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Why Do High Performers Fail to Get Promoted

Andrew Langat
June 20, 2023
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"The only real failure in life is not trying again." - George Clooney

It's 2 p.m. on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Olivia, an account executive, has just cleared an urgent task sent by her boss's boss. Most of her co-workers can't be reached via official channels, probably out with family or for other personal reasons. In the company, Olivia has exceeded expectations as a top performer; she is known for her work performance and technical ability, evident in her stellar work performance and reviews.

It is not atypical for Olivia to work beyond official office hours her people-pleasing weakness doesn't help but five years later, with added responsibility, there is no promotion or pay raise, and she still retains the same job title. As an ambitious professional keen on career progression, she wonders why she never gets promoted. This is an issue she has raised with her superiors, but only receives vague feedback.

Like Olivia, there are many professionals who, despite high and stellar performance reviews and even salary increases, have career ladder that don't reach their intended heights. To achieve this, they may be forced to look for a new job. There are reasons why high performers fail to get promoted, which may include the following:

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15 Reasons High Performers Fail to Get Promoted

1. Lack of workplace visibility

Top performers may excel at their current roles and hope to meet their professional and career goals. Still, they may be overlooked for promotions if they don't actively showcase their skills and achievements, due to what we call lack of workplace visibility.

The bottom line is that the higher-ups middle management, project managers, your boss, etc. need to feel your presence.

They need to know your name, what you do, and your impact on the organization.

To be visible in the workplace, do the following:

  • Learn how to manage up effectively.
  • Ask for constructive feedback.
  • Speak up during team meetings (a culture of "no comment" can give the wrong message).
  • Participate in high-visibility events (events attracting attention).
  • Get some coaching on how to be visible.
  • Actively engage in work happy hours or other social events where everyone is relaxed.

2. You don't network enough

Cultivating strong, meaningful relationships and expanding professional networks are essential for career growth. This is especially important in the corporate world, where getting promoted may rely on the recommendation of key personalities. To improve your networking, do the following:

  • Improve your communication skills.
  • Attend company events, and play an active role.
  • Improve your self-awareness.
  • Participate in team-building events.
  • Volunteer on projects as an avenue to network.

3. Inadequate self-promotion

Closely related to visibility is self-promotion. This may be a turn-off to some, but a little self-promotion might work for you in a hyper-competitive corporate world.

After all, we all need a brag book to track our wins. If you don't speak about your accomplishments, probably no one will. Some ways of going about self-promotion include:

  • Focus on your key strengths (be the master of your trade). This is an excellent way of self-promotion, as your work will speak for itself.
  • Deliver on what you promised.
  • Don't be shy to be in the spotlight. Take ownership of success (especially on a big project) because if you don't, someone else will.
  • Learn the limits of self-promotion (unchecked, it can limit your chances of promotion).

4. Lack of alignment with organizational goals

Simply excelling in your job description and current role may not be enough if you fail to understand and commit to the organization's broader objectives.

Remember that your work should always align with the organization's objective. If this is not the case, your hard work will be for naught. To align professional goals with an organization's goals and increase your chances of promotion, do the following:

  • Learn to ask the right question. e.g., "How does this new initiative align with this year's target?"
  • When taking on new projects, ask how this will enable the company to achieve its goals.
  • Ask for feedback from other higher-ups. When you receive feedback, act on it.

5. Insufficient leadership skills

Excelling at individual tasks with technical ability doesn't necessarily translate to effective leadership. This is because leadership is a learned skill that separate from technical skills.

For example, you might be great at computer programming but fail to lead an effective meeting.

You may be overlooked when making future company promotion decisions if you struggle with leading and inspiring others.

If you desire to attain promotion in leadership, do the following:

  • Learn about leadership behaviors.
  • Ask for more responsibility where you can showcase your leadership skills.
  • Understand that you might need to learn to be a leader along your career path and adequately prepare for this.

6. Limited exposure to different roles

Sometimes top performers become highly specialized in their current position, limiting their exposure to other crucial areas of the organization. For example, an account executive may only master accounts but may find a challenge working in a different department.

When a new position arises, they might be overlooked as management might prefer someone with a bigger perspective.

To avoid such pitfalls, don't just exceed expectations in your current role. Engage in leadership development initiatives that will expand the scope on your career path forward. Moreover, recognize that an organization is a sum of different moving parts and understanding the inner workings of each greatly improves your promotion odds.

7. Inadequate development of soft skills

Whereas hard skills are essential for leadership, soft skills such as interpersonal skills, conflict resolution, emotional intelligence, communication skills, etc., are equally crucial for career development and progression.

