Promotions are not always an option. Stable or small workforces may mean promotion opportunities are few and far between.

Yet promotions are not the only way to inspire, appreciate and encourage our teams. It is time we stop focusing on promotions and start recognizing the value of our individual contributors.

Learning from teachers

I come from a family of teachers, none of whom wanted to be administrators. In the business world, that translates to getting a job when you are 22 and staying in that same job for thirty-plus years.

Yet, instead of viewing that career path as stagnant, teachers embrace the time as opportunity to become better at what they do.

If we look at the individual contributors on our team from that same perspective, it becomes clear as their leaders that we can support them on their paths to becoming experts.

Two common examples of this are executive assistants and software developers. I have had the good fortune of working with assistants who have been honing their skills for over 30 years.

Their work is no less than amazing, and their skills are transferable. As such, they are sought out by leaders across industries and are an invaluable asset to their bosses.

Similarly, software developers often thrive on going deeper and deeper into code-writing. The skills they develop make them extremely valuable to their employer, but their years of experience and extensive expertise do not necessarily make them manager candidates.

Thus, the first step to valuing individual contributors is to understand that their career path does not go up as much as it goes deeper into their field and then finding ways to facilitate that growth.


To support deeper learning, we can start by reviewing the skill sets on our teams and throughout our organizations and recognize what employees could follow the path to becoming an expert.

From receptionist to CEO and everything in between, employees who embrace their role and want to thrive within it are extremely valuable to any organization. While ambition and the desire for growth can certainly help, recognizing that not all employees want or need to be promoted allows the company to provide more opportunities for growth outside of simply making someone a manager.

For example, committing to the employee’s professional development by supporting educational goals, providing money for conferences or simply ensuring the employee has time to read to stay abreast of what is happening in their field are all things that inspire loyalty, encourage growth and benefit the organization.

Encouraging networking with other experts, providing a mentor or creating opportunities to solve bigger problems or take on more challenging projects are additional ways to support the development of well-rounded individual contributors.

The bottom line is that we are often so focused on promotions and getting ahead ourselves that we lead by that example.

Yet not everyone should be promoted, and promotions are not the only way to reward employees, inspire loyalty and encourage growth. Instead, we can start recognizing and appreciating the value of individual contributors and doing our best to pave their path to becoming experts.