I spoke with a coworker about this issue just the other day.
I think that firms (particularly software development shops) could benefit from some version of this two-track career path.
Plain and simple: There should be a clear career progression with increasing responsibility, influence, and pay for people who want to become managers –
and – for people that don’t.
Why would you want to take one of your best software developers out of software development and put them into a management role that they never wanted in the first place?
They are taking a role they do not want because it’s the only way they can advance…
Understand: One can be a leader, without having direct reports.
There is a deeply held misconception in business culture that people management is (a) the only way to lead and (b) the only way to advance one’s career. If we address both of those, dismantle them, and create clear, obvious paths to prove that this isn’t true in our organizations, we can build better teams composed of the right people properly suited to the work (management and IC). At Moz, we addressed this by creating a new, dual-tracked career pathing system. We modeled these paths on how engineering roles work at big companies like Microsoft and Google. In those structures, a junior engineer starts out as a lower-level individual contributor, but as they gain skills and prove their effectiveness, they can move up the ladder of promotions, salaries, benefits, stock options, and influence without ever becoming a people manager. Those progressions enable these firms to retain high-quality talent, groom them to serve in consultative roles involving important technical projects and discussions, and benefit from their expertise without demanding that they get good at people-management skills, which may not interest them or fit with their talents.
-Rand Fishkin, Lost And Founder (Amazon)