professional career paths and career ladders

are an instrument of modern personnel development

The professional career path is a personnel management instrument for the widespread distribution of tasks and responsibilities within an organization.

Also known as career ladder and career lattice, it shows employees’ development perspectives alongside the management career path. Technical and process responsibility is systematically transferred from managers to specialists.

Ideally, an executive should focus on disciplinary and organizational leadership of employees and organizational units, while the professional should contribute mainly through the application and development of specific, technical expertise.

In reality, managers are often regarded as the highest clerks or experts and take on technical tasks which may hinder the actual management tasks.

Acceptance and success of the introduction of a professional career therefore depends strongly on previous practices and the willingness of people and the organisation to change.

The problem of status symbols or "insignia of power"

Certain changes are often made to an employee's status by assuming management responsibility, including:

  • A change in the job title.
  • Moving into a single office.
  • The choice of a particularly fancy smartphone, tablet or laptop.
  • The change from a non-exempt to an exempt compensation plan.
  • Granting or increasing a target bonus.
  • Granting a company car or increasing a car allowance.
  • The offer of additional benefits such as special insurances and medical check-ups.

These classic status symbols are intended to make the role visible to the outside world. They become an insignia of claims to leadership.

How does a professional career become equivalent to a management career?

Equivalence of the professional career can only be given if:

  • Outstanding specialist positions and experts gain access to the same or equivalent benefits
  • The assignment of status symbols is no longer linked to the perceived status but to the value of a job
  • Classic status symbols are dispensed with in favour of an egalitarian form of organisation

A system like gradar, which enables modern job evaluation in individual contributor and management careers, as well as in project management, is suitable for analysing and evaluating work.

There are power relations in every social structure. But the specialist career path can contribute to a more balanced distribution of power in an organisation and counteract the concentration and abuse of power.

The introduction of a specialist career comes by changes in the organisation of work and by cultural changes. This change will be all the more painful the more hierarchical the shape of the organisation.

Example of career paths in human resources

In this example, the Vice President of Human Resources is responsible for the entire HR function. The role focuses on the disciplinary management of employees and the strategic management of the organizational unit. Administrative and conceptual tasks are therefore consistently delegated to employees:

  • Directors who are responsible for operational teams and experts with specialized tasks are managed directly.
  • The technical responsibility as product owner for the sub-disciplines lies with the senior experts.
  • HR Scrum Masters lead the sprints and ensure the flow of information between product owners and development teams.

The development teams are interdisciplinary and are tasked with developing, evaluating and implementing new processes. Depending on the Sprint, they may also contribute to the development of new products. Every employee can participate in sprints, if day-to-day business allows it.

Example of Career Paths and a Career Ladder

This schematic representation shows no detailed tasks or the value of the individual positions. This information is reserved for a separate overview and a cross comparison. You can download these documents here:

Success criteria for the introduction of a professional career path

The following points are indispensable for the successful introduction of a professional career framework:

  • Ensure that the professional career path is equivalent to the management career path. A modern job evaluation system can help here.
  • Experts in the professional career path lead technically.
  • Managers in the management career path are suitable and willing to lead as managers to guide and develop employees.
  • Project managers have the competence to lead projects and are responsible for budgets and implementation.
  • Individual Contributors are given the task and the responsibility by decision-making bodies to develop new processes and products, to report on progress and to accompany the implementation communicatively. The communication aspect is particularly important in order to make the expert role in the organization visible. If necessary, experts are used as product owners.
  • Scrum Masters work in companies or departments with established Scrum processes. They mediate between roles and ensure that team members are adequately relieved of operational tasks and have the freedom to organize themselves as a development team. In this scenario, the role of project managers must be questioned.
The organisational theoretical perspective in job evaluation

A job as an organisational entity is usually assessed according to three aspects:

  1. Input: What the job holder brings to the table or the requirements for knowledge and skills acquired through qualification and experience.
  2. Throughput: What the job holder does or can influence in terms of procedures and processes.
  3. Output: Which results are developed or owner by the entity.

The consideration of a position from these three directions is a long-standing practice in organizational theory and labor sciences. However, another aspect has gained more importance in recent times - the communicative and social interaction of a job holder.

This broadening of perspective is due to a change in the world of work. Now, many repetitive activities in production and administration have been automated or digitized. A growing service sector requires the increased consideration of social interaction - a core requirements in this field - as well as technical work.

The change in the way of working also requires a change in the understanding of leadership, which moves from simply issuing instructions to managing through motivation, communication, conflict resolution and coordination.

Determination of the equivalence of work

In order to take account of these new developments in the consideration and evaluation of work in the 21st century, and to meet today's demands for fairness, non-discrimination and transparency, we have selected the factors for our job evaluation system so that all four aspects are taken into account.

In job evaluation, a comprehensive classification of the value of the job can therefore take place and double weightings can be avoided.

On the input side, we find the factors of expertise and experience. The problem solving factor merges into input and throughput. This aspect is also covered by the factors’ functional responsibility for employees (IC) project team (PM), leadership span (MM) and the influence on processes.

The output area is also evaluated with the processes factor, especially in higher levels of jobs, and has the greatest impact on functional, organizational or project-related responsibility.

The organizational knowledge factor was included in order to reflect a modern and expanded organizational concept. In the classic divisional or regional organizational structures, where decision-making competencies are primarily located with executives, a position can be assessed appropriately with the first three aspects.

Modern structures with flat hierarchies or ‘agile’ environments require a higher degree of personal responsibility, flexibility and knowledge of the internal connections from the positions and their owners. This factor selection is based on the work of Prof. McFarlane, Stanford University, who uses another concept in his work on organizational analysis. His definition also includes informal or non-codified structures so that a group of people who come together for a common purpose with a set of practices and knowledge can be seen as an organization.

Indirectly, this also has an influence on the factor processes since organizations with a minimum of hierarchical depth are often strongly process-oriented.

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