The Importance of 2 Tracks For Promotion
A colleague at a client told me, when they started with the organisation, that their manager said to them:
“I’m not really a people person.”
“I probably won’t remember your name.”
“I would much rather be writing reports at my desk.”
What should that person be doing? They should not be managing people, and if they are good at writing reports, they should be well paid for it.
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Is managing people the only route to promotion?
The problem is that the only way to get promoted in most organisations (not at Happy, or many of our clients) is to manage people.
Gallup, who has done extensive research on this subject, says that 10% of people are natural managers and another 20% can be taught how to do it. The rest? Let them get on with their core job.
A lot of what we do at Happy is to train managers, based on ideas of trust and freedom. And I think that 30% is a bit on the low side.
But there are certainly some people in management who shouldn’t be there. What makes people unhappy at work is often their managers – and not only do they limit their people’s abilities, but they also find it stressful themselves.
Black Belts at Cougar
We once ran a management programme with a company called Cougar, a software development company, who put their potential managers on the course.
At the end of the day they went to our facilitator and said, “this really isn’t for us. We would prefer to be coding.” So, they went back to Cougar and developed a two-track approach to promotion.
One track would manage people and the other track would be based on software development skills and knowledge, based on the ‘agile approach’ of judo belts.
And to become a “black belt” coder is every bit as attractive as being a great people manager.
Not everybody wants to be a manager
Apple was founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak, known as Woz. For Mike Markulla, the initial investor, a condition of that investment was that both Steves were on board as full-time employees of Apple.
So Steve Jobs went to Woz and explained that he would no longer be a small cog, but would manage a whole team of engineers. Woz said no, he would rather stay in his current role at HP. Jobs kept trying to persuade him, emphasising his importance and how many people he’d be in charge of.
But Mike Markulla understood something that Jobs did not. He took Steve Jobs aside and explained that Woz just wanted to be an engineer. He didn’t want to be responsible for other people.
Jobs changed his approach: he offered Woz great kit, all the resources he needed and promised “Woz, you will never have to manage anybody.” That sounded good to Woz and he made the move. The rest is history.
Companies that have dual tracks (or even triple)
At Google, if you have a truly great developer, there is no way they would put them into management. Instead, they pay them a lot of money and let them stick to development work.
Google’s engineering teams solved this problem by creating an “individual contributor” career path that is more prestigious than the manager path and sidesteps management entirely.
Similarly, at Mastercard, employees can either progress as consultants (functional) or leaders (managerial). They have these paths in project management and sales, and plan to implement them in product development, marketing and communications.
The post-it would not exist without dual tracks. Arthur Fry at 3M was responsible for developing the best-selling product. Fry admitted that one of the reasons behind his choice to remain in the field and not pursue a managerial career was because of the possibility of becoming one of 3M’s highly regarded ‘corporate scientists’.
At BP they have triple tracks: functional specialists, functional leaders and business leaders. At Rolls Royce too they have three tracks for promotion: Specialist roles (functional), Technical Manager (functional) and Project Manager (traditional).
Does your organisation have two tracks of promotion? If not, should it?
- What Makes a Great Manager? — Claire talks more about the need to consider what skills are important when making promotion choices.
- Becoming a First Time Manager: What Kind of Skills are Needed? — Happy's Senior Facilitator Paul Gapper gives his insight into what is needed to be effective in management.
- 16 Companies That Don't Have Managers — Are managers even essential in today's workplaces? Henry Stewart lists 16 companies that are self-managing, including Gore, Medium and Semco.
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