To Climb The Career Ladder, You Shouldn’t Have To Be A Manager

To Climb The Career Ladder, You Shouldn’t Have To Be A Manager

At many companies, “climbing the ladder” usually means one thing: Getting promoted to the managerial ranks. But there are plenty of valuable, talented employees who have no interest in managing others or being responsible for a team’s work. For them, a promotion to leadership can mean an unhappy shift away from what they enjoy and do well. Such a move up can also hurt employers if the person they promote isn’t happy or skilled in management. After all, bad managers are often why employees underperform or quit. Nevertheless, individual contributors who don’t want to be managers still want to ascend in terms of pay, professional prestige and what they produce.

What companies can do to retain talented ‘non-managers’

Companies need to consider creating a second pathway to promotion, said Johnny Taylor president and CEO of the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). “There are two ladders — one is the compensation ladder and one is the span-of-control ladder. The individual contributor doesn’t necessarily want span of control, but they have to see a way up,” Taylor said. Employers also need to focus on ways that employees can improve and expand their skills and stay engaged, beyond just earning more money. Companies that don’t offer growth opportunities could risk alienating some of the best talents, said Danny Nelms, president of the Work Institute, which studies employee engagement and retention.

“If you’re not seen as a company that invests in people with opportunities for growth you won’t attract the people you need,” Nelms said. Anyone who doesn’t want to manage should ask potential employers directly, “Do you have alternative routes to make more money and achieve more prestige in this role?” advises Marcus Buckingham, the head of people and perform research at the ADP Research Institute and co-author of “Nine Lies About Work.” “That’s one of the most important questions to assess the effectiveness of the organization,” Buckingham said.

Alternative ladders in some industries but not others

To some extent, those routes already exist in some industries, at least for the very top talent who can potentially make more than their bosses, Taylor noted. For instance, a world-renowned surgeon may make more than the head of her department or hospital. The same goes for star football coaches who can earn more than the university president, or media personalities whose paychecks can top that of some network executives.

The IT industry has created advancement opportunities for developers and other engineers to achieve higher pay and say without necessarily having to manage others directly. But in other professions, such as nursing, that’s often not the case. Usually, to advance, a nurse needs to move away from nursing into a supervisory role. “It’s very hard to move up. To grow, you have to nurse less,” Buckingham said. The Work Institute worked with two healthcare organizations in the Midwest to help them reduce high nurse turnover. One of the successful remedies was to create new career ladders for nurses, Nelms said. That included assistance to obtain advanced degrees, residency programs and higher pay for different levels of achievement. Employers in any industry seeking creativity, excellence, and depth of expertise, not to mention high employee engagement, will undercut those goals if all the money and prestige go to those on the management track, Buckingham said. Otherwise, he cautioned, “You get no innovation, no speed, no mastery. You end up with a company full of project managers.”


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