What To Do When There's No Career Progression Program

You’re ready and raring to climb the corporate ladder, but there seem to be no programs in the organization to help you get to the next level.  Or perhaps there doesn’t appear to be an opportunity to move up in the company.  What do you do? 

Many companies have developed career ladders, competency matrices, career progression programs, and similar tools to assist employees in identifying career paths and options.  But far more often, the company has nothing of the sort to guide employees in their development.  So what is a high-achieving, motivated person to do?

Here are five tips to help you keep your career on track:

  1. Don’t despair!  Just because a career path isn’t immediately obvious, or planned out by the company, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist.   Sometimes career paths aren’t well communicated, and sometimes they can be forged with a little perseverance.
  2. Look around.  Pay attention to the factors that lead to success in the company.  Who gets promoted?  What skills are valued?  Are people with strong technical skills in the top roles, or people with strong relational and communication skills?  Does the company tend to reward star performers in one area, or those with a breadth of knowledge across the organization?
  3. Take initiative.  The more involved you are, the more opportunities that will arise. Volunteer for projects.  Sit on committees.  Interact with other departments, business units, or areas of the organization.
  4. Be flexible.  The road to the top is not always straight up.  Think of a road up a mountain – it doesn’t go straight up, but winds around and can be more horizontal than vertical for most of the way.  Think about whether a sideways or diagonal move might help gain valuable skills and experience to get you where you want to go.
  5. Know what makes you happy.  That promotion to manager might sound good at first, but what if you don’t actually like supervising people and not getting to do any of the work yourself?  Plan your career moves based on what you enjoy, what you’re good at, and where you need and want to grow skills, not just on the “obvious” next move.

In today’s work world, it is beneficial to think a bit wider than just pursuing the ladder with rungs that only go up.  There are times in life when an upward direction works fine, but at other times, sideways, diversions, or even backwards steps can work too.  You don’t need the company to clearly define your next career move for you – with a little awareness and planning, you might even find a meaningful path no one else knew was there!