One of the hardest things I’ve observed at work is that promotions and rewards are not always distributed fairly. There are people who work extremely hard and put in crazy hours just to stand out that get passed up for promotions and other rewards.
Being successful at your job or being one of the top producers in your field should be a reward in itself, but most of us are human and want that extra recognition. We want to be differentiated in some way, whether it be through additional benefits, compensation, or a special “senior” title.
Maybe you’ve even paid your dues and have expectations that you should hit a certain milestone by a specific age like, “I need to be Director by the time I’m 30.” Then, one day, reality slaps you in the face as new people assimilate onto your team and you are treated just the same as they are, in spite of your years of work at the company.
It can feel frustrating when you are kicking ass at your job and are seemingly valued the same as your other peers. The problem is once you become successful at your job you want to be continually rewarded, but the reality is you simply meet expectations now. You are viewed as a rock, but not a shooting star. Your drive and work ethic have managed to get you to a point where you are making pretty good money and are viewed as a solid contributor but you want that next step.
Maybe you are even working harder than ever trying to stand out and get management’s attention but it feels like no one notices. If you are one of those people that have become successful quickly and at a young age for your profession, it feels especially devastating when you finally hit that inevitable plateau.
The truth is, we all have a point in our career where we hit “level out” and aren’t seeing the rapid increase in compensation and responsibility we once were. This can feel like failure because we have become accustomed to consistent increases in external rewards.
This is where you need to understand that the things you did to get you where you are will not get you where you want to go! You have to be so good they can’t ignore you.
At the end of the day, tenure and time in the office will not be enough. You’re going to have to shift your perspective and behavior to stand out.
There are three areas you should focus on to overcome the inevitable career plateau:
1. Stop Playing The Short Game And Learn To Play The Long Game:
If you keep focusing on short-term wins like how much praise you get, or how much longer you are stay at work compared to your coworkers, then you are completely missing the point. Asking for a promotion before you’ve added value above and beyond your job description is playing the short game.
The short game is fueled by impatience and fear of failure. You have a time period in your mind and your urgency is clouding your judgement. You are so focused on pace of growth that you fail to capitalize on the learning opportunities in front of you.
The best way to get out of the short-game mentality is to stop asking your questions like “Why haven’t I gotten promoted?” and instead ask “What can I learn from this?” or even better: “How can I add more value to the team?”
2. Focus on Perceived Value
One of the toughest things I had to learn was that it didn’t matter what the reality of my production at work was but the perceived value of that production. If you’re slamming out reports that take you hours each week, but no one reads them then what value are you really adding?
If you are holding meetings where everyone else is completely silent and disengaged, then what value is that providing to the team? Could that have been better addressed in an email?
The amount of perceived value we add at work takes time to really comprehend. You have to do things that don’t initially seem “productive” like asking people questions and building a deep understanding of what their needs are. When is the last time you took a peer or supervisor to lunch and asked them about what they are trying to accomplish? Either you are adding to their goals or distracting from it.
There are so many nuances to perceived value, but simply doing your job well is not anything special that will make you stand out to management. Even if you are currently the most junior of your peers, you can still make extra effort to find out about the most important goals of leadership and how you can contribute to those goals.
You won’t be able to contribute the right work if you don’t take the time to ask the right questions.
3. People Have To Want To See You Get More
What do your relationships look like on the team? Would the majority of people question the boss if you were to be given the next promotion? Or would it be viewed as expected and well-deserved?
Taking the time to find out and pay attention to what the perceptions are about you and your value is usually overlooked. People trust their own opinions of themselves, which are more than likely inflated!
At the end of the day, relationships matter and perceptions matter even more. Make sure you are taking the time to understand and manage the perceptions about you. This is the work no one is going to put on your calendar.
In summary, career plateaus happen to everyone. As much as we all want to experience significant year-over-year growth, it’s just not realistic. There’s a reason why only the top 0.5% get to upper management.
Find a way to stop focusing on how quickly things are happening for you because it’s a distraction. You’re going to have to do things you probably haven’t done before. Make it routine to ask peers and supervisors for feedback and take time to reflect regularly on your behavior each week.
To become something you have never been, you need to be someone you have never been. Remove yourself from your day to day grind and ask yourself what you can learn from your current situation and how you got there.
Tell me in the comments: Are you simply operating inside your job description or are you adding more value? If so, how have you gone out of your way to add more value?
If you haven’t added more value, then what is holding you back?