On the first day of one of my jobs, the GM said this to me as we walked to get a drink.
It’s hard to approach this story without sounding like an “entitled millenial”, but here goes:
I was relatively green at the time, and at the time I had no idea how raises or promotions worked. This was my second serious job after university and when you’re at that point, you’re still thinking if you’re doing the right things for your career to head in the right direction.
It wasn’t until more recently that I understood where he was coming from. That GM left the company, and soon after, we had new management. We received a manager who didn’t believe in raises.
“The average pay rise is 2.5%. You won’t get more than that unless your title changes.”
I will never, ever forget those words.
“We invest in our staff. You will get all the training you need, and courses will be company funded. At this point, you should be thinking whether or not your salary can pay your rent. You should be focusing on growing your career.”
At this point, it doesn't sound so bad, does it? You get your basic raise to cover inflation, and when you work hard, you move up on the ladder.
Not so fast. This company I worked for had less than 20 employees and there were only 2 real layers to the organisation. See the problem now? We’re being told that to get a significant raise, we’re going to have to move up on the ladder, but on a ladder with two rungs, what does that mean?
If you think deeper into it, there are a few logical reasons you get out of it:
The output is not measured
The theory here takes its roots from corporate. In a corporate environment, each role is clearly defined down to the specific duties. There’s always a tangible way to measure performance against your duties, which can give a clear indication of whether or not you can progress to the next job title.
In the case of a smaller firm, you could be an account manager, IT assistant, cleaner, and developer all in one, just because of the limited resources. It may sound unfair, but sometimes, that’s just the reality of working for a startup.
The problem is not that you have to perform across multiple functions, and I'm sure many who have worked in a startup know what I’m talking about.
The problem lies within how your performance is judged.
Do your managers even remember all your responsibilities? Yes, you have a core title, and you may have KPIs for your core role, but does it truly reflect the value you bring to the organisation?
In that case, at least you’re being evaluated. But what if you don’t even have reviews, and days just go on with no mention of your performance? Do you just assume that you’re doing alright because you still have your job? Or do you start getting lost, because you don’t actually have goals to shoot for?
Convoluted titles and false promises
When titles mean nothing, the underlying value of employees to the business stays the same, regardless of how many promotions are given out.
A good example is when a lateral move is packaged as a promotion, just because the job function itself might be more technical, or because other staff members in the original team don’t have the specific skill sets required.
It’s a bandaid solution, which gives the receiving employee an illusion of career progression until they quickly realise nothing has changed other than that they have moved teams.
Remember, when you move teams, the value you originally provided in that team is no longer, and now you’re providing value in a different team. A promotion from your original role should mean that you’re providing the same value, and then some.
Title vs Output
In a large organisation, titles change quickly. There are organizational structures that determine what level of individual contributor you are, and that doesn’t even include management yet. If you look at ANZ’s Job Grades, you’ll find 5 bands, each with its own sub-bands.
It’s completely reasonable that a large organisation does this because it gives more transparency as to what you may expect to get paid at what functional level.
However, in a smaller firm, it’s completely different. There is no solid grading system, and all the employees have no goal to be shooting for. The underlying premise is that no matter your output, you will not get rewarded in a tangible way.
It’s a dead giveaway — the company is not thinking about your personal and career growth. That, in itself, is extremely demotivating and explains the exodus of the experienced, quality employees we had.
Businesses were established to maximise profit. As an employee, you should always try to fend for yourself. The business will always try to extract the most value out of you, and you should try to extract the most reward out of your work, be it knowledge, career growth, or just plain money.
Have a plan for yourself.