Use career plateau to assess your choices, plan strategies

Jeff Peterson joined his company ten years ago with great anticipation and lots of ambition. He worked his way up the corporate ladder and was appointed to a managerial position four years ago. He's ready for his next promotion but sees several layers above him filled with young, capable people who have also stopped moving up. Frustration and anxiety have begun to eat away at Jeff's attitude.

Recently, Jeff began to take a careful look around at his peers to see if he was the only one feeling this way. He wasn't. In fact, he didn't like what he saw. Some managers were attempting to jockey for position by writing long-winded memos and were grabbing for staff in an attempt to prove how important they were.

Over lunch, another friend told him that he was about to leave the company in an attempt to zigzag his way to more money and a bigger title. He confided, "I figure I'll stay at this next job for a few years and then jump ship again to an even bigger job. Let's face it, I'm not going to get anywhere if I stay here. I've been here two years too long already." Jeff began to wonder if he was naive for not managing his own career more aggressively.

Jeff is facing what many fast trackers are experiencing; a slowdown in his career growth. Dealing with this plateau is largely a matter of attitude and analysis. Rather than suffer self-doubt and frustration, Jeff needs to use this corporate limbo as an opportunity to plan the next move or decide to stay.

The first question to ask is "Is it me or the company?" If your career growth has been steady and your performance is good, it's likely the stall isn't your fault. This is particularly true if you are well liked and are tuned-in to the shifting political winds. If you're reasonably sure the problem isn't with you, examine your company.

Many companies are downsizing and positioning for tougher competition, removing layers of management and retrenching. Take a hard look at the trends and determine if you could be negatively affected. Have positions been eliminated? Are early retirements encouraged? Could your company be a take-over target? Does your parent company have a larger, duplicate staff that could replace you?

If your company seems to be stable, the next step is to turn your analysis inward. What are the advantages of staying where you are? An executive with a major bank came to the conclusion that striving for the next spot required a price he wasn't willing to pay, "I have a good salary, top benefits, a flexible enough schedule and a job that offers enough challenge. I felt as if I were copping out for awhile until I adjusted my definition of success. Now I have more time with my family and I've begun to teach at the university. As long as my job remains interesting, I'll be happy."

Use your plateau as a ledge from which you can survey the corporate landscape. If you pay attention, you may notice that the company's strategy is shifting and new areas are taking on more importance. Talk to your boss about the changes you see and together plan out a strategy to prepare yourself for new responsibilities or a transfer. Consider what you do best and what interests you before making a move, however, since chasing an opportunity that's a poor fit is a sure way to knock yourself off the ladder.

If you like your job and want to stay put, look for ways to rev up your day-to-day activities so you don't get bored. Use the hard-won credibility you've achieved to go after a new project, expand your responsibilities or participate in interdepartmental activities. Use this time to concentrate on developing your staff. Sharing your expertise and coaching and training others is satisfying as well as a smart way to free yourself up for more challenging work.

A career plateau is a good time to get more visible both inside and outside the company. The satisfactions that come with serving on the boards of professional organizations can provide an outlet for creativity and drive, while developing a more powerful network. Consider giving a presentation at an industry conference or write an article for a trade journal.

If you decide to stay on your job, don't think you can retire there. "The biggest mistake I made was thinking that I was safe and secure in my position," says a 14-year employee who lost his controller's job five months ago. His experience has taught him to keep his outside contacts alive and his resume ready. Career fortunes can now change more quickly than ever-and for reasons that have nothing to do with job performance.

A career plateau can provide the time and the vantage points from which to thoughtfully, strategically and unsentimentally assess your career choices. Clear thinking and planning will put you wisely in control.

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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