The two-track approach to encouraging career growth — and employee retention

If career growth at your company means moving into management, you might want to think again. The best companies encourage growth for management and technical employees alike.

The two-track approach to encouraging career growth
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Every business needs to plan for future management — but it’s easy to forget about technical employees in the process. If you focus promotions only on management-related roles, you risk losing the loyalty of talented technical employees who may have little interest in managerial positions.

The reality is that a sense of career growth is vital for all employees, so you need to create a plan that facilitates growth for leadership and non-leadership positions alike, says Brian Murphy, founder and CEO of ReliaQuest, an IT security company.

“It doesn’t have to be a formal process — and it is a plan that is always changing. Even with a very simple practice in place, having a model of what you think the company may look like in two to five years will help you in recruiting and retaining talent,” he says.

Following are tips and strategies to help you foster career growth for managers and technical workers. Doing so will put your organization in a far better position to retain talented employees for the long run.

Identifying potential managers

The best potential managers in your ranks are the employees with the right soft skills — so take time to consider your options.

“You should look for individuals who demonstrate good time management and delegation skills, as well as individuals who are well organized, have good IT skills, are good at allocating resources and are good with people,” says Steve Pritchard, head of human resources at Cuuver. “These are the key skills people are going to use on the management track, individuals that don’t have these skills are better suited to remaining on the technical track.”

If you identify employees in your ranks with these qualities, you’ll need to gauge their interest in a managerial role. Murphy suggests grouping these high performers together and exposing them to other leaders and management in the company. Even if they end up not being interested in leadership, it can help them understand more about how things run in the organization. Having high-level knowledge of how the business works behind the scenes can benefit both future managers and senior technical staff, he says.

Keep tabs on potential managers

While managing your staff, try to get a sense for whether employees, or even potential candidates, lean towards technical or leadership skills. They might not be ready for management or senior-level positions yet but you want to get them thinking about it early in the process.

Related video: Check out CIO Leadership Live with John Hill, CIO at Carhartt, from our CIO Leadership Live series.

“In a lot of cases your team members might not know for sure if they want to be in certain leadership positions. The best way to help people find their way and career-plan for themselves is to have a training and communications program in place that educates the company on how the different areas of the company work,” says Murphy.

Even if a candidate or new employee doesn’t express interest in management, if they have the right skills you can still offer guidance and training. As they grow with the company, check in with these employees to get an idea of where they see their career going. Over time, they might gain more confidence in their leadership or technical skills, which will influence the path they choose.

Encouraging non-managerial employees

There will always be employees who aren’t suited for management, or who simply don’t want the job. To keep employees motivated outside of management, continue increasing salary alongside their experience and tenure and create a positive culture where they feel their work is appreciated, says Pritchard.

“Although increasing their salary and their holiday allowance is a good start, there are other things that you can offer which can increase their happiness in the role. Happy employees are less likely to leave so if you can make their working day more enjoyable, you will likely increase their loyalty,” he says.

It’s also important to ensure these employees feel a sense of ownership over their careers, even if they aren’t managing others.

“For employees that don’t want to lead, in the sense of being responsible for other team members, they should still feel like they can be leaders among their peers by continuing to learn, train, and develop their skills — promoting stronger teams and better retention overall,” says Murphy.

Develop all your talent

It’s easy to focus on future leaders in your organization, but don’t let other talented workers slip through the cracks. Make sure your organization encourages training at every level for every career path. Whether someone wants to remain on a technical track or a managerial track, they still need to learn and develop new skills.

“To develop technicians and grow people both inside and outside of management and leadership positions, companies need to invest in custom-tailored training and clear promotion paths that fit the needs of the specific business,” says Murphy.

Encourage technical workers just as much as future leadership — if management is the only way up, your technical workers will end up looking elsewhere for better opportunities. To combat this, you will need to create more growth opportunities and foster a sense of ownership for non-managerial staff so they can envision a career path within your company, rather than a dead end.

Here, the key may be collaboration across tracks and ranks.

“The tone set by people in leadership needs to be that of a desire to learn from and with their people — not simply directing their people. This creates an environment where it doesn’t take a title to lead and an environment where everyone understands that they can have an idea, contribute, and lead by example daily,” says Murphy.

Create a supportive environment for everyone

The workforce has drastically changed in recent years, but that doesn’t mean everyone is still on equal footing. This is especially true for women, who are often underrepresented in both managerial and technical roles.

Intuit’s Tech Women at Intuit for Architects and Principal Engineers program provides an example of how companies are addressing the issue of women being overlooked for senior technical positions. In talking to female engineers, Intuit found a lot of them felt they “shy away from architect roles because they don’t know what they are,” says Melissa Marasco, PR and communications manager for Intuit.

“Shedding light on different career paths and responsibilities can encourage more women to explore more senior technical roles. In addition, to support women taking a step toward a managerial role, we found it was important to encourage more executive sponsorship for women in our technology organization,” says Marasco.

Make sure everyone on your team — male and female — understands the path for management and technical roles. You will miss out on potential managers or senior technical staff if you overlook female employees who lack the same mentorship or sponsorship as their male colleagues. 

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