Coaching Employees To the Next Level – Ask HR Bartender

I believe today’s reader question is a common one, regardless of the ages involved:

I have a few employees in their 20s and 30s who don’t have the drive I would expect in a young career. I don’t feel they respect my experience and expertise so they can learn and advance their opportunities. I may be taking it personal but, how do I move employees to the next level if they aren‘t interested?

The simple answer is…you don’t. Not every employee wants to advance their career or become a supervisor. There are several reasons:

They just don’t want to. Employees see and hear how people are treated as they move up the ladder. If positions of greater responsibility come with frustration, more hours and less balance, it’s not uncommon for an employee to take less money and responsibility for what is perceived as more happiness.

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They can’t. We tell employees to leave their personal issues in the parking lot. Keep in mind those personal issues (like child care, elder care, or getting a degree at night school) might be the reason employees can’t take on additional responsibilities. Maybe we need to have a more holistic approach and eliminate the obstacles to employees moving up the career ladder.

They’re not ready. Harvard Business Review had an interesting read about companies not training employees in a timely fashion. The article said that most managers are in their roles for 10 years before they get any kind of leadership training. Yep, 10 years! I believe there are plenty of employees that need to be given the opportunity to demonstrate their skills in a safe environment as a way to give them the confidence to take on a manager role.

When employees aren’t expressing the desire to move up within the organization, it’s the company’s responsibility to find out the reason.

  • If the answer is “I don’t want to.” then find out why. Is it solely the employee’s decision or is it the perception of the job?
  • If the answer is “I can’t.” find out the reason. Is there an existing benefit that will help the employee? Keep in mind if too many employees cite the same reason, the company will have to decide if they want to address the matter.
  • And if the answer is “I don’t feel I’m ready.” will the company make the investment in training?

You can’t force employees up the corporate ladder. Companies can create positive dialogue and open work environments that encourage employees to take on additional roles and responsibilities. But where they go from there is pretty much up to them.

Image courtesy of HR Bartender


  1. Jayne Harrison says

    A really great blog with some really worthwhile pointers. Sometimes individuals are also in the wrong job – their lack of enthusiasm ( ‘I’m ok where I am’ or ‘not really thought about it’) may be a symptom of their lack of engagement or misaligned values with the organisation they are in. Having open conversations about their strengths and interests could open up dialogue around this area. Better to find out, place them in a more suitable role or encourage them to move on – in a respectful way. Good for your business and good for their morale long term.

  2. says

    @Jayne – Totally agree. Sometimes the fit isn’t there (for whatever the reason) and sometimes the fit goes away. Our lives and priorities change all the time. Unfortunately, I’ve seen way too many situations where companies and employees can’t accept the “we’ve grown apart” reason and turn it into a blame game. Thanks for sharing!

  3. says

    Great post. So often forgotten is that some people don’t want leadership. This is especially true in some fields like healthcare or design where the job totally changes as you become a leader; (look at Derek Shepard on Greys Anatomy and you can see how “not being involved anymore” is a real drama.

    One solution I have seen and also implemented before is to have employees manage contractors/freelancers at first. Often the pressure of leading peers is a factor. With a freelancer, vendor or other external entity the social pressure to “manage well” is lifted.

  4. says

    Terrific point Justin. I’ve worked in a couple industries as well where the job changes drastically. For example, an employee is a great cook but once they become the executive chef…the work is different and the employee may or may not be happy.

    I believe managing freelancers is different but it still involves managing.