High performers are used to thinking strategically, working hard, and seeing the payoff. They come to work ready to achieve, and they look for ways to bring the whole team up with them. But what happens when all that hard work bumps up against a glass ceiling?
Many ambitious workers see hard work as an ongoing deposit that will eventually result in the ultimate withdrawal: a promotion with a fat paycheck. But that's not how every scenario plays out in the end. Strict pay ranges, long-term employees with essential expertise, a limited need for additional managers and leaders who fail to recognize excellent work can all stifle employees' great expectations.
Those expectations can, undoubtedly, be high: Millennials, now the largest generation in the workforce, are more likely to expect promotions in intervals of one to two years, and they're also more likely to feel bonuses and raises should be awarded more than once per year. While those figures may alarm some employers, they underscore what's really important to many workers today: recognition.
What options do high achievers have when they feel they've earned more recognition than they're getting -- and it doesn't look like there's anything waiting for them on the horizon? While they may feel stuck, there are several steps they can take to get out from under the ceiling.
1. Stretch yourself.
One reason high performers sometimes aren't slated for promotions is because they're viewed as rock stars in their current role-but not ready for the next level of responsibility. They've shown what their capable of in their current tasks, but they need to take advantage of opportunities to show their bosses what they can do elsewhere. That means tackling "stretch" projects, volunteering to take on new tasks and being willing to suggest-and test-new ideas.
Credera, an IT and management consulting firm, is transparently strategizing the growth of its team after acquisition. "While we are currently hiring aggressively, we'd also love to promote from within, especially for project leader and director roles," Alex Moore, the firm's director of talent acquisition, said. "This will require our current team members stepping up and taking on stretch assignments. The projects our consulting teams will be working on will offer opportunities to further challenge our employees to solve problems in new industries and with new technologies, which will give them more chances to expand their skill sets and expertise."
2. Broach the conversation.
A lot of employees desperately want to avoid the elephant in the room, but the only way to get what you want is to ask for it. Outline the ways you've contributed to the company: productivity, innovation, morale, the bottom line. Pull metrics to showcase your value, and then request a sit-down with your manager to talk about your next step -- and what you need to do to get there.
Go in with an open mind; you may find out that you've been really playing up your skills in X, but your company's executives want to see how you handle Y. And make sure you time your request well: "When there's a lot of churn happening, it might be the best thing to jump in, roll up your sleeves, and simply do the work to stabilize the organization," explains Sabina Nawaz, a global CEO coach that has worked with 40+ organizations including the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. After you've made the ask, however, Nawaz says to periodically follow up with your boss for feedback so you can keep improving (and highlighting your dedication to a promotion).
3. Determine whether the grass is really greener.
If you feel you've "peaked" at your current company, see what's out there. Are there jobs available that utilize your existing skills and would enable you to build new ones? Would they symbolize a step up in terms of pay or title?
Or, is it time to create something of your own?
Leaving doesn't mean you're necessarily gone forever, either. If you love your current company but simply want the ability to grow in your career, you can often come back if you left on good terms--and frequently to an increase in pay and responsibilities. Boomerang employees, ones who leave a company and eventually come back, are becoming more common, and it makes sense because they are still known, says David Almeda, chief people officer of Kronos: "Employers hire people they know, or people they know know. Simply put, it's less risky for them and it's all about rolling the risk"
Great work should result in a great payoff, but it sometimes takes a little more work to make that happen. Stretch beyond your current responsibilities, have the hard conversation and see what the market has to offer someone with your skill set. You may just find that the ceiling was waiting for you to push back.