Workplace Wisdom

How to Work with Ambitious Employees When There’s No Growth Opportunity

When you’re lucky enough to employ someone who has the capacity to do superior work and then grow past the job, but you haven’t got an appropriate outlet for them, it can be a challenge to keep them in the company, let alone within your work group.

One of my clients got in touch recently to discuss what to do about two very different team members who’ve told him they are interested in growing beyond their current roles.

Case 1: The Aspiring but Not-Yet-Equipped Employee

The first situation is pretty straightforward. This person is just not ready to move up: He may be ambitious, but he hasn’t developed full functional competence; he’s not always dependable, and he really doesn’t have a good understanding of what the next role requires.

We discussed offering this team member skill training, plus giving him plenty of encouragement, along with clear and concrete feedback about what he needs to do within the parameters of the current job to improve his performance.

If he’s getting the right attention, it’s very likely that he’ll progress and receive the recognition he craves, so he won’t get frustrated and act out or leave, but instead will continue to grow.

Case 2: The Star Employee

The second team member has been doing a standout job. She would be a plus in more demanding roles with greater responsibility, but there just haven’t been any openings available. So I advised my client to look for other opportunities to keep her fully engaged and learning until an appropriate position becomes available.

It’s true that developing an even greater set of skills and responsibilities could make this team member a more attractive candidate for poaching from the outside, but it’s well worth the risk to keep developing her.

Doing so will give her the recognition and acknowledgment that she deserves; show the rest of the team that there is a path for growth; provide a way to expand the team’s portfolio of skills and responsibilities; and offer the future possibility that, should she leave for greener pastures, she might “boomerang” back to the company at some point in the future, bringing her solid skills and great attitude back with her.

Tips for Keeping Team Members Happy While They Wait for Bigger Roles

Here are some of the possibilities that you can pursue for star team members who are waiting for bigger roles to open up:

Create a new set of responsibilities within the work team in an area that you’ve wanted to address but haven’t had the bandwidth to take on. Your team member can focus on new research; formulating and proposing new ideas; implementing new approaches; and working with other team members in new, more cooperative ways.

Provide them with cross-training in other departments or assign them to cross-functional task forces so they can begin to develop collaborative relationships across the organization and see how their role and responsibilities fit into the overall workflows.

Give them exposure to senior executives. Build their profile inside the company by bringing them with you to meetings, letting them participate in presentations, and asking them to offer their own ideas. The increased access and the chance to participate will be stimulating for them and also broaden their outlook.

Offer them outside education or industry involvement that furthers both their internal performance and their personal career goals. Show them that you’re happy to invest in them and think they’re worth it.

Ask them to develop others. Not only is this a new and challenging responsibility that will make them feel proud, but it will help you build bench strength under them, in preparation for the time when they move on to other roles — whether inside or outside the company.

In the meantime, be sure to work with your boss and other colleagues to find additional opportunities for your successful team members. Your organization wouldn’t be the first to add “senior manager” or “senior director” titles as a way to recognize superior performance and extra responsibility.

Onward and upward,

LK

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