It can happen at any level in an organization right from an entry-level job through middle management and right up at the top position in the entire organization; the plateau. You know, that sudden realization that you’re not making progress. It can be good or bad depending on your personal situation and it can be short-lived or go on for a long time.
For some the plateau is a dreaded thing; the creative juices have dried up, the muse no longer whispers in your ear, the ideas you’re cranking out are coming slower and the ones you produce are borrowed more than original. You’ve hit the wall, the ceiling – call it what you will but you’re no longer the employee on the way up; your stagnating… Well that’s one way to look at things.
Then again, you may have been overworked, strained to the limit and close to burning out and what others might see as negative upward movement you’ve come to perceive and appreciate as a period of traction. You can hold your own where you are now and while you’re not progressing at the moment, you’re refilling your tank, re-energizing your batteries etc. and when you’re ready can once again find the stamina for another climb on the corporate ladder. This plateau period is a welcomed period of calm… A second way to look at things.
Here’s another perspective; we’re human and as such have things which go on well beyond the walls of any organization we work within. Sometimes the life events we’ve got going on take precedence over our work priorities. For many of us we can handle the things which occur in our personal lives while functioning at a high level in the workplace. However, there are events which occur and impact us to varying degrees which demand our focus and attention; impacting therefore on our ability to contribute in the workplace the way we would like; the way we have.
At such times, the plateau or leveling off of our production is self-driven by choice. We do just enough to get by, pass on taking on additional projects and assignments that we just haven’t got the energy or time to commit to. This can be a healthy choice by design and the key is to perform at the level you’re at and not decline to a level that is detrimental to the team, department or organization as a whole.
The plateau is also something that can creep up on you unexpectedly. It’s when you pause in some moment of reflection and realize you’ve been coasting. Perhaps the job is one you know so well you can do it without much mental investment. You realize you’re going through the motions, the roaring fire that once burned inside is now a controlled burn with less intensity. In short, you’re consistent, comfortable, and you’ve leveled off.
In some organizations where the competitive edge is critical, they’d view this leveling off as dead weight. They need hungry workers who come to work yearning to make the big sales everyday, produce the next best thing or push to exceed their targets which only last week were achievements to be proud of.
So what’s up? Are you stuck and miserable as a result or are you content and happy to be where you are by choice; not wanting or needing to reach for more?
Not everyone has what it takes to move up to the next level in the organization and many organizations make the fatal mistake of simply promoting people based on the number of years they’ve been with an organization.
If you’re hopeful of making it to the next level where you work you would be well-advised to look at the skill requirements – not for you job but for the job you wish to aspire to. Look objectively at your skill set and find where you’re lacking. What do you need to develop and master in order to position yourself for the future? Who do you need to cultivate a good working relationship with and get better known by? How are you going to move from the circles you’re in now to those new ones? Are you going to be able to hang on to what you’ve got now and add more to your plate or not and if not, what are you prepared to let go of to get more?
The plateau you’ve landed on might have been a welcomed accomplishment in the past of course. However, if you find you want more and are ready for what’s next, it almost always involves the inclusion of one basic necessity; effort. Yep, you’re going to have to put in the effort to get beyond what you’re currently doing. This effort might mean heading back to school outside of your workplace, or taking a year off to get that certification you need. Could be that your work pays all or part of the cost of training or you have to make the investment yourself.
It might mean overtime too, coming in early, doing some of the mental or physical work beyond what you’re accustomed to. Maybe it’s more travel, assuming some leadership on projects etc. So how bad to you want to leave the plateau?
Could be too you’re out of work entirely and have hit a plateau where looking for work is too much effort. Plateaus are not reserved for the working.