Since the start of the Great Resignation, we’ve seen millions of employees around the world transition jobs, titles, and careers at rates never before seen. For some, switching companies or completely reinventing career paths became about a search for passion, purpose, or overall life balance. For others, it was about reaching the next level.
But like everything else that’s evolved in the world of business, the next great reckoning that deserves a closer look, is creating opportunity for multifaceted career growth outside of management. For the many professionals who have ever exceeding aspirations, the current “rite of passage” to the top, via becoming a manager, in many ways can be likened to forcing a square peg into a round hole—it’s just not a good fit—nor should it have to be.
Management has long been thought of as a necessary step of upward progression in a person’s career. And as history would have it, most managers are often promoted to said position because they are good at what they do—as an individual contributor. While these top performers certainly deserve to be recognized and given ample opportunity to grow, being great at what one does is not a guarantee they are also great at making others better—which is a key ingredient to the makings of a good manager.
Empowered by the “us” and “we” moments, more so than “I,” managers are not only the best at what they do, but they are committed to helping others rise to meet the bar they’ve help set. To be a good manager takes time, effort, honesty, empathy, self-awareness, accountability, trust, and an authentic desire to support and guide others. As companies today work to celebrate diversified perspectives and talents, part of that means acknowledging and accepting that some aren’t meant to walk this path. Otherwise, there will continue to be high levels of turnover by those willing to quit their job as a result of having a bad manager—remember, people don’t leave companies, they leave bad leadership.
As a leader, it is so important to remember that employees choose where they want to work and they choose what they want to do—so shouldn’t becoming a manager also be a choice not prompted primarily by career progression? Each employee has individual needs and wants, strengths and weaknesses, that must be considered in the overall scheme of things. That is, after all, one of the biggest lessons learned from the Great Resignation. While this does not mean all companies can or should have thousands of specialized roles for each contributor, there are ways to create alternate career paths for those that don’t want take (or aren’t a good fit for) a managerial role, but still want to grow.
Reflect on the needs of the business
What need(s) does the business have that may require a more experienced employee? Are there options for high performers, due to their strong accountability, to become their own manager and continue to do meaningful work? Try to explore what opportunities may be available and what other opportunities could motivate people—like a move internally or another experience that would greatly benefit from their existing skill set. Sometimes just to be given a new opportunity to learn and grow can make all the difference. And for those currently struggling in a managerial role, giving them the opportunity to “step off” that track into a meaningful position that better fits their strengths and interests, is also something that should be made available.
Define career path profiles based on required skills
People don’t know what they don’t know. Clearly delineate and outline dual career paths within your organization (ones with and without management requirements) and share them internally. Creating greater awareness of what’s possible helps people understand that there is a next step and helps empower them to start a conversation that doesn’t begin with, “I’m giving my notice.” Consider asking them what they would like to experience in terms of roles and responsibilities so you can better target the opportunities presented to them.
Enable upskilling with mentors as part of the path forward
Help foster and encourage talent enhancement for employees to hone existing skills or learn new ones that may help them get on a newly defined career path. Based on those skills, pair employees with “peer mentors” in areas of strength for the peer mentors. This type of mentorship has more impact because what they’ll be working on is very specific and progress should be easy to measure.
Most importantly, step away from the traditional methodology of seniority to match mentors and mentees and give opportunities to employees at all levels to contribute their expertise to enhance someone else’s. There will be greater opportunity for cross pollination among current working relationships, which can ultimately lead to an enhanced sense of connectivity within your team and overall culture—key in today’s hybrid workforce.
Retaining top talent is crucial. If your company is unwilling to try to create the desirable employee experience people are looking for, another company will. Showing employees that your company cares, is willing to invest in them and help them feel heard, by creating a role where they can grow and thrive, is the way forward.
We are all destined to lead certain lives. For some, it’s being a part of something. And for others, it’s to lead that something. Managers matter, but good managers matter more. So, think carefully about what type of employee experience you hope to create, because every action or inaction will define your company and your employees’ future.
Lydie Fox is the chief people officer at Apps Associates.