Executive Career Strategies: Handling the “Velvet Coffin”


 In a recent discussion about career success, someone described the company in which they work as a “Velvet Coffin” by reputation. 

  • On the one hand, it is a wonderful place to work, with excellent benefits, great brand recognition and truly nice people working on interesting projects (the “velvet” part).  Frankly, you would be lucky to get a job there.
  • On the other hand, opportunities for promotion are few and far between as people rarely leave, electing to stay on in the lovely environment (the “coffin” aspect).   Many move sideways for a long time.

Within the organization, it is widely believed that you have to leave to get promoted and advance in your career, with the possibility of reentering at a more senior level later on. 
We concluded that there are three constructive ways for employees to approach this kind of workplace. 

  1. Enjoy it with your eyes wide open.  Consciously choose to stay on and accept that you are likely to be on a flatter career trajectory, and enjoy a pretty lovely work life. 
  2. Get creative about making the system work for you.  Find ways to be the exception to the rule by working the system and creating ways to expand your responsibilities.  Not easy to figure out, but perhaps worth the effort.
  3. Treat it like a 2-3 year graduate school experience.  Use your time there to learn everything you can, get credentials, make contacts and build your network internally and externally.  Then be ready to move on to move up. 

 The key is not to get caught in the alluring trap unless you want to. 
A separate but interesting question is what would you do as senior management in an organization like this: 

  • Are you attracting the real “go-getters” in your business, and if so, are you training them for others rather than retaining them for yourself? 
  • Or does the “Velvet Coffin” work perfectly for your purposes and exactly in the way you envisioned? 

BlueSteps Executive Guest Writer

May Busch
May Busch is an accomplished senior executive with a career spanning 24 years in Investment banking, most recently working as Chief Operating Officer for Morgan Stanley Europe. May is a a sought-after speaker on a variety of leadership, business and career issues. Connect with May at maybusch@gmail.com or through LinkedIn.

BlueSteps is the exclusive service of the AESC that puts senior executives on the radar screen of over 6,000 executive search professionals in over 70 countries. Be visible, and be considered for up to 50,000 opportunities handled by AESC search firms every year. Find out more at www.BlueSteps.com.


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