The measure of success for a business relies on many factors, one of which is its ability to retain and nurture talent in your company. Free-flow beer, team-bonding workshops and off-site activities are some of the trendy ways that companies have tried to retain employees. How about nurturing them so that they can maximise their potential? This is where it gets a little tricky. Different people require different avenues to expand their skill set and seek new challenges. We take a look at 2 strategies that companies use to develop high-potential employees – dual ladder career paths and time set aside for self-empowerment.
Dual Ladder Career Paths
This strategy involves 2 different career tracks that an entry level employee can embark on in the company. The 2 options are usually managerial paths and technical paths. In an ideal situation, companies hope to hire talent that are experts in their field, and possess leadership abilities. In reality, such talent is rare and hard to find. Dual ladder paths allow companies to recognise both soft skills and hard skills, and that an employee might show more potential in one over the other. Here’s an example of how it works:
Kelly and Sally are two programmers who have just graduated from university and have entered the same company. This would be their potential career path in a dual ladder situation.
As you can see, Kelly and Sally have very different skill sets. In a single career path company that values their ability to code over their ability to lead, Sally would progress much faster than Kelly. While a company that values leadership over coding ability would promote Kelly faster than Sally.
This system allows employees to be managed by competent managers who actually want to lead. On the other hand, those who prefer developing their hard skills can be left to focus on their passion and become specialists in their field. Single path companies are often plagued with poor managers who do not want or even know how to manage people.
Mastercard is an example of a company that successfully employs a dual ladder career framework. As consultants (functional) or leaders (managerial), Mastercard employees have the option to lead a group of people, or become subject matter experts in their respective domains. By offering employees the opportunity to choose, Mastercard has managed to reduce turnover rates and improve employee satisfaction. Other examples of companies that offer dual career tracks include 3M, British Petroleum (BP) and Rolls Royce.
Self-Empowerment – Specified Time for Side Projects
Another strategy that allows employees to fully realise their potential is to allocate specific time to work on personal projects. Google is a company that has benefited immensely from this strategy. The global tech company encourages employees to set aside 20% of paid hours to work on personal projects. This strategy has given us us amazing products like Gmail, Google Earth and AdSense – a testament to the success of the program.
By providing employees with the space and resources to discover, experiment, fail and try again, Google has managed to foster a culture of innovation, empowerment and growth.
However, poor implementation caused the 20% rule to turn into the 120% rule where Google employees end up working overtime to work on personal projects. Google is now taking a more focused approach, creating smaller groups of specialists to work on select projects.
Case Study: 3M – The Best of Both
If you’re having a hard time choosing between a dual ladder career path and 20% innovation time, why not implement both? 3M is the perfect example of a company that utilises both the dual ladder career path and specified time for side projects.
Innovators are given the time and resources to experiment and create new products without having to manage others. Additionally, employees are expected to set aside 15% of work time to work on new projects.
Arthur Fry, the inventor of Post-it Notes, is a testimony to the success of 3M’s culture of innovation and employee development strategies. The Post-it Note was one of Arthur’s side projects in the early days of his time at 3M. With a penchant and talent for creating new and exciting products, Arthur assumed the position of ‘corporate scientist’, a role in the technical path of 3M’s dual ladder system. Free from the burdens of budgets, KPIs and team management, Arthur continued to create and innovate for 3M for over 30 years.
You will need to assess if these strategies are suitable for your business. Dual career paths, if codified and carefully planned out, shouldn’t be hard to implement. However, setting aside work time for side projects is very much based on the company’s culture, and is more difficult to inculcate. Should your business opt for profit maximisation through efficiency? Or should your employees have the freedom to innovate and create? Carefully consider the culture you wish to promote before you start laying out your company’s HR processes and guidelines.