J.A.A.S. Ranasinghe, Human Resources and Administrative Manager,
Colombo Dockyard Limited
Many of the professionals employed both in the public and private
sectors reach what we call in management parlance a "career
plateau" in their occupational careers within a few years of
achieving what is termed a "pinnacle" in their careers.
at mid-life are bound up with a host of personal issues and many
executives who do not adopt correct remedial measures to overcome
this professional malady often leave their employment blaming the
organisations which they have served.
On the other
hand, organisations which allow their executive staff to reach such
a negative state of mind should take the major portion of the blame
for not diagnosing the symptoms and arresting early the frustration
of the executives who are considered to be the cream of their organisation.
A career plateau is defined as the point where the likelihood
of additional hierarchical promotions are very remote. This results
in 'career doldrums', which could easily be identified by a host
of symptoms such as loss of enthusiasm, tension, boredom, frustration,
lack of team effort and lack of commitment and innovation.
Many fail to
accept the reality that career plateaux are a natural consequence
of the way organisations are structured. Most of the organisations
have a pyramidal structural hierarchy in that there are fewer positions
than aspirants at each higher layer of the organisational ladder
compelling them to stagnate in their careers, as their upward mobility
A model for
managerial careers has been developed taking into consideration
the likelihood of future promotions and performances of an executive
in his or her present position.
Citizens" - They have little chance of career advancement as
the majority of the executives fall into this category. Solid citizens
are the executives who perform the bulk of the work and their performance
is rated satisfactory to outstanding. Since most organisations have
pyramidal structures they cannot accommodate all the solid citizens
in the few slots at the higher grades.
and development programmes conducted by the organisations do not
pay serious attention in grooming this segment.
and contribution to the survival of the company are relatively low.
Executives whose performance is excellent. They have high potential
for future grooming and advancement. Although they are small in
number, this group can be readily identified.
do not hesitate to put them on "fast track" career paths
and groom them over a period of time in order to give them weighty
responsibilities in their new assignments on higher positions. They
receive special attention in training and management development
- Executives with little potential for career advancement due to
poor performances and negative attitudes. In every organisation
there is a small group of executives who are branded as mediocre
and is earmarked by the management either for dismissal or rehabilitation.
Executives with high potential for career advancement but whose
present performances are below the expected standard. New recruits
such as Management Trainees and those who have been promoted from
lower ranks to executive positions are the obvious examples.
commitment to develop their managerial skills is quite strong. A
majority of corporate CEOs in Sri Lanka started their professional
career as trainees.
From the model
below we can get a clear understanding of the identification of
plateaux. The executives on the left-hand side of the model, namely
the "Solid Citizens" and the "Deadwood" are
the plateaued managers. While the solid citizens become effective
plateaux due to organisational and personal issues, the deadwood
may become ineffective managers due to their sheer incompetence
and negative attitudes.
the HR practitioner
Organisations will have to take adequate measures to ensure
that solid citizens do not slip into the deadwood category. Unfortunately,
our experience has been that most organisations have failed to give
due recognition to the plateaued executives. If the causes that
lead to the career plateauing are not properly tackled by the organisations,
then the consequences arising out of the failure of the organisation
would be enormous.
1.1. A majority of the executives employed in public and private
sector organisations have become organisationally 'plateaued' because
of non-availability of vacancies in the higher grades. It is impossible
for the structure to accommodate all the executives in the lower
ranks compelling some executives to invariably stagnate in their
existing grades and positions.
1.2 Age - Apart
from the lack of cadre vacancies in the higher grades, the age of
the executives may become a vital factor in not considering them
for higher positions. Many organisations prefer to recruit younger
executives and place them on a rigid training programme so that
their services can be obtained for a longer period.
for a particular post can be another source of organisational 'plateauing'.
With the growth and the expansion of the industry, there can be
situations where organisations may be compelled to recruit executives
from external sources, as there are less qualified people within
needs would have to be given more preference in the selection of
employees. A particular executive may be seen as too valuable in
his position to be spared for other work. In such a situation, management
can have recourse to external recruitment thus disturbing the promotional
prospects of the officers concerned.
2.1 Executives also become personally 'plateaued' because of
their inability and incompetence to discharge responsibilities in
the higher grades in the hierarchy.
and empirical studies have shown that some executives are compelled
not to aspire to heavy responsibilities in the promotional grades
due to a host of reasons. Monetary and other lucrative benefits
attached to the existing post, esteem and recognition factors in
the present job, lack of sufficient time available for rest and
family commitments in the higher jobs, and exposure of managerial
weaknesses in higher positions would be some of the reasons for
executives not accepting promotional opportunities.
of technical and managerial competencies within the existing executive
cadre may compel the management to hire from outside. Skill deficiencies
within the organisation could arise from lack of aptitude on the
part of executives to gain expertise or their unwillingness to shoulder
heavy responsibilities or the non-implementation of the training
and development opportunities for the executives. The inability
of executives to respond to changing job situations and technological
changes may be other reasons.
2.3 Lack of
career skills is another reason. Some executives are organisationally
naive and lack adequate understanding of the complexity of the organisational
realities. Other executives may tend to stay within a limited definition
of their present job failing to take progressive steps to expand
their knowledge and skills in order to consolidate their career
2.4 Lack of
sufficient desire on the part of executives to take over higher
responsibilities or to transfer to another branch or a location
of the same company or a subsidiary could be a reason for their
failure to receive promotional opportunities.
tend to send ambiguous signals or place constraints when a proposal
for a promotion or transfer is made.
of "Solid Citizens"
It is a matter for regret that solid citizens have not received
their due place in most of the organisations although they constitute
a major group of the entire management staff. The organisation should
not forget the fact that solid citizens are the backbone of the
organisations when it comes to day-to-day operational activities
and it is they who interact with the customers at the grassroots
level, maintain stability and the competitive edge over rivals and
provide value-added products and services to their clientele by
attracting and retaining their customers.
