Here's a question that I really dislike hearing as CEO: "So, when am I up for my next promotion?" It's not because we don't want to promote people, or because there's a regular cycle for doing so. It's more my fault that I've failed to communicate clearly that the responsibility to get promoted rests with the employee--not me.

Your employees have the responsibility to assume their own growth in their personal and professional lives. And you, as their leader, have an obligation to provide resources, training, opportunity and the proper environment to do so.

Don't wait for somebody to die (or retire) to take yourself to the next level

I get that there are certain jobs that require co-workers to experience dramatic life events (retirement, death, a promotion, winning the lottery) in order to progress professionally. Here's looking at you librarians, Supreme Court justices and NFL quarterbacks (okay, and a few others).

But I don't like the idea of my employees waiting with bated breath for a supervisor to finally get that promotion or retire to get a chance to move up. The approach I take at is to avoid that organizational hierarchy rat race and develop a company culture that's all about creating your own space within the organization.

Here are a few tips I give my managers to help guide their team members (and themselves!) in identifying their own career path:

  1. Don't view your career as a ladder--a ladder implies the process is linear, straight, and has an immediate next step. Instead, think of your career as a sponge that gets bigger and more valuable (i.e. higher pay) as you soak in increased levels of responsibility, experience, and influence.
  2. Don't base your personal success path on those around you--never confuse the behaviors of others to be the behaviors you yourself should be exhibiting. No two careers are alike, just as no two employees are exactly alike. Instead, gather some best practices from the successes around you and help all those around you do the same.
  3. Are you doing all that you could be doing? When I hear an employee express a desire to transition to another role (for example, perhaps a call center agent longs to join the Social Media team), the first thing I want to know is what the heck are you doing about it? Are you already staying on top of social marketing trends? Are you volunteering to create content or help with special projects during your off time to grow relationships and new skills? Are you reading, attending classes, watching webinars and otherwise growing yourself into a desirable (fill in the name of your dream job here)? Quit waxing poetic and get to the doing, that's how career jumps are made.We certainly want our people to maximize their potential but we must also manage the organization's potential. By putting the most quailified people in roles.
  1. Stop with the career Googling and use your imagination. Why limit yourself to something a career website tells you that you can achieve? Some of the most exciting departments and projects have come directly from an employee saying "wouldn't it be cool if...". Get experience working with a variety of teams in cross departmental projects to get an understanding for how your expertise could help solve undefined challenges--this is where some of the coolest job opportunities lay that will be uniquely your own.

Here are just a few interesting employee growth stories that come to mind--all completely self-actualized and self-driven:

  • Brad started off as a Live Chat representative and, because of his passion for video, now manages all of our internal digital media (cool HD green screen leaderboards included--think SportsCenter, but more fun!).
  • Sam began his career in Customer Service, but now manages our highly complex call center operating technology. He leads a team that pushes the limits in data collection, great customer experiences and internal storytelling.
  • Omair started off in Cost Accounting and, because of his fire for 'seeing the whole picture' and helping other departments access important data, has now founded an entirely new department, the Business Intelligence group.
  • Sandy was a Customer Service Rep that went big for an internal job posting on the Search Marketing team and now writes amazing conversion friendly landing pages for our website.
  • Jay (hey, that's me!) was a door-to-door drapery salesman that got the wild idea to build the first window covering website on the Internet and is now CEO!

When you and your team think about expanding your roles versus seeking someone else's on the next rung of a ladder, everyone can get promoted--and in the end, your customers too.