As someone who works as non-attorney staff, I found this article really interesting, and probably much closer to the truth than I might want to admit.
Now, to be fair, I’ve seen this sort of thing play out at places outside of law firms as well. You have someone who’s very good at their job, getting that job done properly is very important to you, so you want to do everything you can to keep them in that job. Unfortunately, that sometimes includes blocking their ability to advance, possibly into other areas that they are more interested in. Certainly, there are plenty of legal secretaries who would rather work in IT, or legal marketing, etc. but are good secretaries with partners who depend on them. That may mean the only way to advance their career is to leave the firm, which hurts the firm at the end of the day.
In another organization where I worked in the distant past, we actually had something similar, but every so slightly different. We called it being promoted to the level of your incompetence. Typically, if you were good at a specific job, they wanted you to stay there. But if you weren’t very good, you’d be more likely to get promoted, and pushed out of the way of people actually getting the work done. Naturally, the more incompetent you were, the higher up the org chart you had to move in order to be out of the way of the day-to-day operations.
Obviously, this is somewhat exaggerated, but it’s easy to imagine this sort of thing going on when you are constantly told how good you are at your job, but find every attempt to advance out of that job to be fruitless, especially when, as the article says, someone half-jokingly refers to blocking your attempts to leave because you are good at it!
This is really one area that shows how short-sighted people are. How much good does it do your law firm, or other organization, to try and keep someone in a job they are very good at, but ultimately not happy staying in? If you’ve got people looking for new challenges and different career paths, they are going to leave if they don’t find them within their current place of employment. So, while blocking them may keep them in that job you depend on them to do for a little while, they’ll be completely gone soon enough, and you’ll be the one looking to bring in new people, and hoping they are as competent as the person you just lost.
Maybe you’d do well to have enough of a relationship with the people who work for you to know where they want to go with their careers, and help them get there?