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Insights

Making Space at the Top

Wednesday, May 23, 2018
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Dear TD Expert,

I’m a manager at a publishing company. We have a small permanent staff, but also use a large number of interns. I have an associate editor, just five years out of school who is a reliable, creative, smart employee that’s well regarded by leaders and peers. Recently, though, I see that she has become frustrated. While her role has expanded over the years to include more responsibilities and creative assignments, she’s continued to carry many of the duties of her first job. At her current rate of development, I don’t see how she can achieve the autonomy, skill, and relatedness on the job that experts say are keys to career advancement. What’s more, there have been only incremental pay increases.

At her latest performance and salary review, she put forth the idea of a new features editor position, which she would fill. When I discussed the proposal with other senior staff, company leaders posed several questions. Was the associate editor expecting too much? Can we afford to add senior staff? Is she asking for more responsibility than she can handle? Will she be happy with a pay raise? Or, has she simply outgrown her job and our organization? Bottom line: Is there any way we can grow and make room for her?

This situation comes from the upcoming ATD Press book Work the Problem, which has experts review difficult talent problems and offers potential solutions. Vivian Blade, a talent management strategist, author, keynote speaker leadership development trainer, and executive coach, offers some advice for this problem.

Dear Publishing Manager,

One of the biggest challenges facing your company is the changing environment it operates in. The workplace now holds four generations with varying values and expectations, and the publishing industry is also different—readership has grown significantly in the digital and mobile platforms. Have you been slow to transition in both of these areas? If you don’t innovate your workplace, the company will fail to attract and retain the talent it needs to remain competitive.

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What's more, the organization’s structure—a small number of employees, temporary entry-level roles, and long-tenured senior-level employees—does not provide opportunities for personal growth and development. And it sounds like leaders don’t realize that pay is not the only motivator.

Employee retention is not one size fits all. Employees like this editor can be motivated by factors such as meaningful work, early advancement, and work-life balance. I suggest you research generational differences in the workplace using the many books and online resources available on the topic. Talk with employees to find out what’s important to them and to understand their career aspirations. With these insights, the senior team will be more equipped to understand how these influences apply to their business, and what actions they should take in response.

It also sounds like although managers have given this editor a lot of responsibility, allowing her to gain administrative experience she may not have gotten in a larger company, she feels stuck, undervalued, and probably overwhelmed by scope creep. To avoid a similar situation in the future, intentionally design each role and periodically re-evaluate workload and compensation.

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Management is missing this opportunity to take someone who is committed to the company, and invest in her further development. If they do nothing, they will lose her. The question leaders should be asking is, “Can we afford to lose this employee?” Consider the cost of turnover if she leaves. Will the offer to increase her salary be enough? Can they afford not to consider her proposal and promote her? They are already willing to increase her pay, so what is the risk otherwise? What are the benefits if her idea works?

The associate editor was smart to develop a long-term strategy and propose a new role for herself. Your organization also should plan for the long term. However, with the way the organization is structured—depending heavily on interns for production, and a focus on meeting current deadlines rather than projecting out to future issues—staff do not have the capacity to think strategically about what’s next. The lack of a strategic plan, and the staff to focus on it, is a huge risk for your company. Staff will miss the trends evolving around them and steadily fall behind.

Opportunities are ripe for both your company and your associate editor. The decisions each make and the mindset with which they pull these opportunities together will result in either short-term, unsustainable bandages or long-term growth.

About the Author

Kathryn Stafford is a developmental editor with ATD Press, working closely with such ATD authors as Elaine Biech, Jim and Wendy Kirkpatrick, Chuck Hodell, Don McCain, and Karen Hough. She has helped to shape and deliver some of ATD’s most noteworthy training books—Kirkpatrick’s Four Levels of Training Evaluation, ISD From the Ground Up, 4th edition, and The New Social Learning—as well as popular titles like How Did I Not See This Coming? and Beyond Happy. Kathryn is the author of the forthcoming ATD Press book, Work the Problem: How Experts Tackle Workplace Challenges, which she describes as a virtual conversation with nine subject matter experts about 10 fictional and highly relatable workplace case studies. Kathryn holds an MA from the University of Virginia and a BA from Ohio State University.

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