Climbing to the top is taking longer

The corporate ladder is a much narrower staircase these days. The once-predictable rungs have become difficult to maneuver since merger mania, rampant restructuring and the baby boom have altered the notion of a nice, neat path to success.

These changes have profound implications for employers and climbers. Some industries - like financial services and electronics - suffer mass defections as some of the most talented employees jump ladders to zig-zag their way to the top. (The Wall Street Journal reports that an exit of a middle manager can run a company as much as $65,000. Ouch.)

Others who are unwilling or unable to leave may feel so frustrated and frightened that they take fewer risks. Long-winded memos intended to cover backsides and heavy politicking increase.

Fast trackers, who a few short years ago received promotions every one or two years, must adjust to a slower climb. Many must settle for lateral moves.

Since most of us are going to level out somewhere short of the executive suite - due to factors unrelated to performance - the old stigma attached to staying put must change.

Here are some ideas to consider when you find the rungs of your ladder broken or about to collapse.

Define what success means to you. Unfortunately, most people don't do this until forced by a layoff or other crisis. You may find that you've been motivated by criteria set by others: employer, mentor, parents, spouse or community.

Examine your priorities. To reach that No. 1 spot, it's necessary to make a major part of your life job-related. Many people are finding bigger isn't always better and are focusing on a higher quality of life instead. Family, hobbies and community activities are areas that can produce satisfaction and enrichment.

Take on special projects or join another team in a pursuit that catches your interest. Teaching an in-house seminar, for example, could give you a boost and benefit the organization as well.

Set challenging goals each year. Don't fall into the rut of performing routine work in a routine manner. Keep reaching for faster, better ways of doing the routine and then "raise the bar" even higher next year.

Consider moonlighting as a way to channel ambition and add income. Teaching a night course, running a small hobby-related business or acting as a consultant during off-hours can be energizing. Sometimes these part-time interests turn into full-time jobs that offer a fresh career twist.

Begin a physical fitness program. You'll burn off calories and depression. Join a team or compete against yourself. You'll probably wonder how you lived without it.

Keep your resume and contacts alive. You never know when your job can disappear before your eyes or a restructuring can make your life miserable.

Avoid "content plateauing." Go back to school, attend technical or managerial seminars, seek a lateral transfer to another job. Mastering a new challenge is an important way to continue job satisfaction and success.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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