1. The best remedial action is the preventing of plateaux from
becoming ineffective plateauees. When the ineffective plateauee's
performance declines, it could definitely make a disastrous impact
on the whole organisation and its stakeholders, especially customers.
Many HR managers
fail to understand why executives in their companies have become
so ineffective and indifferent towards the management and even resort
to disciplinary action to arrest this trend.
But this is
unpleasant and detrimental to the well-being of the organisation.
It could send wrong signals to other effective plateauees.
in such situations should investigate the problem and advise the
top management of the seriousness of the issue with an action plan.
suggesting severe disciplinary action against the ineffective plateauees,
what they should do is to inform the management that the organisation
has played a major role in making their executives ineffective.
should not have recourse to the dismissal route but mitigate the
seriousness of the poor performances of their executives by giving
due consideration to their past service, age, family background
and social status.
2. Middle managers
are the worst affected plateaued group in any organisation due to
lack of promotional prospects. When their frustration and dissatisfaction
loom, owing to non-availability of sufficient promotional avenues
and loss of career aspirations with advancing age, it is inevitable
for them to collectively organise themselves and form trade unions
in the form of so called "associations". It is my candid
opinion that many associations have seen their birth not because
of the fear of retaliation by the management over disciplinary issues
but owing to the inability of the management to design acceptable
career development opportunities.
3. It is therefore
incumbent upon the management to avoid HR management practices that
could lead to ineffective plateauing so that 'deadwood' could be
reduced to a very greater extent.
However, it is unduly cynical for organisations to assume that
all plateaued executives are incompetent according to Thomas P.
Ferrence, A.F. Stoner and E. Kirby Warren who have done a study
on the subject of Management of Career Plateau to the Academy of
Management Review. A more reasonable assumption according to them
is that the managers can plateau while still effective and are capable
of performing well and adjusting to their career situations.
of plateauees is the best form of arresting this professional malady
syndrome. Organisations should be able to identify such plateaueed
executives through their sophisticated Performance Appraisal Schemes
and Succession Planning Schemes.
of a career succession plan to link the executive's potential to
a particular position cannot be over-emphasised. A sound Career
Succession Plan, if implemented well, should be able to attack most
of the issues referred to above. The succession plans will become
a powerful tool in the identification of pleatuees.
and techniques recommended in dealing with the frustrated plateauees
are listed below.
* Seek Career
Counselling - Career Counselling can provide meaningful insights
to the affected plateauees.
In Sri Lanka,
career counselling of plateaueed employees is still in its infancy.
The Institute of Personnel Management of Sri Lanka has a number
of experienced HR practitioners in its membership who are capable
of handling counselling on matters in relation to plateaueed executives
and it may be possible for the affected plateauees to seek professional
counselling from the Institute.
The most important
thing that comes out from the counselling process is the restoration
of self-esteem and confidence.
* Career Move
- A career move generally involves one of the following choices.
It could mean a simple change within the organisation or a radical
shifting to an altogether different organisation.
1. Moving Up
- One option open to the plateaueed executives may be to seek a
position with greater responsibility in the same organisation in
which he is employed. If this is not possible, then leaving the
organisation after securing suitable employment may be the last
option. Here the danger is even if you do succeed in moving up throughout
your career, you may reach a destination other than what you expected.
As Joseph Campbell once said, "You may get to the top of the
ladder only to find that it's up against a wrong wall".
2. Moving Sideways
- Another option is to move sideways or make a lateral move into
some position about the same degree of responsibility and benefits
that you enjoy now. The new environment offers you new excitement
- Changing to a job with less responsibility is a major possibility
for plateaueed executives, because today's business organisations
are more flexible and malleable than they used to be. Although conventional
wisdom advises against taking demotion, sometimes this type of move
can be a catalyst for career advancement (Dahle 1998). Moreover,
this will be an ideal opportunity for someone who has a host of
other priorities in his life such as family commitments, leisure,
volunteer work, social and political agendas, and children's education
to seek a downshifting in the same organisation.
A leading career
expert, Beverly Kaye, has a favourite phrase "Up is not the
only way". Downshifting is getting more from less - more life
from less career absorption. It may be possible for you to find
a job, which entails fewer responsibilities in your organisation,
probably with a smaller salary.
Careers - A complete change of careers may be the only option but
it will lead to greater satisfaction. I know of an instance where
the Secretary of a Ministry left the public service ignoring all
the perks and prestige in order to take a teaching appointment in
a leading school in Kandy. Here, extra care has to be exercised.
outside interests - Many executives cope with career doldrums by
finding fulfilment in interests outside their jobs.
your own business - Another way is to consider creating your own
business. Mid-life is an opportune time for the professional executives
to establish their own business by becoming entrepreneurs. Many
of us stay for too long on our treadmills until we burnout or get
the status quo - Adaptation in a current career situation is also
an option. Although similar in nature to making a lateral move,
in this instance, an individual stays in the same position without
changing much and just lives differently with what he has.
Theory- Planned happenstance is a theory that helps individuals
to develop skills to recognise, create and use chance in career
requires individuals to exercise curiosity to explore new learning
opportunities, to persist despite setbacks, to meet changing attitudes
and circumstances with flexibility, to optimistically view new opportunities
as possible and attainable and to take risks by being proactive
in the face of uncertain outcomes. (Mitchell, Levin and Krumblotz
plateau is a professional malady, recent researches have proved
that it can be healthy for professionals, particularly to those
who have just accomplished a breakthrough in their careers, according
to Kreuter Eric. A plateau can be a highly valuable and stable interval
of rest and security that provides an opportunity to regain perspective
and digest new ideas.