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Stalled career. Why you aren’t getting a promotion at work

stalled career

Jumpstart your stalled career

How to jump-start your stalled career

Most employees are frustrated with their stalled careers.  As an HR person that has seen thousands of employee/manager relationships, I can confidently say the following: Most employees have stalled careers because there is a lack of communication between an employee and their boss.

I want to share insight on a few topics today as it relates to your stalled career.

  1. Reasons you should talk to your boss.
  2. How to determine if you are talking enough with your boss.
  3. Advice on how to create a productive dialogue with your manager.

Before COVID, most employees didn’t talk enough to their managers. When we were in the office, spontaneous communication was the norm. Relationship building was convenient. With most offices working remotely, most of us are talking with management on a less frequent basis. I have always been a big proponent of managing your career and managing your manager. Over the years, I have created over 100 posts dedicated to the topic.

Communication is especially important when we are working remotely. Most of us don’t want to talk with our boss, and the reasons are all over the board. I want to reset your mentality on this topic.

Employees that don’t talk with their managers usually fall into a few categories.

Early in their career

Employees early in their career don’t have the experience to understand the benefits of “speaking up.” A lack of confidence holds proactive communication back. Not knowing what is OK and what is not OK to ask creates uncertainty on what is appropriate for your career.

When in doubt, ask your manager. If that is uncomfortable, ask a more senior colleague in your department.

If we don’t know what we should and should not do, no one should expect us to succeed.

Assumption of incompetence

I find that many employees assume their manager isn’t competent or should be more competent. Changing the way we look at our managers can change the relationship. Your manager may be a lot of things, but they aren’t stupid when it comes to how they are perceived. If you assume your manager is one of the following, resentment will be sensed.

  • Incompetent
  • Stupid
  • Egotistical

This is not a good foundation for a relationship between you and the person that can accelerate or stifle your career.  Below is basic business logic that will hopefully help reset how you feel about your manager.

When you look good, your manager looks good. If you look bad, your manager looks bad. Your manager doesn’t want to look bad.

This isn’t about sucking up to your boss. This is about accomplishing what the business needs to be successful.

Why should you talk to your boss?  

  • You want to keep your boss informed on what you are accomplishing. If they don’t know what you have accomplished or learned, it is hard for them to justify more opportunities or promotions to their VP. Don’t assume they know how well you are doing.
  • Not sharing your professional goals and aspirations is the biggest miss in most manager/employee relationships. Managers are gatekeepers to your next promotion, raise, opportunity, project, etc. If they don’t know what you want at work, it is hard for them to set you up to qualify for that next level.
  • If you are stuck on a project, your boss can help. They can help you directly, or they can introduce you to a resource that can help. Generally speaking, bosses have more experience and expertise than us.
  • You don’t want to create a reputation that you only have negative things to say.  Pointing out that something is wrong is only helpful if you have a solution or are willing to work on a solution. You don’t want to condition your manager to go on high alert every time you show up at their door. “Oh shit, what does Johnny want to bitch about this time?” If we only talked with our personal friends and significant others when there was a problem, relationships would be short-lived.

Why employees don’t talk with their boss

  • I don’t like my boss. He is an ass/egotistical/demeaning, etc.
    • This may be the case, but this is YOUR egotistical/demeaning boss. We need to figure out how to communicate with them, or we stick with our stalled careers. This doesn’t mean you need to suck up to them. Finding something in common that the two of you can talk about is step one in any relationship.
  • My boss is busy. I don’t want to bother them.
    • Your boss is busy, but generally, whatever you are working on is important to them. If you are working on something that isn’t important to your boss, you are working on the wrong project. Managers not only want to know what you are working on; they need to know. Managers need to be able to keep their bosses updated on the progress the department is making.
  • I don’t know what I would say to my boss.
    • Start with the same things you would say to your friends. Ask about their weekend and their personal interests. Everyone wants to talk about themselves. Building a connection is the first step.

If you don’t know the following, you aren’t talking enough with your boss.

  • What they are working on for their boss
  • What they worry about at work
  • Do you know the name of your boss’s children?
  • What advice do they have for your career?
  • You don’t know what you have in common with your boss.
  • What books or podcasts they are interested in

If you haven’t discussed the following topics in the last 6 months, you aren’t talking enough.

  • How much do you want to make in the next 12- 24 months
  • Next big opportunity or project you want to work on
  • What you are trying to improve in your personal and professional life

How to talk with your boss

  • Talk regularly. Email updates are better than nothing. Keep your manager updated on what you are working on, so they know you are growing.
  • Come to your boss with solutions and suggestions. If you only come to them to bitch or complain, your boss isn’t going to want to see you. Every time you show up at their door, they will think, “What does Chad want to bitch about today?”
  • Be thankful anytime you receive feedback from your boss. Especially feedback for improvementManagers that don’t care, don’t give feedback for improvement. We want to keep the stream of feedback for improvement flowing.
  • Keep conversations positive. Managers have plenty of problems. There are always two ways to present a tough situation or problem. 

Assume good intent. Regardless of what we think, most managers don’t wake up every morning, hoping to make an employee’s life miserable. We need to understand where they are coming from.

Two employees, same manager 

Employee number makes it a point to communicate the following on a regularly scheduled basis:

  • Gets to know their manager on a personal level
  • Work to be accomplished during the next cycle.
  • What committed to doing during the last cycle
  • Work accomplished against last the last cycle’s goals
  • Career goals and steps they are taking to accomplish these goals.

A great employee on a stalled career

Employee number two has a ton of experience and always turns in top-notch work. They are a team player, mentor to others, articulate, and a recognized leader.  Employee number does not meet with their manager and assumes the following:

  • Their manager knows what they want out of their career long-term.
  • Their manager knows what they are working on and what they have accomplished.
  • Assumes the manager is busy, so doesn’t take time to get to know their manager.
  • Assumes they aren’t important enough for their manager’s time

Employee number two is probably a stronger employee, but the manager isn’t aware of how strong they are. They have no reason to assume that career growth is important. There isn’t a personal connection with employee number two. Consequently, employee number 1 receives more opportunities.

Take charge

If you don’t know much about your manager and don’t know much about you or your goals, your career will never get out of 2nd gear. Please don’t assume it is your manager’s job to propel your career. It is your career, not theirs. Your manager has multiple direct reports and their own career to worry about. Managers are more likely to help your career when they see you helping them and helping yourself.

See you at the after-party,


nasty: an unreal maneuver of incredible technique, ridiculously good, tricky, and manipulative, but with the result that can’t help but be admired, a phrase used to describe someone good at something. “He has a nasty forkball.”

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