Even though businesses look for innovative ways to develop and elevate talent, many career paths look the same across different functions.

An employee starts at an entry level job working on a team, advances to manage her own projects, then eventually is promoted to lead a team of her own.

This has created an expectation that it is necessary to become a manager or leader of people to move upward in responsibility or compensation. It causes companies to push tenured employees into management roles, irrespective of skillset or strengths.

This isn't an ideal use of talent, and can be harmful to your employees who are working under someone who isn't an effective or experienced manager, or even worse, one who doesn't want to lead. While it's important to identify future potential leaders in your organization, companies also need to create a viable career path for people who are excellent individual contributors and who have mastered different skills the organization needs.

Companies should develop a separate, but rewarding, path for employees to advance in their careers by becoming high-level individual contributors. Top-level tech companies like Google and Facebook are already doing this, but more businesses should follow their lead. Here's why:

Management is a unique skill

While it seems like a natural career progression, transitioning a person into a management role is asking them to do an entirely different type of job. It means shifting from being valued based on your individual production, to being evaluated on how you develop a team and lead others. A person can be talented, hard-working and have a great attitude, but they may not have the talent or desire to be a leader.

The truth is that not everyone wants to manage a team, but many people take on this type of leadership role because they believe it's the only way to move forward in the organization. Some people strongly prefer to be valued and accountable for their own production or individual outcomes. These production skills are needed in many roles across departments including sales, marketing and engineering.

Just because a person excels as a contributor does not mean they are suited to lead a team, or even manage a direct report. We have all seen the great salesperson who struggles as a sales manager or the brilliant engineer who isn't a brilliant manager of engineers.

If a person is a gifted performer as an individual contributor--a star salesperson, a brilliant copywriter or a financial wizard--the responsibility is on you as a leader to find the best way to put them on a path that maximizes their talent and increases their responsibility and compensation. They should not feel pressure to shift info a leadership position that could set them up to fail.

Bad management is damaging

There is an old adage that people leave managers and not companies. A great CEO can do a lot to set the tone for a strong business, but a CEO only has so much day-to-day impact on many employees. It falls to managers, including those lower in the org chart, to help keep those employees happy and engaged.

Gallup confirms this, noting that 70 percent of variance of employee engagement within an organization is due to the team's manager.

Companies cannot afford to have managers who don't want to manage or aren't invested in their teams. There is nothing that will drive other great employees to the doors any faster. Instead of elevating all your talented, tenured employees to management roles, consider an alternative career path for them.

Leaders must put people in the right seat

At our company, we always say that an A Player is the right person, in the right seat, at the right time. As a leader, your responsibility is to recognize which of your employees are suited for leadership and elevate those people. You must also be candid with people who aren't ideal managers, give them tips to improve, and give them a chance to grow without leading their own teams; or give them a lateral move into an individual contributor role.

For individual contributors, create pay scales and promotions that mean taking on more responsibility, not more people. And if you have someone who stepped into leadership and is struggling, offer them a graceful out and a parallel path as a contributor.

We need to change the way we think about career advancement. Not everybody can be, or wants lead and most organizations need a group of great contributors who are excellent at what they do.

Published on: Oct 31, 2019
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