Why do high performers fail to get promoted?
You ask an excellent question. I would love to give you an answer, but I am not sure what it is. I can tell you what I have noted during my career though.
The main thing I have noticed is that high performers have a tendency to put their heads down and work. They expect to be recognized and expect to be offered promotions without having to ask. They get resentful if they have to ask. They are more likely to grumble about it, and then, finally just leave for a place where they will feel more appreciated. And then the pattern repeats itself. Their employers often find themselves in shock when this valuable employee leaves and they have no idea why. This is because employers no longer pay attention. Sometimes, until the employee leaves, they have no idea how valuable the employee was. Shame on the employer.
In addition, high performing folks are so focused on their work that they do not tend to make sure that those in power recognize what they are doing. Also, they are often either not very good at office politics or simply unwilling to play them. Sometimes because they don't have the ability, other times because they think they are supposed to be working while they are at work, not chatting.
Here's the reality. If you want it, you have to get it. How do you get it?
- You make sure the people in charge know what you have accomplished for the business. Businesses do not care what you did last year. They want to know what you are doing now. They need to see that you are valuable and worth a promotion and/or a raise. Some bosses are good and pay attention and even bring attention to your efforts. Most do not. You want people to see it? You better find a way to make that happen. If you need to go and tell the decision-maker what you did, even if it happens when you bump into each other by the coffee machine, do it. Make sure your boss knows who you are and what you are doing. Don't be annoying about it though.
- Rarely do people just get raises. Especially in small companies. Heck, they are lucky to get a cost of living increase. If you want a raise, you need to ask for it. And you better be able to show why you deserve it. Make an appointment, sit down with the decision-maker, have numbers and details about what you did over X time period, and ask for the raise. It is better not to make threatening to leave a part of your request. They may just say, sure, go ahead. Or they may just think you are disloyal. In some industries it is common to make that threat and no big deal. In others, it will be the end of you. Make sure you know which is correct for you before you decide how to handle your request. And if you are going to threaten to leave, you had darn well better have an exit plan.
- If you cannot show that you are good at office politics, that you get on with people, that you can have business friends, then no one will think you can lead. You also will lack for support. Normally, promotions come with leadership responsibility. I get that it may feel like it shouldn't be part of your job to smile and make nice and ask people "hey how's your life", but the reality is, it is. Make an effort. Have lunch with people. You don't necessarily need to be friends out of the office (though in some jobs you do) but you better seem to be able to get along well in the office. Not to mention, the more support you have, the more buy-in you have, the easier it is to get promoted and to lead once you have that new job.
Those are my thoughts on the matter. I could be right, I could be wrong. But that's what I've got.
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