Many large organisations claim to have an open career structure that encourages staff to take advantage of the various career opportunities that exist across the organisation; however, the reality is that people do get pigeonholed into particular areas or functions. Many staff are frustrated by the apparent inability to move, to exploit their skills, to take on new challenges and to advance their careers to technical excellence or leadership levels.
In their seminal management book The Leadership Pipeline, Ram Charan, Stephen Drotter and James Noel present a model for identifying future leaders, assessing their competence, planning their development and measuring the results. In the most recent edition, they also devote considerable time to defining the role of the functional manager and outlining the functional career passage.
The problem with tradition
One of our clients at Talent Mondial Australia is a professional services firm with global capability in strategic consulting, engineering and project delivery. It employs a range of highly technically skilled staff, but has always been challenged in workforce planning, particularly in relation to depth and location of technical skills, recruitment attraction and staff retention, and in identifying and engaging future technical and business leaders.
This structure was useful in promoting depth of technical knowledge and skills to the individual staff member, however this was not translating into individual motivation and engagement for career growth for those who chose the project management and business development streams.
Consider the same organisation with no barriers to non-linear moves. A range of opportunities opens up for the individual that will provide the appropriate challenges to engage them. It also demonstrates the capacity to move from and back to a particular discipline, and removes any career limitations to the business development and project management streams.
How do you do it?
The reality is that it takes a lot of work and a very structured approach by the leadership group to achieve this. One method is to establish for all major roles a skills and capabilities matrix, which outlines the business experience, functional knowledge and the behaviours or capabilities required to be highly effective in a particular role or series of roles.
Once established, this matrix is a very useful tool for individuals (and their managers) in personal career planning. In conjunction with some form of measurement tool, often a self-evaluation tool, it specifically highlights areas of immediate fit and areas requiring new or enhanced skills to meet the requirements of the job the person aspires to.
The matrix can also be constructed in such a way as to assist with issues around requisite experience and functional knowledge for the role that differentiate ‘Fit to Start’ from ‘Fit for Job’ as quickly as possible.
Why should you bother?
Response to this approach from HR leaders and line managers in our client organisation has been overwhelmingly positive, with a strong desire to see it take life in practical applications that assist career and performance discussions.
Our observation is that in establishing linear and non-linear career opportunities the organisation is:
- Driving higher retention levels of high potential and talented staff and managers.
- Ensuring higher engagement from technical/professional/support staff through recognition. of the value of their skills and improved career pathways.
- Ensuring it has the capability and skills (leadership, technical and functional) available to meet future needs.
- Developing more focused skills statements, leading to better skills gaps identification. facilitating the development of strategies to develop or recruit to fill the gaps.
- Ensuring greater facilitation of focused training courses on real development
(leadership and functional) needs.
- Establishing a broad range of skills, experiences and perspectives within individuals that sets them up to take on broader leadership functions.
While we clearly advocate transition from one-dimensional career paths to linear and non-linear career pathing — a word of warning. The major component of work is often in establishing these tools, HR leaders and people leaders must ensure that they don’t cut short the education and integration process.
These matrix concepts must be actively sold into the organisation. To do this successfully the concepts and tools must resonate with end users, and must pass the test of common sense with users, they must be simple and transparent while remaining aspirational and forward looking, and they must genuinely help people on their career journey.
As with any major initiative, it is critical to have champions and role models from the various lines of business. Be prepared to constantly refresh these tools as your organisation grows and develops and as the marketplace (including the labour market) evolves and changes.