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Motivation by Career Development: Part II

By: James M. Wilmott
Posted: September 5, 2008, from the September 2006 issue of GCI Magazine.

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At a very high level of mastery, the individuals possess sufficient job knowledge so that they are expected to freely share this information with others in the company in order to support their growth and facilitate their achieving targeted objectives. The individuals become formal or ad hoc teachers, mentors, counselors or coaches who instruct the less experienced within the department or company. Ultimately, the level of job knowledge reaches a point where individuals can challenge the principles that serve as the foundation for the position. They then lead programs to alter or modify the corporate structure or strategic direction.

Career Ladder

It is exceedingly important that the organization establish a progression of positions for each department with the company. This commonly is called a job or career ladder. The ladder should recognize increasingly higher levels of competency for the professional skills within a department. It also should recognize the skills needed to manage individuals within that department. This often is referred to as a “dual ladder,” and it is essential for optimizing the use of the talents of each employee. A separate professional skills progression should be developed for each department within the company because the skills needed in each department are likely to be different. A more universal management skills progression also should be defined.

In general, organizations promote individuals who demonstrate increasing proficiency at the professional skills needed by a particular department. At some point in the ladder, individuals are forced to decide whether to continue to develop the skills required in the particular department, or to go into a management role. Here, the skill sets are much less technical or professionally focused and much more dependent on completing responsibilities through others. Individuals may have talent for the professional skills needed by the department, but may not have a talent for the skills needed for managing the department.

Unfortunately, skilled technical professionals rarely get the opportunity to develop the management skills they may have because their primary responsibility is focused on applying their professional knowledge to progress projects or to solve issues that arise in their department. As a result, many talented professionals are rewarded for their professional or technical talents by removing them from the very areas in which they excel. This happens routinely in virtually all organizations where there is no dual ladder. Unfortunately, even in companies where a dual ladder exists, the prestige and compensation benefits heavily favor the management leg of the ladder. This effectively reduces the dual ladder to a single ladder.

The adoption of a dual ladder is not just the listing of job positions in boxes on a piece of paper. It represents a very substantial paradigm shift in the ultimate accountability within the organization from the manager to the professional. The professional side of the ladder should be responsible for the projects, while the management side should be responsible for the people and resources. In effect, management should exist to support the critical activities of the organization and not vise versa. This concept is contrary to the structure of almost every existing company where management holds accountability for the projects and the people.