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The expectations for various positions within an organization typically are affected by three factors: productivity, influence and job knowledge. Productivity refers to one’s proficiency at completing tasks in a timely, high-quality manner. With progression up the departmental ladder, employees should be expected to handle, in a quality manner, more tasks with ever-increasing levels of difficulty.
Influence and Job Knowledge
Influence is another critical factor in establishing a successful career development program. Again, a progression of the level of influence must be included with advancement in the corporation. The expansion of influence is likely to evolve as follows: dependent, intradepartmental, interdepartmental, consultant, extra-corporate.
As individuals grow on the job, they will have increasing influence within the department. This influence will expand to affect decisions made in other departments. Next, they will be recognized by other departments and management as resources within the corporation by acting as formal or informal “consultants”. Ultimately, the individuals should serve as representatives or ambassadors for the company at trade, governmental and inter-corporate functions.
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The final important component needed for a successful skills development program is job knowledge. This is the combination of formal education with hands-on experience of how that knowledge is applied within the organization. Formal education usually is provided through colleges, universities and other institutions of higher learning. Hands-on has evolved because individuals have worked with particular products or services that the company provides to the market—regardless of whether it is a profit or nonprofit organization. Job knowledge is likely to progress as follows: learn, master, apply, teach and lead.
At the entry level, individuals may have had some formal education and qualified for a degree in a particular profession. However, new employees must learn how that formal education is applied within the context of the requirements of the particular position in order to be effective in the job. In addition, employees must learn how the organization conducts its business and the culture and infrastructure that has been established. As they master these elements, the knowledge can be applied to solve problems or meet the challenges faced by the organization.
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.
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.
The process of becoming a manager is the transformation of employees into supermen and superwomen. Managers are expected to be accountable for every aspect of the department. They are the organization’s chief professionals, chief problem-solvers, chief project managers, chief motivators and chief resource managers. It usually is the manager’s responsibility if something goes wrong in any aspect of the department. The manager is the hero for success and the scapegoat for failure.
Ideally, a manager is responsible for preparing the department or organization to succeed. People should be identified who have the right talents for the skills needed for each position, and the manager should help develop these skills until employees can perform them to the best of their abilities. A manager should be judged on the preparedness of the staff and the general working environment rather than being assessed only on the outcome.
Since managers are perceived as the principal individuals in the success or failure of a program, they typically possess a disproportionately high level of organizational power. High levels on the professional ladder are not typically in the main flow of the organization. Rather, they are rewarded with increasingly independent “blue sky” projects, which tend to be more academically and less financially motivated. These projects are seldom in the mainstream and are of little immediate value to the company. In essence, these professionals, who should be the very best at performing the key tasks of the company, become internal consultants. They are brought in to help solve an issue that arises with a critical project. Ideally, the most accomplished professional should be responsible for the most important projects within the organization since they have manifested the skills needed to complete them.
In the proposed dual ladder, management’s role changes dramatically. Managers are primarily accountable for procuring and monitoring resources to help the professionals complete their assignments. They are also there to develop what every organization says is its chief resource—its employees. This responsibility dictates that a manager should not be heavily involved in the actual “doing,” but rather track programs, motivate team members and procure the resources necessary to get the job done. Managers also facilitate the resolution of conflicts that may occur between personnel.
A true dual ladder inverts the current management structure. Interestingly, this new structure has some intriguing ramifications. Foremost, it keeps the best professionals applying their skills in areas for which they are most talented. Secondly, it identifies selected employees who have a propensity to develop people, who can procure and monitor resources, and who can oversee and manage the progress of the various projects within the department. Thirdly, this type of organization greatly reduces the number of management and increases the number of people working on key organizational programs. The net effect is fewer observers and more “doers.”
In the proposed model, a greater percentage of employees are involved with the activities that will make the organization successful in the market. The ultimate reward of this success goes to the employees, the stockholders and the community. Therefore, it is imperative that the upper levels of the professional ladder be considered of equal value with the managerial ladder. There should be commensurate salary ranges and perks (such as bonuses and stock options) in order to create the appropriate level of prestige to induce the best professionals to continue in their professional career rather than automatically selecting the management ladder.
Each department—with the help of human resources, industry consultants or other sources of expertise—should identify what skills are relevant to execute the corporate mission and strategic plan. The expectations for each of these skills should be designed to progress in a five- to six-step evolution, ranging from early application of a skill to its ultimate mastery. This evolution should be based on the key factors such as productivity, influence and job knowledge, for each skill identified as essential to each department. The expected level of competency in manifesting each skill should then be assigned to each position in the career ladder. Clearly, the rate of progression will differ for each skill as individuals ascend the corporate ladder. This readily can be reflected in the periodic skill level assessment and assignment.
Once the ladder and appropriate titles have been developed, the skills identified and the progression assigned, the program needs to be reviewed with HR and corporate management to ensure that all departments are coordinated effectively. This is critical so that departments are not at cross-purpose with one another. This complication should be minimized if all departments are using the corporate mission and strategic plan as a guide. However, it is always best to recheck with HR in order to confirm interdepartmental compatibility. Ultimately, upper management must approve and support these descriptions of skills assignment since they will become the basis of career development and succession planning throughout the organization and inevitably guide the progression of qualified, growing individuals to upper management positions.
For the purpose of clarifying this new employee development concept, it may be useful at this time to review a specific example of the procedure in practice. Assume that the company is a manufacturer of products for the retail market, for example, personal care. Its mission might read:“To be the leading supplier of innovation and high quality beauty and health aids to men and women around the world.”
Because new products are important to the success of the organization, the company will either have to develop them internally or contract this development externally. If the company elects the former route, then a research and development group is likely to be an integral part of the company. An appropriate model should identify five to six levels of competence in order to provide sufficient opportunity for advancement without having so many layers that an unmanageable, overly expensive bureaucracy results. Fewer layers or additional layers can be considered, depending upon the philosophy and decision-making structure of the organization. However, it is important that the number of levels be the same in every department within R&D to ensure inter-departmental equality.
Once skills have been identified and progressions developed for both the technical and managerial positions within the department, one is ready to assign the appropriate progression level to each position on the career ladder.