Are You At Risk of Becoming an Accidental Workhorse?

I was recently chatting with a friend about her job at a large, global tech company. Although she mostly enjoys her boss and coworkers, she confided that her biz dev role managing strategic accounts wasn’t really challenging her anymore.

In fact, after happily working as an individual contributor for many years, she’s now interested in taking on more responsibility at work and is considering a move up into a managerial position.

All of this sounded fantastic to me, so I asked about her next steps. What was her game plan to get promoted?

And her response gave me pause, kinda like this:


She planned to do what I’ve seen sooo many professionals mistakenly do over the years (including myself).

She was about to become an accidental workhorse.

My talented, hardworking friend was about to ask her manager if she could pick up responsibility managing another strategic account. In other words, her plan was to do MORE work similar in scope to the work she is already doing. 

Now, much to her credit, she had the best of intentions with her plan of action. She wanted to take on responsibility for this strategic account because she had ideas for how to manage it in a better, more efficient way.

Her thinking was that if she took on this account, and did a great job, she would be rewarded with a promotion.

But this is where the problem lies.

I’m certain my friend would do a fantastic job managing another account. As a result, she would be recognized as a high performer, earn high ratings on her annual performance review, and get a slightly above-average pay raise next year.

But would she get promoted to a managerial role with a big fat pay raise?  I have my doubts.

Taking on more and more work may help keep you safely employed in your current role. But it doesn’t do much to show you’re ready to move to the next level!

Rather than take on additional responsibility for another account, my friend and I talked about ways she could show her potential to move up to a managerial role.

For example, packaging and presenting her best practices for account management with her boss (and boss’ boss), and proposing a new training series to enable her less experienced peers to grow and develop.

Actions like this would help position her as an informal leader on the team, and someone who is able to bring out the best performance in others. This demonstrates her management potential!

Bottom Line

Being viewed as a high performer is important for job security, and a factor for career advancement, but being known as a high-potential employee is essential to earning a promotion

PERFORMANCE is about what you’ve done at WORK. 

But POTENTIAL is about where you can go next in your CAREER.

So be careful what you ask for at work. Make sure you focus your limited time and energy on projects and activities that show your potential to take on more important work.

Related Reading

The good news is there are many ways to show you have the potential to take on more important work. And we just covered the first step: recognizing that just doing MORE work won’t cut it!

So, stop taking on more and more work. Instead, learn 3 ways to be seen as someone who is ready to advance and take on greater responsibility.

Not sure if you’re seen as a high-potential employee or not? Check out this post to see sure signs your company believes you’ve got what it takes to move up.



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