“Wheel-spinning” literally refers to a situation where a vehicle has lost traction, e.g. on ice, in snow or mud. Here the wheels may spin without the vehicle going anywhere – continued pressure on the accelerator may result in the vehicle digging itself in deeper, thus exacerbating the problem. A new strategy needs to be found to free the vehicle (wood or gravel placed under the drive wheels) or ultimately resorting to a winch may be the only realistic solution. “Wheel-spinning” figuratively refers to an inability to make progress, stagnation or to exerting effort, but not going anywhere. In relation to one’s career, this seeming stagnation is frustrating and even debilitating when one sees no possible way forward.

Career stagnation can be caused by a number of reasons:

  • Comfort zones – you can do the job “with your eyes closed”. You are in a routine that is not challenging, there is no anxiety or fear attached to the process and you can thus do your job with ease.
  • The company structure is flat – any possible promotion is highly unlikely.
  • Your job lacks challenge and experimentation – repeating tasks mundanely lead to boredom. You feel you are on a treadmill.
  • Your boss just wants you to do your job and nothing more is required of you – this breeds feelings of not being valued.
  • You are not meeting new people at work – a lack of opportunity to collaborate outside of your current team members.
  • A lack of engagement in the company culture – holistic engagement, not only with your boss, is necessary for people to feel that they have a significant part to play in the company achieving its objectives.
  • Small or no salary increases – staying in the same role with little or no pay raises reduces your selling value and net worth for any future opportunity.
  • No scope for skills implementation – real ability not being utilised reduces drive and results in frustration.

If one or more of the above are indicating that you should take the next step in your career growth, you need to note that a recent study conducted by MRINetwork (Recruitment Sentiment Study, 2015) shows that recruiters believe that the power dynamic in the current labour market is greatly candidate-driven rather than employer-driven. In other words, you can take yourself by the scruff of your neck and self-develop your career.

Growing your career is your responsibility for the most part and requires the following actions:

  1. Self-assessment – examining your context, coming to terms with your dreams, understanding your real skills (and/or those that you lack) and your giftedness (that which you are particularly good at doing) are necessary to identify possible channels of expression and growth or areas where you still need to study and learn. Ask others to assist you if necessary in the process of ascertaining your strengths.
  2. A career conversation with your boss – set up a meeting with your boss only after you have done research into the following: strengths/weaknesses analysis, prevailing opportunities within the business environment, a realistic career vision, setting career goals in line with your vision and identification of further training needs (see my book: “How do I Address my Boss When …?” for further help with this).
  3. Plot the next steps with your boss – take into account what the boss suggests, whether or not your plans fit into the company’s future direction and whether the company offers training opportunities in the identified skills gap areas. Modify your approach/goals if necessary.
  4. Plan the career growth steps and development milestones with your boss – get training interventions confirmed where necessary.

Developing one’s career is important for a number of reasons, some of which include: growth in your chosen profession, self-image enhancement, development of your self-confidence, the possibility of promotion, etc. A constructive, but flexible, approach needs to be taken in this current business milieu, however, as career growth may mean being employed by other companies in some cases, or even swopping careers in other circumstances.

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