Don't Make Promotion to Management the Only Way to Advance

Susan Hall

In my post, "Getting Recognition Right for Analytics Professionals," I pointed to this quote from Analytics magazine:

Slide Show

Work Force Challenges in 2011

Despite the improving economy, we'll continue to struggle with difficult work force challenges in 2011.

Analytics professionals need an opportunity to be both creative and to share their creativity with their peers ... Unfortunately, businesses frequently aren't structured around interesting problems and peer recognition. They're structured around getting the job done, then rewarding people with higher salaries and increased managerial responsibilities. The typical reward structure within business isn't aligned with the reward structure that motivates analytics professionals. ... it's best to create a separate reward structure ... based on a combination of technical accomplishments and how those accomplishments serve the business.

As it turns out, the same is true for reward structures in IT departments overall. In an interview on leadership development, Vincent Milich, director of the IT Effectiveness Practice at Hay Group told me:

One mistake that IT organizations make is to take high-level technical professionals, and in order to pay them more, to promote them, they put them into management roles. Very often they're not suited for those roles. So what you've done is you've lost a great technologist and you've gained a bad manager. That bad manager then infects a whole lot of people who report to them and you've lost productivity in the organization.

Milich said that people with potential to become great managers have aspects innate in their personalities that indicate they can be successful in those roles and it's vital to choose managers carefully. The "Secret CIO" writing for InformationWeek says tech folks who become managers struggle with being less hands-on with tech projects and more people-oriented. And he says they have to know in their own minds that they want to do that:

Effective IT managers don't give up their passion for technology, but they learn to subordinate it to reach larger objectives. They stay hands-off when they would rather be hands-on. They spend more of their time talking about the how rather than the what.

As Milich described it:

... you transition from knowing the technology and knowing how to get things done to knowing how to motivate people, how to influence the organization, knowing how to develop plans and execute them, that sort of thing. That's a challenging thing for a lot of folks, and more so in many cases with people in IT.

At the same time, to keep highly productive tech workers who might not be cut out for management or who don't want to go there, it's essential to provide paths where they can earn more and gain in prestige and influence within the company, Milich said. These workers can still provide great value to the business even in non-management positions. And communicating that is key:

I've done interviews and focus groups with IT folks who talk about being called by a headhunter and being able to quiz them on the technology they'll be working with, what's the next [career] step and the step after that, and they'll say, "I don't even know that about my own company." They can get better information from a prospective employer about their career development and how high they can go than they can from their own companies. So to be an IT leader, you have to provide career development paths for folks, you have to provide clarity about what the opportunities are.

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