The Most Common Barrier to Getting Promoted

Did you know the average promotion rate at large companies is less than 9%? This means corporate workers have a 1 in 10 chance of getting promoted this year – not great odds.

But are the 9% of employees who will earn promotions this year the most qualified? Not always.

Corporate environments aren’t always fair and great employees don’t always get promoted. Too many high-performing employees get overlooked for promotion opportunities.

Great employees are often told they just need to speak up more, network more, or be more something else that’s holding them back.

And in some cases, this advice may be true. But in my experience, the most common barrier to getting promoted isn’t about doing more at work. Rather, it’s about what you believe to be true about work. Your work beliefs. More specifically, the inability to recognize and alter career-limiting beliefs about work.

As I shared in a prior post, work beliefs have the power to help or hinder career advancement. And I bet you have at least one or two beliefs that are holding you back from advancing your career.

A Career Limiting Belief

Do you believe if you work hard enough, eventually you will be rewarded? If so, it’s probably served you well in your career – driving you to go above and beyond at work and be a high-performing employee.

But you’ve also likely learned the hard way that this belief about work is flawed. That it takes more than hard work to get rewarded and promoted.

Yet once you learned being a high performer wasn’t enough to get promoted, what did you start doing differently based on this knowledge?

Crickets? Well, if you struggle to answer this question, you’re not alone.

Many business professionals fail to do something different to advance their careers even after realizing hard work and results aren’t enough to get promoted. Hence, making it one of the most common barriers to moving up at work.

You Can’t Do the Same Thing and Expect a Different Outcome

I can’t tell you how many times a coworker or employee came to me upset because they were passed over for a promotion. They would explain how this was the year they deserved to get promoted, and then proceed to list all the ways they contributed to the business.

They defended their worthiness for a promotion by describing how hard they worked and the results they delivered. And they presented a justification of hard work and results even though they “knew” promotions took more than high performance.

They fell into the trap of doing the same thing over again and expecting a different outcome. Their limiting belief about work created a tunnel vision about what it would take to get ahead. They were operating on autopilot despite knowing better.

But deeply held beliefs can do that to you. They hardwire your decision-making and behavior, making it very difficult to stop doing what’s not working and start doing something different.

It’s one thing to know that performance isn’t enough to get promoted. It’s an entirely different thing to come to terms and accept this knowledge. And only after accepting it can you move on and do something about it.

Beliefs are Hard to Change

Sadly, many professionals are never able to move beyond limiting work beliefs – beliefs that no longer serve them, or even unconsciously sabotage their ability to get promoted.

Like many of you, my beliefs about work were engrained in me from an early age. My parents instilled their midwestern values of modesty and humility, a strong work ethic, and personal accountability. No bragging. No short cuts. No excuses.

And these beliefs served me well throughout my career and continue to benefit me today. However, as the saying goes, there are two sides to every coin.

As a result of my work beliefs, my approach to advance my career centered on quietly working hard and believing I would eventually be rewarded (and if not, just work harder!).

And even when I came to realize this belief was hindering my advancement, it still took me a few years to fully internalize that I needed to develop other skills and abilities to get promoted (sometimes I’m a slow learner 😁).

Expand Your Beliefs About Work

So, did my experience teach me that my belief about work was wrong? Nope. I still believe hard work and results matter. But I did have to expand my belief system about work and success.

Working hard and delivering results continue to be a cornerstone of my belief system, and still to this day bring me immense personal satisfaction. But I also learned to lean more heavily into other important beliefs about work, such as

  • I believe potential is meant to be realized.
  • I believe you need to be a lifelong learner who’s willing to discover and develop yourself in multiple ways.
  • And I whole-heartedly believe getting uncomfortable is good for you!

And each of these 3 additional beliefs (and more) helped to fuel new ways to advance my career.

It’s only after I expanded my belief system that I was able to take a new approach to advance my career (and focus on developing other abilities essential to getting promoted).

Food for Thought

So, I’ll leave you with these questions to consider: How are your current beliefs about work helping or hindering your path to a promotion? Is it time to expand your thinking?



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