Managing High Achievers Who Are Not Getting Promoted

BY Kathy Crosett
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It’s not easy to manage high achievers in any organization. In fact, supervisors often assume that high achievers are after their jobs. The truth is many high achievers are not getting promoted. That's okay. They don’t necessarily want to be managers. These team members do have high expectations, and if you manage them properly, they will deliver for you and your organization.

What to Do With High Achievers Who Are Not Getting Promoted

Alaina Love explains that “high achievers are 400% more productive than the average employee.”  That’s a big number, and the even bigger issue is whether you are managing these employees properly. High achievers can become quickly bored and will want to move on if they sense there is little hope of being used to their full potential.

You can keep these employees engaged by giving them “stretch assignments.” Every manager has a problem project on the back burner that they have not been able to complete because of a lack of resources or creativity. A high achiever can bring new thinking to these types of projects because they possess “courage and persistence” says Love. You’ll know if your high achiever has those qualities in abundance when you review the results of the psychometric assessments you ask them to take.

Work Setting

Research by Zorana Ivcevic, Robin Stern and Andrew Faas shows that high performing employees share common workplace environments. First, they understand exactly what they are supposed to do. Why? Because their manager has explained the need clearly. Also, if they think they have a better idea about how to complete a task, they “feel safe” in terms of making suggestions. That feeling of safety comes from being in a work environment where the manager has encouraged “out-​of-​the-​box” thinking. In a stretch assignment, your team member must feel they can come to you with unique ideas. They must also feel safe enough to tell you when the end result of their high-​risk strategy may fail.

High performers enjoy working with other skilled and productive employees. 25% of sales professionals told us in a survey that they felt their organization would be more successful if they had more proficient co-​workers. If you’ve hired team members recently whose skill level isn’t what it needs to be, invest in training. Better yet, use psychometric assessments to pair your high achievers with staff members who are open to coaching and ask them to serve as mentors.

Passion and Purpose

Love explains that high achievers possess a passion so strong that they would do the job “even if they weren’t paid for it.” In Ivcevic’s research, nurses who worked in hospitals during the pandemic saw “their jobs as a calling.” They weren’t concerned about not getting promoted. But their commitment weakened in cases where supervisors weren’t able to grant their PTO requests. They also grew frustrated when team leaders didn't clearly articulate expectations.

During stressful times, even team leaders may lose their sense of “excitement and possibility.” They may also lose direction and focus. When that happens, the performance of the best achievers will be negatively impacted. Try to reorient yourself and reframe your outlook in a positive light to help your team members be their best.

Your highest achieving employees need a wide range of experiences organizationally if they expect to eventually do well in the C‑suite. While many of the stretch projects you give them will appeal to their passion, prepare them for other aspects of their future careers. A specific project may not excite them, but you can encourage them to see they need experiences of all types. These employees are not getting promoted today, but they’re waiting in the wings for their opportunity, and it’s your job to prepare them well.

Photo by Tranmautritam on Pexels.