By Jim Zimmermann
“We had a really talented technical individual, viewed by many as one of the best [insert job title here] in the organization. Then s/he wanted an opportunity to progress within the company and, not wanting to lose them, we promoted them to manager, gave them a raise and a new title. And then guess what happened? After a few months, they left.”
Yeah, thought so. I hear this kind of story a lot, in fact way too often.
And I can’t help but smile because despite how often this happens, companies still seem baffled by this and they don’t seem to get that the issue boils down to two obvious problems.
One, a lack of understanding of the motivation of technical staff, and two, most companies do not have structured and well-established career paths for technical staff.
Let’s explore further-
#1 Lack of understanding
Not everyone wants to be a manager. Sometimes people who are say, superstar programmers, like to program and simply want to be either left alone to write code, or be part of a team of like-minded programmers. Such folks probably completed their technical education at college/university and possess neither the desire nor the training to be a manager. And yet here the company is taking them from the job they love and are good at and throwing them into a position they neither want, or in all likelihood, are any good at – so it is hardly a surprise then that they leave.
#2 Lack of established career path
“But if we don’t promote this superstar, they will leave anyway.”
No, not if you offer steps, or grades for them to pursue. And each of these steps/titles should have clear written job descriptions that cover pre-requisites for the position, descriptions of the type of work they will be performing, the pay grades or pay ranges, and what a person in this position needs to do to advance to the next level – including what additional skills they will need to possess to advance. And if possible, offer a list of training aids available to ensure they can advance and progress, without having to go elsewhere to be eligible.
Consider Implementing grades or levels for technical staff such as these examples for programmers:
- Programmer Intern/Trainee
- Junior Programmer (with levels Junior Programmer 1 or Junior Programmer 2- if needed)
- Senior Programmer (with levels Junior Programmer 1 or Junior Programmer 2- if needed)
- Advanced Programmer
Whatever you offer, the point is that an employee can advance their career while continuing to keep working at what they love and do best – no management required!
What to do now?
I’d start by checking to see what your organization offers for technical staff career progression, and if all is not as it should be, be prepared to act now. Your ability to retain key technical staff may depend on it.
Jim Zimmermann is the Senior Manager Solutions Practice and Solutions Principal for IT & Digital.