Passed over for promotion . . . again

Dear Joan:
I've been working for the same company for eight years, doing the same job more or less. Every year we get a performance review and I always keep asking for more responsibility. I get only marginally more duties. I got a promotion to Senior a few years back, when I was passed over for promotion to manager who was hired from the outside. It was a way to placate me, small increase in salary and meaningless title, but not the manager position I was aspiring to.
This year I've decided I want to see if there are other positions in other departments that I might move to because I'm getting kind of tired of doing the same thing year after year.. I don't see an immediate opportunity to be promoted to manager where I am, but if I change departments, I'd be starting at the bottom again more than likely. I feel blocked. Also because of my age, early 50s, I know how I may not be the preferred candidate for positions. By the way, I get excellent performance reviews every year and my manager has tried to elevate my profile to other departments.
Do you have advice on the best ways to network internally within a company? I've spoken with my manager, the head of HR, and others in VP/director positions, just to put myself on their radar. I like my company very much and would like to stay with them. However, I need to stretch into a management or other position soon, or I may need to seek new motivation elsewhere. I feel blocked/stuck and am not sure of how to proceed. I've even considered attempting to get an online MBA, but at my age, would that help or even matter?
Be careful what you wish for. In this economy it is often the managers and supervisors who are cut, while technical performers hang on to their jobs. You mentioned you would consider leaving in order to move up. I recommend that you sit tight for awhile and wait until things stabilize. I’d hate to see you leave a company you really like and go to a new company, only to be cut first when bad times hit.
Having said that, let’s examine what might be going on regarding a promotion to manager. There is some information no one has told you: why you didn’t get the manager job when you applied. Most companies will opt for an internal candidate unless there is no one qualified internally. So, why weren’t you qualified? Was it because your prior boss never helped you develop your leadership skills? Is it because you lack some skills such as the ability to speak candidly and confront issues tactfully? Is your manager blowing smoke and giving you “excellent” performance reviews but not being straightforward about what is holding you back? Are you so good technically they don’t want you to leave the job you have now? Have you developed a negative reputation for some reason?
Go ask your manager and don’t accept a weak or general answer. Your clock is ticking and you need a straight answer. You might say, “I really need to know why I didn’t get your job. If I don’t know the truth, I’ll never be able to develop those skills and I’ll never be promoted to a manager level.” If you are satisfied with the answer and he confirms that you could be a solid candidate for promotion, it’s time to ask another question, “What is it going to take for me to get promoted to management?” And then the follow up question, “Are you willing to pitch me as a candidate for the next open opportunity that fits my skills?” If he hedges, you can rightfully assume he isn’t telling you everything. An additional question might be, “What do I have to demonstrate or develop that will make you comfortable recommending me for a manager job?”
The fact that you’ve been there eight years is enough time to prove you’ve got what it takes. The only exception to that is if your company rarely has management turnover, lacks a “development from within” philosophy, or only tends to promote people vertically in their own departments. In other words if there aren’t many openings in your department, and they don’t promote people cross functionally, you are indeed stuck.
One goal to shoot for is to create a development plan with your manager for any additional leadership development you require. In other words, you may be able to spearhead a project, or make a presentation on behalf of the department, to increase your skills and visibility.
In the meantime, increase your networking with other professionals in your industry and field. Attend conventions or special interest group meetings. Call some of your colleagues from other companies and begin to establish professional connections that will be useful if you should decide to start looking.
Since I don’t know your background, or field of interest, I can’t say if an additional degree would make any difference. I think your technical and leadership experience are more critical at your stage of the game because if you earned an MBA and were 55-years-old without any supervisory experience, would another degree make you a more viable candidate? I doubt it.
If a management position isn’t in your future, you may have to readjust your expectations in order to stay happy in your current company. One alternative that is used by many is to get actively involved in an outside organization and pursue leadership opportunities where you can make a difference.

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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