Traditionally, to move up professionally, employees eventually need to move into a management role. But what should companies do with top performers who want to grow but who aren’t interested in managing people?
After all, not every good employee wants to manage people – and if there’s one thing that the legions of bad managers out there demonstrate, it’s that not everyone is good at managing people. But companies often don’t provide clear career paths for people who don’t want to manage. At too many companies, if you want to move up, you’re going to need to lead a team, even if that’s not your particular talent.
Not only does this leave people who don’t want to manage frustrated and dissatisfied, but it increases the changes that a company will have reluctant and outright inept managers on staff. Managing people is an entirely different skill set than other types of work; the skills it takes to be a great accountant or programmer are different than the skills needed to build and lead a team. When you force people to manage others in order to grow professionally, you end up with poorly managed teams being led by people who were much better at whatever they were doing that landed them a management role to begin with.
And if you just keep people who don’t want to manage in their original roles without offering them a development track, you’re probably not going to retain them long-term. If they’re just left to stagnate in the same position, they’re eventually likely to seek new challenges somewhere else. But if they’re not going to manage, what might their career path with you look like?
One possible answer: Consider creating a “subject matter expert” track, one that’s explicitly different from a management track. People on the subject matter expert track would be encouraged to develop an increasingly deep or specialized knowledge in their subject area, become a go-to expert on specific issues, mentor others and act as a resource to colleagues, and possibly manage projects rather than people.
People on this track can show leadership without managing. They can share their knowledge, service as a resource to others, contribute input, help to solve problems, and act as an exemplar of your company’s values. Those things will go a long way toward building their value, and will help you retain and benefit from the knowledge and skills of long-time, experienced employees.
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