I think we’ve all seen a situation where an individual contributor has been promoted into a management position with neither the desire nor the skill to do the job. The employee becomes frustrated and the company does too. Not only does the company have an employee in a position who is failing, but it’s also lost a great performing individual contributor.
Why does this happen?
In a traditional, linear career ladder system, an employee is hired and, through a combination of skill and performance, is promoted to higher levels of responsibility. Along with these promotions come increases in compensation.
The difficulty in this traditional system is that once an employee reaches the highest level of individual contributor, the next move must be into management to get ahead. If the employee is interested in doing this and shows management competency then everything is fine.
However, if the employee doesn’t have the competency or just doesn't want to be in management there’s a problem. Compensation can create another problem. The longer an employee is at the highest individual contributor level, the higher his salary becomes and eventually it hits the maximum with nowhere to go from there.
In response to this problem, some companies have developed dual career ladders --- a management track and a non-management track. This non-management track allows upward progression for employees without requiring them to move into management positions. (See the graph above.) They can continue to progress as individual contributors.
In my opinion only the very highly skilled employees should be allowed to progress onto the non-management track. This track should be viewed as a real achievement --- reserved for people that continue to grow their skills and ultimately become true subject matter experts, developing a name for themselves in their profession.
This track is not about providing a means to continue awarding salary increases to “red-lined” employees. The last thing you want to happen is to put employees on that track whose skills have become stagnant. Doing so only “muddies” the true intent of the program. It’s critical that the program not be viewed as an automatic progression.
There may be some of you who believe employees have to -- at some point --- move into management otherwise they will never get that breadth of experience/knowledge to become VP's or CEO. Breadth of skill is important --- but the depth of these employees' skills is just as important. And retaining them is better than losing them because they feel they have gone as far as they can in the company.
These dual tracks need to be developed carefully. Creating a means to retain truly valuable and highly skilled employees should be the key reason --- not compensation. Specific criteria for skills and proficiency needed for each non-management level must be developed as well as the steps required to reach each of them.
Communicating the purpose and requirements of the dual track to all employees is important. It acts as a motivator for employees to continue to grow their skills and do some serious career planning well in advance of reaching that career path decision --- management or non-management.
When created the correct way, this program can eliminate forcing-fitting employees into management positions they are not suited for. And most important, it can reinforce the importance of creating a work environment where all employees have value --- each in their own way.
Jacque Vilet, President of Vilet International, has over 20 years’ experience in Global Human Resources with major multinationals such as Intel, National Semiconductor and Seagate Technology. She has managed both local/ in-country national and expatriate programs and has been an expat twice during her career. Her true love is working with local national issues. Jacque has the following certifications: CCP, GPHR, HCS and SWP as well as a B.S. and M.S in Psychology and an MBA. She belongs to SHRM, Human Capital Institute and World at Work. Jacque has been a speaker in the U.S., Asia and Europe, and is a regular contributor to various HR and talent management publications.