Most organizations formally or informally classify employees under role bands. These role bands could be indicative of salary, breadth of impact, prestige in the organization, career positioning, etc. Lets try to name these bands:
- A (Executive) - Performs a set of functions that are limited to a particular functional area. Over a period of time, people in this role can generalize solutions to certain problems. For example - Recruiters, Administrators, Tech Support Personnel, Employee Relations Personnel, etc
- B (Specialist/Small Team Leader) - Performs a set of functions at a high degree of specialization and can usually be in an internal consultative role for team-mates. In specific situations, a person in this role can be called upon to be a leader for small teams.
- C (Generalists/ Large Team Leaders) - Displays exposure across a variety of functions and has the emotional intelligence to lead large teams. In specific situations that require management skills, this person could provide consultative support and could handle expectations of the organization for responsibilities delegated to his/ her team.
- D (Strategists/ Functional Leaders) - These people should ideally be capable of handling a generalist profile, and should demonstrate the potential to provide strategic direction for the function that they lead. This person should be able to evaluate the organisation's plans for a given period of time and be able to break it down into actionable projects for his/ her function.
Now pardon me if I am making naive assumptions here - this is purely my observation and not a result of any focused studies in organisational development. That said, I've spent time in three separate organisations with very different cultures and business models, and my observations stem from what I've seen there.
Coming back to being versatile, the challenge that support personnel face is the wide range of work "support" could mean - admin, human resources, infrastructure management, marketing, sales, etc. Now consider a Recruiting Manager moving into a Sales Lead role. When it comes to providing leadership and doing all the good things that a leader should do, maybe this person wouldnt have any trouble. Then again when it comes to learning the nuances of being a capable salesman, this person may need some mentorship. Given this, it becomes easy for an organization to say that this person "needs to start from scratch". While it may seem fair to say this when looking at the problem from A perspective, it may not be the right thing from the perspective of the protagonist (in this case, the Recruiting Manager). In this case, the Recruiting Manager has all the skills/ competencies that he/ she needs to be able to manage expectations, lead people, provide visibility to the organisation -- the skills that he/ she needs to learn are about the art of sales itself. Given this, how fair is it to ask this person to take a couple of steps backward in his/ her career and start at role band A? Similarly, lets say an IT manager wishes to move into a Project Manager role in consultancy firm, would it be fair to say that this person needs to begin at a role band A, simply because that person doesnt have consultancy experience? Or is it important for the organisation to support this person in his pursuit of being versatilist, by providing mentorship on a small offshore project and then moving him/ her into an independent position?
This is obviously a dilemma for most organisations, especially when operating margins are low and we see a shift towards small, high performing teams. A competency based approach to role definition could perhaps be a systematic solution to such problems. I have often found that separating behavioural competencies from technical competencies often helps a lot. When adopting this approach, its important that role bands are defined on the basis of behavioural competencies and not technical. It should be left to different departments to define technical competencies beside each role band. Therefore when looking for growth options it becomes easy for employees and the organization to look for possible alternative roles. Lets consider the following example
|Recruiting Manager||Sales Manager|
|Behavioural Competencies||Common to both||Common to both|
|Technical Competencies||Specific to the role (could have an overlap)||Specific to the role (could have an overlap)|
Now depending on the individual's ability to learn and adapt, the organization and the employee can choose a role that has less or more overlap, without having to take a step backward in his/ her career. Here's what this approach could do for an organisation:
- Increase the number of Versatilists in all functions - as a consequence look at a huge pool of multi-skilled, swiss knife like people.
- Increase job satisfaction for those stagnating in a particular function/ profile and thereby increasing retention and lowering recruitment (rehiring) and onboarding costs.
- Ensure that leadership capabilities are not lost in the pursuit of providing job enrichment.
Once again, I must point out that this rant isn't a consequence of any focused study of human resource development, but more a consequence of my observation and resultant views about the topic. I find it funny sometimes, how complicated career advancement models can end up being, with different measures for compensation, role prestige and growth. Its unfortunate (though undoubtedly practical), that organisations have to choose to define career options for billable functions first and support functions usually end up being second class citizens of the corporate world. I hope though, that organisations also recognise that both these functions share a symbiotic relationship and despite the visible importance of the former, neither can exist without each other.