Climbing the corporate career ladder is inextricably linked to management roles, as well as higher pay and more attractive job titles. Management, however, is its very own skill set. New managers will find themselves having to do things well outside of their previous jobs, and they’ll also have to learn the language and techniques of management. Regardless of their talent and abilities, this is not necessarily appealing to all employees.
So, what do you do with extremely talented employees who aren’t interested in managing other people? Keep in mind that these individuals are highly skilled in what they do and have incredible performance results to back it up – but they’re simply not interested in or suited to management positions. You can’t leave them languishing in non-management positions with no options for advancement – their talents will go unused and they’ll eventually go somewhere their skills are better utilized, and that’s not good for retention or productivity.
Essentially, these individuals want to continue to grow and advance within their companies, but they don’t want do so by becoming managers – they want to evolve and grow the skills they were originally hired for (not their people-managing skills).
Alternative, Non-Management “Guru” Tracks
This is where specialized alternative tracks come into play. Alternative tracks are just that – an alternative to management roles. Many refer to specialist, alternative tracks as the “guru” track.
Guru tracks have become especially popular in Silicon Valley in recent years. The tech hub has come to recognize that many talented individuals will never be interested in management, but that these individuals will continue to yield great performance results when placed on alternative tracks.
The “guru” track allows talented employees to continue to advance in a company by taking on more complex projects, having access to larger budgets for projects, and receiving title and pay increases. Like management tracks, advancements and promotions are clearly delineated and goals are readily defined.
Importantly, being on the “guru” track is considered to be just as prestigious and significant within the culture of the companies that offer, and even promote, alternative tracks. Moreover, there is an argument to be made that alternative tracks may be even more prestigious than management tracks because they emphasize talent and expertise within a specified field,which can seem more impressive than a managerial position with administrative responsibilities.
Are Specialized Alternative Tracks Worth It?
Developing specialized alternative tracks can seem like a lot of work, but the alternative is expensive. Turnover generally costs a company tens of thousands of dollars to approximately 1.5 to 2 times the lost individual’s salary.
Additionally, keep in mind that while these individuals won’t become traditional leaders within your company, they’ll lead by example. These individuals are highly talented and have unique approaches to what they do – this’ll rub off on other employees, especially when the company formally recognizes such individuals with raises and promotions. You can also formalize this “lead-by-example” benefit by having these talented individuals mentor new hires or other individuals on the cusp of the alternative track.
Also take into account that talent often attracts other talent. When companies have truly talented individuals, their performance is enhanced and that attracts a lot of high-caliber candidates.
Tips for Implementing Specialized Alternative Tracks
If specialized alternative tracks seem right for your company, keep in mind the following when you implement alternative tracks.
- Avoid developing informal, poorly formulated tracks. Poorly structured alternative tracks can easily turn into dead-ends. When advancement and pay raises aren’t clearly outlined, and the track itself is flimsily constructed in terms of objectives and meaning within the company, the talent will end up blowing through such shoddily constructed tracks, and find themselves at a loss for where they stand within the company. Similarly, a wait-and-see-how-this-phase approach won’t work either – ultimately, it’ll waste everyone’s time and frustrate the very employees you’re trying to retain.
- Create a track that’s largely identical to climbing the traditional career ladder at your company, but with no managerial responsibilities. Create an alternative track that’s performance-based. Based on performance, individuals will move up the ladder, and gain pay raises, title changes, and seniority. Having a clearly delineated track is critical – it lets everyone know where they stand and what they can advance and aspire to.
- Once you’ve forged a solid alternative track, discuss it with the individual. Have a one-on-one conversation with the prospective “guru” track employee to make sure the individual is ready to take on more responsibility by leading projects or working on more complex tasks. If they’re disinterested in or overwhelmed at the idea of additional responsibilities or significant changes to their present job, then they’re either not right or not ready for for the non-management track.Just like with management tracks, the right people need to be on the alternative track.
The bottom line is that it’s in a company’s best interest to keep their best talent invigorated and engaged. Forging alternative tracks may take a little time and trial and error, but ultimately it creates a method of retaining and growing the very best talent.When management tracks aren’t the only avenue for promotions within a company, employees can focus on their areas of expertise without worrying about stalling out their careers – and that’s a win-win for everyone.