Many companies have developed a career path for technical workers that mirrors their management ladder careers. Technical ladders are designed to offer promotion opportunities to employees who can add great value to the company by their technical expertise. They also allow them to focus their careers on their expertise and not build their careers by moving up the management ranks. These companies offer a career path that is comparable to director, manager, and vice president. They use titles like “consulting engineer” and “corporate marketing consultant” instead of “engineering director” and “vice president for marketing.”
Many technically-skilled employees are forced to climb the ladder to management to achieve higher levels and the rewards. Many find themselves in a miserable management position and long to return to their technical skills. However, they are unwilling to sacrifice the higher salaries and perks. This can lead to a loss of competitive technical edge for the company and some unhappy senior managers who leave the company, either involuntarily or voluntarily.
Most companies using this approach have very specific criteria – a different set competencies – that employees must meet in order to move up the technical ladder. The following are the most common criteria:
• Contributions to company products or services
• Patents obtained
• Reputation (external to the company) in their field of expertise
• Presentations at industry conferences or technical papers for industry journals
• Mentoring of junior technical staff.
A portfolio of achievements is required for employees who wish to be promoted on the technical ladder. This portfolio is then reviewed and rated by a panel consisting of senior company executives. Many people running the technical ladder program criticize the company’s management system for not using the same criteria when deciding whether to promote employees to managerial positions. The establishment of your company’s LDP (including the talent review process) will counter these criticisms.
Although technical ladders were initially created for technology companies, they can also be used in other areas such as sales, marketing, finance, and engineering. You can retain high-level technical talent and keep them in the roles that offer maximum value to the company by creating a technical career ladder.
When your company plans a leadership development program, you need to not only focus on the employees who will ultimately become its business leaders but also those who are aspiring to technical leadership positions.