Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Should I stay or should I go? 5: the challenge of limited career advancement opportunity for those who seek that as a higher overall priority 2

Posted in career development, job search, job search and career development by Timothy Platt on December 26, 2015

This is my fifth installment to a series on intentionally entered into, fundamental job and career path change, and on best practices for deciding both when and how to carry through on this (see Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3, postings 416 and following for Parts 1-4.)

This is also my fourth installment in this series to consecutively address a succession of scenarios that I first offered in Part 1. And the underlying qualities that bind all of them together is that each of them represents a set of real world workplace challenges that real people face, and all of them at least should bring employees who face them to at least consider a same basic question: “should I stay or should I go?”

My goal for this posting is to address that list’s scenario:

4. You work in a field and a functional area of that field where the state of the art is always moving forward, but you find yourself falling behind and becoming more out of date in what you know and can do, and can demonstrate that you can do. And you do not feel supported by a current employer in developing your skills and experience set there, to become and to remain more cutting-edge relevant again, in what you know to be a highly competitive workplace. How can you best address this set of challenges, and in ways that build bridges rather than burning them?

I begin addressing that scenario and its issues by repeating an essential detail from Part 1 to this series. The issues that I write of here are important but they are not always comfortable to face, let alone effectively address. And that observation applies as fully and directly here, as it would in any part of this series.

• As a first step in addressing the challenges that I raise here in scenario 4, you need to step back and as objectively as possible review your own work performance and both for your professional skills and how you use them, and for your interpersonal and communications skills and how smoothly and effectively you fit in where you work.

Are you an employee who looks for opportunity to prove yourself? Do you actively seek to be the answer to the problems that your colleagues, your supervisor, your business, and its customers face? Or have you developed a reputation for doing what you are told to do, and only that? Have you slipped into the rut of simply being there, and of never taking any initiative?

• Few if any businesses are going to waste their employee training budgets on employees who do not present themselves as good candidates to invest these resources in. And they do see investing employee development resources in employees who chronically fail to perform to a high level as a waste of limited resources on their part.

Employees who do not seek to create value for their employer, beyond the absolute minimum required simply to keep their current jobs are never going to see opportunity to advance in their careers there.

Know what you do, and how effectively you do it, and as others would see this. If possible, seek out one or more colleagues who you work with and who you trust for their confidentiality and who you respect, to help you arrive at as objective a performance review here as possible. And ask yourself if you have in fact been the type of team member who has in effect asked not to be considered for advancement, and how.

Look over your annual performance reviews. What do they say about you, and both for how well you have performed on what you do, and for how much initiative you take? What do these reviews say about your ability and willingness to work effectively with others in advancing larger efforts that take more than one team member to complete? What do they say about your communications and interpersonal skills, and about how effectively you work as a team player for these capabilities? Do you see patterns in this? It does not matter if you agree with these reviews or not. What matters here is that your supervisor does, and if you see patterns in the more negative comments that recur, you have to assume that their supervisor knows of this and agrees with them too.

• Having noted that, I have to add that negative performance reviews and finding yourself professionally sidelined where you are, might not be entirely about or even significantly about you and your work performance, too.

Does your more objective review here raise a red flag that your gender or age, or race or some other legally protected status is a stumbling block for your business, when selecting employees for special training or advancement opportunities? Are there reasons that would strongly suggest that you are being held back for reasons other than just your work performance? Before you can address this set of questions, you need to both establish and understand where you ask them from as far as your actual work performance is concerned. And you need to do your homework so you can argue a case in support of your being offered opportunity too – just like your colleagues who you do see receiving these benefits.

And this brings me to the core questions of staying or going that I would raise here. Is it about you? Are there things that you could do to turn that around? If you do in fact see that you have not been showing initiative of a type that would make you an employee worth investing in for having advancement potential, meet with your supervisor and ask them what you can do to correct that as you move forward. Be open and candid about your strengths and about your weaknesses too, and seek to enlist your supervisor in your effort to change and in ways that would help you longer-term.

I assume here that you have a job that you would like to keep. If you do no more than an absolute minimum because you hate your job and where you are and what you do, that changes everything – and you should start thinking and planning and looking on the side while still working, to find what for you would be a better, happier career path forward. But let’s assume that this is a job you would want to hold onto and longer-term.

And now let’s assume that you do show initiative and that your work performance is solid and let’s assume that you are someone who your colleagues enjoy working with. Are you in fact facing age or gender discrimination when it comes to opportunity for advancement? If so, can you document this in some way and both from your own experience and from that of others there? Now would you want to stay and fight, or move on to a less hostile workplace? See my series Confronting Workplace Discrimination at HR and Personnel, postings 57-60 for background information on the challenges that I touch upon here. And know your rights. But at least as importantly think through where you are now and how you got there, in the position that you are in and the predicament that you are in where you now work. And think through your options and what you could realistically pursue next, and either where you are now of if you were to move on.

As a final note, I freely acknowledge that I have only scratched the surface of a very complex topic here. To highlight that, consider a situation where an employee who has always gotten positive performance reviews finds themselves facing a new supervisor who is trying to reshape their department, or at least their part of it – and suddenly that employee sees their one to five scale performance ratings plummet from fours and fives, to ones. And they work in an area of this business that this would-be world shaker wants to rebuild. This can mean younger new supervisor wanting to clear out older employees, but it can mean a new supervisor taking a ham handed and predatory approach to reorganizing a service too, where their intent is to outsource or otherwise eliminate part of what their department has been doing in-house. The result can be the same either way – except where age is a factor and where age discrimination is explicitly illegal. Both can cause need to ask the stay or go question.

• Think through the approach that I offer here, in both knowing and documenting your work performance, and planning how best to respond – for you,
• If you find yourself being singled out for a slow-track or dead-end career path where you are. Think through your work context and know if you are in fact being singled out in some way. And plan and carry through on your own jobs and careers initiatives accordingly.

I am going to continue this discussion in a next series installment where I will turn to consider the fifth scenario as offered in this series’ Part 1. Sometimes outside factors can intervene and force you to confront this series’ core title question. I first raised the issues and questions of the work life constraints box in one of my earliest postings, and both to this Guide and to this blog as a whole, with: Job Search and Your Constraints Box.

Scenario five is based on issues that can arise when your constraints box and its requirements becomes an issue. And repeating this from Part 1:

5. I am going to reconsider this set of workplace and private life needs here, as apparent conflicts can and do arise between our individual preferred employment constraints, and job and workplace requirements in a current job held. And I will also discuss how outside life situations can force us to at the very least reconsider what our constraints box limits actually are now. These parameters might seem to be written in stone when initially thought through, but circumstances and needs and priorities can and do change, and certainly over longer periods of time. The work life constraints that we start out thinking in terms of might no longer hold the same meaning and relevance to us in our current here and now that they once did, when and as we find that we have to confront them again.

Meanwhile, you can find this and related postings at my Guide to Effective Job Search and Career Development – 3 and at the first directory page and second, continuation page to this Guide.


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