Internal promotions are almost always considered to be positive characteristics of a healthy organization. “Opportunities for advancement,” “potential for personal and professional growth,” are the catchphrases that articulate a company’s commitment to organic growth and leadership. For those with such ambitions, companies that follow these ideals are potential employers of choice. For companies looking to be competitive in their markets, this positioning is essential for attracting growth-oriented talent.
The challenge many companies face is that very few have determined a framework for advancement beyond the typical management track. The default position for many organizations is that career advancement is confined to movement into management roles. The concept of an individual contributor career track is elusive to many, and often difficult to achieve and maintain, given organizational structure and job content.
The default position for many organizations is that career advancement is confined to movement into management roles.
Promotions are most often presented as a reward for outstanding work. Typically, that work occurs in the context of an individual contributor role. The reward for excellent work as an individual is the opportunity to elevate to a management role. Aside from the inherently flawed assumption that movement into management is actually a reward (for many, it is anything but), most organizations actually continue to reward the newly promoted manager for their individual contributions.
This would seem to be counter-intuitive, but it is really not. The newly promoted manager achieved their new role because of their individual abilities and contributions. The natural tendency is to continue those behaviors because they received praise and recognition. A deeper analysis might also suggest that many of those behaviors are “diving catches,” heroic efforts that demonstrate not only skill and capacity, but also devotion and commitment to the company. In our hero-based business culture, this is not only logical, but almost a fait accompli.
The extended problem is that, by default, good management behavior is likely only partially recognized, if at all. Most companies operate on extremely tight budgets to be successful, and there is an underlying assumption that managers still need to perform individual work, because the company does not have the budget to backfill their individual capacity. There is often an underlying belief among senior leaders that leadership is something that talented people will simply “figure out” as they go. The flaw in this logic should be obvious.
Organizations that understand and address the potential downsides of these assumptions and actions know that Organizational Development is key to overcoming these risks. OD leaders bring the capacity for applying leadership assessments, developmental tools, and advanced adult learning methods to this challenge. OD applies assessments to determine readiness for next step roles, provides training and learning applications to develop skills and capacity, as well as ongoing support tools and methods for coaching and guiding promotional candidates. OD thinking also allows organizations to consider that management roles are not the only path to promotion and can help create Individual Contributors career growth tracks that are just as rewarding as Management tracks. In the context of a holistic model for organizational growth and maturity, OD leaders provide the framework for more effective overall leadership and in so doing shape and drive bottom-line results.
OD thinking allows organizations to consider that management roles are not the only path to promotion and can help create Individual Contributors career growth tracks that are just as rewarding as Management tracks.
For those so inclined, stepping from individual contributor into management can and should be motivating and meaningful. Companies that operate this model should do so with intentionality and process.
Author Terry Smith is a senior Human Resources leader, specializing in Organizational Development, as well as strategic and operational change management.