Resource Library Articles

Not All Employees Seek to Climb Career Ladder

Not All Employees Seek to Climb Career Ladder
by Kathleen Driscoll  (This article appeared in the Rochester Business Journal)

“I have one really capable, talented employee who has no problem running things while I’m away or tied up on other projects. She gets along well with all my staff people, and they seem to respect her judgment.

“Occasionally, I have been able to offer her opportunities that would put her in line for promotion, but she doesn’t seem to be interested. I have tried to talk with her about her career interests, but she doesn’t seem to want to.

“In the meantime, these occasional special assignments are going to people who aren’t nearly as competent as she is. I’m afraid she’ll lose out on some really good opportunities. What do you think?”

Your concern for this employee is certainly understandable. At a time when employee retention is a big issue, you would hate to lose her to an opportunity in some other company that she could have had in your organization.

Since she’s so competent and respected, you obviously want to hold onto her for as long as you can.

Her lack of interest in these opportunities may be very difficult for you to relate to, especially if you are a person who has jumped at every opportunity to get ahead.

“I immediately thought of the Boy Scout trying to earn a merit badge who insisted on helping a little old lady across the street,” says Frank Staropoli, an executive coach and president of Staropoli Consulting, Inc. of Rochester. “The Boy Scout found out later that she didn’t want to go across the street! He was so caught up in earning his merit badge that he never checked out what she wanted.”

“In a situation like this, of course, your motivations come into question. “I’m always suspicious when a boss is more interested in a person’s advancement than the person appears to be,” Staropoli says.

“If you ever hope to open up some dialogue on this issue, you need to be willing to suspend your determination – no matter how well-intentioned – to convince your employee to take these opportunities, he says. “In fact, your employee may be picking up on that determination, which leads her to believe, rightly, that any conversation would be futile.”

“So there’s a fine line between pushing someone to take an opportunity and offering encouragement. And you need to be careful not to cross it. If you push, you’ll create more problems and generate resentment that you didn’t have before.

Staropoli suggests thinking about the term “by invitation.” When it comes to discussing something as personal or sensitive as promotion, a manager can only invite discussion, not force it.

“It’s holding out your hand, but never yanking the person across,” he says. “Ultimately, the manager needs to be able to recognize that their life is their responsibility.”

“In some organizations, there is an expectation that employees will take every opportunity to grab the next rung of the ladder. And those who don’t want to do that eventually have to leave. But in other organizations, it’s perfectly OK to stay put. And there are many people who have their own reasons for not climbing the ladder. They might not want all the long hours and stress,” he says.

“If you pressure these people into doing something they didn’t want to do, guess what their performance will be,” Staropoli says.

If your employee is willing to hear your concerns about her not taking these opportunities, then it’s OK to articulate your frustration. If she’s willing to engage in some conversation around this, you might be able to offer a few of these statements suggested by Staropoli:

• “First, I respect any decision you make. You may have your own reasons for declining the job, and you certainly don’t have to explain them to me.”
• “I think it’s important that you know how much you’re appreciated and how much potential I see in you.”
• “I’d hate to see you left behind because I believe you have so much more to contribute.”
• “If your reluctance is based on any doubts about your ability to perform the job, I’d hate to see those doubts determine your future.”
• “Any time you want to talk about what you want in your future here, let me know. No strings, no pressure. It’s your call.”

“If she feels respected, there’s a chance that your employee may begin to feel more comfortable discussing these issues with you. In the meantime, though, all you can do is offer observations, conversations and encouragement and “stop short of pushing or lobbying,” he says.

Managers at Work is a bimonthly column exploring the issues and changes facing managers. This article appeared in the Rochester Business Journal on September 1, 2000, and is reprinted with permission.

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