Technical career ladder versus management career ladder
Many companies have created a technical ladder career path that parallels their management ladder career path. The purpose of a technical ladder is to provide promotional opportunities for employees who bring great value to the company through their technical expertise and want to focus their careers on that experience rather than building their careers by entering and rising through the managerial ranks. These companies have created a career path for these technical employees with titles and rewards that are categorized by the manager, director, and parallel vice president using titles such as “consulting engineer” or “corporate marketing consultant” rather than management titles such as “director of engineering.” . or “vice president of marketing.”
In the absence of a technical career at scale, many technically gifted employees have been forced to move up to management to achieve higher positions and the rewards that accompany those positions. For many, the result has been that they feel unhappy in the management position and yearn to return to their technical specialties, but are reluctant to give up the higher salaries and benefits they have earned. When this happens, many have realized that the company has lost a competitive technical advantage, and at the same time, they have some senior managers who are unhappy with their roles and end up leaving the company, voluntarily or involuntarily.
In most companies that use this approach, there are very specific criteria, a different set of competencies, that employees must meet to move up the technical ladder. These criteria typically include the following:
• Contributions to products or services of the company
• Patents obtained
• Reputation (external to the company) in your field of expertise
• Presentations at industry conferences or technical articles for industry magazines
• Tutoring of junior technical staff.
Typically, employees who want to move up a technical ladder must prepare a portfolio documenting their achievements, and that portfolio is reviewed by a panel of senior company officials who pass judgment on each request. People who run the technical ladder program often criticize the company’s management ladder for failing to use a similar set of criteria when deciding on promotions to managerial positions: the establishment of their company’s LDP, including the review process of talents, will help counter these complaints.
While technical ladders were primarily started in technology companies, their scope is not limited to technology areas, such as engineering or manufacturing, but they are also used in fields such as marketing, sales, and finance. A technical career ladder can help you retain people with outstanding technical experience and keep them in roles that add optimal value to the company.
If your company is planning a leadership development program, it is important to focus not only on those employees who will eventually become your business leaders, but also those who aspire to technical leadership positions.