As a top performer, you must understand that you will be judged on various competencies. It is vital to make mastery of these skills vital as part of career development.

8. Resistance to change

If you are too laid-back or resistant to change, this might hold you back.

Forward-looking organizations often seek individuals who can adapt to new situations and embrace change when they want to promote people. They do this knowing that the job market is not static and so an individual who quickly notices market trends will steer the organization to higher heights.

Top performers don't resist trying new approaches; rather, they investigate how to improve on them. This signals that, given a higher position, you will embrace novel approaches to work.

9. Inability to delegate

Delegation is an important skill as you progress in your career. As your responsibilities expand, you will need to delegate effectively.

You might not be ready for promotion if you find it difficult to delegate as a top manager and performer. To learn how to delegate effectively, do the following:

  • Understand that you cannot do everything.
  • Identify tasks to delegate.
  • Identify competent team members to delegate to.
  • Communicate your expectation and make a follow-up.

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10. Lack of strategic thinking

If your current employer is convinced you lack strategic thinking, they will be more inclined to overlook you when a new position is available.

This is because most organizations value strategic thinking, especially for positions that require strategic thinking in solving business requirements. To enhance your strategic thinking, do the following:

  • Prioritize continuous learning.
  • Learn to think outside the box.
  • Understand that questioning will not make you appear foolish.
  • Get coaching.
  • Master the 6p's of strategic thinking: plan, ploy, pattern, position, perspective and process.

11. Inadequate professional development

Continuous job learning and professional growth are essential for career advancement. If you primarily focus on your job and not on professional development opportunities, you risk being overlooked for promotion.

Make it a point to stay focused on your job and also to actively pursue professional development initiatives such as coaching for specific skills, working with mentors, conflict resolution, leadership development initiatives, etc.

12. Inability to manage conflicts

Conflict resolution is an essential skill in leadership roles. If top performers struggle with managing conflicts or avoiding confrontations, it may impact their chances of being promoted to positions that involve resolving disputes and fostering a positive work environment.

Why is this the case?

The absence of conflict resolution skills shows a low level of self-awareness that may make it difficult, among other things, to deal with difficult co-workers.

To better manage conflicts, do the following:

  • Be a person who understands workplace boundaries.
  • Learn that it is common to have difficult co-workers.
  • Learn not to take things personally.
  • Get more training on this, especially from a personal coach.

13. Lack of office politics skills

Yes, it would help if you managed office politics right. If you deal with people, you might never escape this annoying aspect of the workplace.

This entails managing relationships with your boss, co-workers, etc.

This is important because organizations often have a complex political landscape, and understanding and navigating these dynamics shows a strategy you can leverage with your boss, further improving your chances of promotion.

14. Limited exposure to decision-makers

Every organization has decision-makers and it is vital to catch their eye. They need to know that besides being a top performer, you are the right person for promotion.

Building relationships with influential decision-makers is crucial for career advancement. Some of the strategies for accomplishing this goal include:

  • Managing-up.
  • Requesting mentorship opportunities.
  • Cold-reaching (avoid persisting).
  • Distinguishing yourself as a performer in your team.
  • Reaching out to other department heads.

15. Timing and organizational constraints

Sometimes, despite being top performers, individuals may not get promoted due to organizational factors such as budget constraints, limited availability of higher-level positions, restructuring efforts, or industrial concerns about future growth prospects.

The truth is that when your company and times are uncertain, the last thing on your boss's mind is who to promote.

In such cases, it's essential to remain patient and continue excelling in your current role while actively seeking opportunities for growth.

Inspiring, isn’t it ? Want to learn more about connecting self-awareness to professional development? Get in touch today.

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Let Highrise coaches teach you to get promoted

Addressing the factors holding talented individuals back is essential to bridging the gap between high performance, career ladder, and promotion.

At Highrise, our coaches are ICF-certified, specialize in leadership, and offer invaluable guidance and expertise to help you navigate the path to promotion.

Our coaches will empower high performers to enhance visibility, build strategic networks, communicate more effectively, and develop the necessary skills to seize promotion opportunities when they arise.

By partnering with Highrise coaches, individuals and companies can unlock their full potential and increase their chances of achieving their desired career growth.

Sign up today for an option that works for you.

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Andrew Langat
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Andrew Langat is an experienced content specialist in Leadership, Productivity, Education, Fintech, and Research. He is an avid reader and loves swimming as a hobby. He believes that quality content should be actionable and helpful.