If I could tuck the entire corporate world into its collective covers and read it a bedtime story, it would probably go something like this:
Once upon a time, there was a man. Let’s call him Bob. For 20 years now, Bob has been a productive employee at a major corporation. For the first 15 of those years, Bob’s career was an unbroken stream of promotions and raises. But for the last five years, he’s been stuck in the same job, at the same rate of pay. So Bob went to see his supervisor. He told her he felt it was time for another promotion and another raise. But the supervisor said “I’m sorry, Bob. You really are a great worker. And we do want to keep you around for a long time. But unfortunately, you’ve been promoted as far as you can go. I’m afraid that all we’ll be able to give you is cost-of-living increases until you retire.”
At first, Bob was devastated. He locked himself in his office and pouted for a few days. But then he realized something. “Hey,” he said to himself, “If I’m not going to be promoted anymore, then I don’t have to worry about playing the corporate political game anymore. That means that all that time and energy I’ve been spending with office politics can be put to use in ways that are meaningful to me.” And so, Bob spent his extra time working on an idea that had been bubbling up in the back of his head for a few years. He developed a new product line and lined up a string of customers for it. He sold the idea to management, and the company found a brand new revenue stream. Not long after that, Bob’s supervisor called him back into her office. She handed him a promotion and a big fat raise. And Bob and the supervisor and the entire company lived happily ever after.
Unlike Cinderella and Jack and the Beanstalk, “Bob’s” story is actually true. But the happy ending that gives it that fairy tale quality is extremely rare. Unfortunately, Bob’s situation is all too common in today’s corporate world.
In the good old days, we could expect to enter the corporate world straight out of college, start at the bottom and through hard work and diligent self-promotion, work our way up the ladder and into the Promised Land of management. But all of this changed in the 1990’s, when harsh economic conditions forced companies to downsize.