Employee disappointed about lack of growth on the job

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Dear Joan:
The following bullet points were taken from your weekly column from last week, How much is too much, when it comes to sharing information with employees. 
  • Employees should know what they are expected to do and how they can move up the ladder and make more money.
  • Employees should hear honest feedback about their performance and be able to get coaching on how to grow in their job. 

I work for a nonprofit that has a wonderful mission and is a great place to work in many ways. However, on the points above, it gets a failing grade.  

Particularly in the lower level positions, meaningful feedback on performance is almost totally lacking and there is no information given by management on how to move up the ladder and make more money. HR tells us that that’s our manager’s job to coach us, but the managers all say the organization doesn’t provide a career ladder to climb. There doesn’t seem to BE any ladder, as most higher positions are filled from outside by personal friends of the C-Suite folks, which blocks the rest of us from getting anywhere. 

“Annual Goals” are nothing more than a restatement of one’s job description, and there is no budget for professional development unless you are a senior manager. We work very hard but no one knows how to make the work “count” as a career booster. Meanwhile, although raises are very small and purported to be across the board and tied to COLA (1-3% for the past 5 years), a particular manager has given  her pet employee over 5% each year while the rest of us get the standard amount no matter how well we have performed. 

These conditions may explain why we have very high turnover- it was close to 40% two years ago. Everyone I talk to is discouraged about their long term prospects for advancement. It seems that the organization is content to settle for a constant stream of new people to replace the ones who burn out. What do you make of this situation? 

Answer:
“Career ladder” is a term that many people misunderstand, since it conjures up a clearly defined, step-by-step path. And frankly, it’s a term that I shouldn’t even use. The reality is that there is no defined career ladder at most companies. There is only on-the-job growth, which enables you to find other “rungs on the ladder” that you become eligible for.  Ideally, it takes a good performer, who is willing to expand responsibilities, coupled with a manager who provides honest feedback and opportunities to grow on the job. 

While it’s true that in large organizations, there can be some job groups where an employee enters the company at a level 1 and can move up into level 2, and higher technical positions, it certainly isn’t true in other organizations. These ladders are usually measured by increased technical expertise, such as in accounting or engineering. 

In a non-profit such as yours, there is a flat structure without much opportunity to move up. However, that doesn’t mean your managers shouldn’t be giving you feedback and challenging you with new ways to grow on the job. For instance, you may be able to spearhead a project, or cross-train in another area as a back-up, or get involved in some way with volunteers. I recommend you approach your manager, to talk about ways to expand your responsibilities on your current job. Take the initiative to write your own personal goals and discuss them when it’s time for annual goal setting. I would also say, “I would like to know what skills and abilities I need to be considered for X position (a higher level position you have interest in).” 

I don’t know how you are aware of the 5 percent raise, but if it is true, it may have been given because the individual employee did go above and beyond regular duties, or perhaps she performed well above the norm. In any case, the manager likely had to make a case for a big variance like that. Is the employee truly a “pet” or does she take the initiative and ask for more responsibilities? Or, is the Executive Director a weak leader who avoids confrontation and holding people accountable? 

If you feel there is favoritism and a lack of growth opportunities, and your attempts to get feedback from your boss prove futile, you would be wise to look for a more challenging environment, with enlightened leadership, who understand how to help employees advance in their careers. 


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, mailto:info@joanlloyd.com, or www.JoanLloyd.com 
 
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