I am re-reading my copy of Paid to Think by David Goldsmith and I find myself surprised that I missed a late section titled Transparent Career Ladder.
Just as important as the actual career ladder itself is leaders’ and staffers’ knowledge if we of how it works. A good career ladder allows people to advance their careers at the wrong place. It must be a vehicle that delivers reliable rewards, they can only do that if you build it without the all too often subjective and auditory benchmarks that gives some career ladders a bad name. To truly empower people, you must create a mechanism that goes beyond offering the promise of hope; it must guarantee outcomes. The sport’s coach tells his team of athletes that if they work hard, they’ll play in Saturday’s game. In the use of many athletes in message rings, “Hard work equals playing time”. In this scenario, some athletes take on the challenge, work extremely hard, and expect to play; but when the time comes to reap the rewards of their hard work and their coach doesn’t make good on the promise to play, the athletes can become disillusioned, stopped putting forth the extra effort, potentially leave the team, or all three.
Career Track Record
I have spent some time in organizations that not only get this wrong by accident, but seem to contrive ways to intentionally make this situation bad or worse. We see open positions within an organization being filled by preordained personnel, the interview process to find the candidate but a ruse to give anybody competent the illusion that they are a contender for the position. An organization of any size often has a succession plan. That is, we generally know the talents we need to replace certain key positions and we likely have more than one contender for that replacement. We should also not be surprised when we may get contenders that we did not know we had in our organization. The larger the company, the more likely there are other people with the appropriate talent for the newly opened position.
Hope and Career
Hope, as well as not being a project management approach, is not a valid resource management, nor career growth mechanism. An organization that chides the employees to work hard, do your best and hope you have a career rather than a job here, is providing poor counsel, and likely not the type of advice they would take themselves. When hard work is not rewarded nor talent recognized, we should not wonder why those that have delivered for us so often in the past, decide it is no longer in their best interest to throw themselves into their work. Perhaps they have saved us millions of dollars in material or product quality, or delivered critical projects. Uncompensated overtime hours at one time freely given to reach an objective become grudgingly given and over time, resisted.
Career and Quantified Targets
When you are able to quantify the targets, just like you would do in a project, you now have objective evidence of performance from which to justify movement through the hierarchy of the company. Specific demonstration of capability and positive impact upon the company is required and then must be demonstrated by the individual team members. Doing this removes or reduces the feeling that decades of accomplishments, investments in training and education are all for naught.
 Goldsmith, D., Goldsmith, L., & Abraham, J. (2012). Paid to think: A leader’s toolkit for redefining your future: Achieve more, earn more, live more. Dallas, TX: BenBella Books. page 401