eFilings, is the notion of “sponsored-mobility”:

the sponsored-mobility perspective suggests that established elites pay special attention to those members who are deemed to have high potential and then provide sponsoring activities to them to help them win the competition. Thus, those who have early successes are more likely to receive sponsorship, and those who do not are likely to be excluded from such support activities. Once identified as potential elites, the chosen individuals are given favorable treatment to make them even better and differentiate them even further from the non-elite group. - Predictors of Objective and Subjective Career Success: A Meta Analysis 

The insight of the sponsored mobility model is that career progress is cumulative. Suppose you have two people, and one of them has a 1% higher GPA in high school. That better person might get into a 5% better college, which gives them a 10% better first job, which leads to a 20% better second job,… and 40 years later they are 10 times more successful than their fellow alumni, all because of that 1% initial advantage.

This means that it’s crucial for your employer to “sponsor” you. If you feel like your boss doesn’t appreciate you that’s not just a short-term headache – that means that your boss is going to pass you up for training opportunities, which will cause you to miss promotion opportunities, which will cause you to miss even more learning… it will have a permanent impact on your career success.

The aforementioned article did a meta-analysis on which factors predict a higher salary; a sample of these results is below (0 is no correlation, 1 is perfect correlation):

PredictorCorrelation with salary
Training and skill development opportunities0.24
Career sponsorship0.22
Being male0.18
Being white0.11

You can see that this is not just a hypothetical thought experiment – career sponsorship is more important than personality traits people often assume are relevant to career success like proactivity and conscientiousness.

For Health eFilings, this has led me to continually ask “how can I sponsor my team members?” How can we take someone that used to be getting 10% better per year and move them to getting 20% better per year? 50%? 100%?

One piece of the answer is Pearson’s Law: “That which is measured improves. That which is measured and reported improves exponentially.”

Do you know what your boss thinks of you? How does that compare to her impression of you last month? Are you getting more things done than you used to? Are you able to handle bigger projects? Is your defect rate going down? Are your communication skills getting better?

Everyone here who reports to me has a biweekly record of their progress in areas which are important to them and the company, and they can see themselves improving. I spend a significant fraction of my time doing this, but it’s completely worth it.

If you aren’t somewhere where you are receiving regular feedback about your progress, I would encourage you to think about what you can do to fix the problem. The management of your organization may be receptive to changing things, and if not, we are always hiring.