I have just finished carrying out the end of year appraisals for my teams; yet again I come out of them feeling slightly despondent and that I have generally let the people down. Development plans often are not followed through due to the pressures of actually doing a job, training budgets often don’t allow all the training that people need/want and actually finding the opportunities to progress people is hard.
I know that I am not unique and I probably shouldn’t beat myself up about it too much; I look round and see plenty of people struggling with similar issues and at least I was developed in my early management career, given at least some of the skills needed to do the job.
Just calling someone a manager does not make them a manager; too often I see good technicians promoted into management positions with little or no support. Managing people is hard and it is not for everyone but in far too many companies, it is the only way to progress. Some people do take to it straight away but these people are few and far between, rarely are they your best techies; to be an excellent techie takes a different kind of focus.
Of course, then there are the companies who decide that they need a technical specialist track; so they create a technical career track but then it all goes wrong.
1) The technical career track often tops out before the management track; so people are left high and dry with only way to progress being to move into senior management. But unfortunately, they are ill-equipped to do so because they have skipped out a lot of the management training which comes with middle management.
2) The technical career track often forces people into an architectural/design role and yet again, some of the best hands-on techies make terrible architects and designers. They often find it extremely hard to move out of an implementation/support role and drive those teams mad. Technologies change and unless you actually have experience in supporting them on a day-to-day basis; you have no real basis doing low-level implementation.
So what happens? The only way to progress in most end-user organisations is to leave and take all that organisational knowledge with you. And then we get into the argument, that if I train people, they just leave and so you stop training/developing people; so they leave anyway and even worse, they might stay.
It’s time to stop trying to push people in to career paths which don’t suit; it’s also time to allow people to fail at some things. A couple of years ago, I had a staff member who wanted to try something, I was fairly certain that it was not the right move but I let them anyway, I just made sure that I was around to catch them and had another position to allow them to bounce into. We now have a happy employee who was allowed to fail, learnt a lot and moved into a role which allows them to progress and be happy.
We need more of this; introducing people into roles gradually and allowing them to re-trench if needed. We also need to acknowledge that there many different tracks to progress in IT and we need to value each of the tracks/roles within IT. I’ve seen so many people try to succeed in a specific role and not take the perfect role because they thought that working in change management for example was not a valued role.
If people are our most valued asset; we don’t half have a funny way of showing it at times.