I recently read a post called Designing vs Managing Designers which made me reflect back on my experience as a manager over the past year or so. I’ve screwed up a lot and succeeded a few times, though mostly the lessons have been hard.
I fundamentally think that the process of moving up the career ladder is broken. How it normally works is thus:
- Get an entry level job. Work your ass off contributing.
- Become successful, get asked to take on more responsibility.
- Take on more responsibility, do well, become a manager.
- Stop individually contributing to projects, learn how to manage.
I personally think this is wrong. To many individual contributors, management is the only way that they see to move forward within a company, yet what they enjoy doing is just that — doing.
I prefer companies like Moz who have CEOs like Rand who understand that there are different types and levels of people. Not everyone wants to be a manager; some people want to stay as an individual contributor. Moz’s personal development chain looks like this:
What they are trying to do here, and I think are succeeding at, is help people understand where their strengths lie, how to develop those strengths if they don’t have them already, and then what a clear path looks like for them. What I also like about this paradigm is that people also have an idea around compensation.
In my experience, compensation is one of the toughest parts about a business and it can lead to some very bad blood. The way Moz does it, ICs (Individual Contributors) see that they might be paid more than a same level PW (People Wrangler). This way, people don’t feel like they have to become a manager to get paid more, which is a win all around. You end up with happier people at all levels, and people who don’t want to and probably shouldn’t become managers are not compelled to do so.
Types of People
One interesting facet of this to me is that any of the three categories I’m talking about can be any combination of these. In fact, every person has two that are dominant. I’m a discoverer/sharer. I know awesome consultants who are discoverer/implementers. There are some rare and amazing implementer/sharers that put the rest of us to shame.
Managers, Strategists, Creators
Every company needs managers, strategists, and creators.
Managers keep people happy. They figure out how to optimize processes, distribute resources, and keep projects moving forward. They need to understand people as well as business. They need a combo of discovering, implementing, and sharing.
Strategists keep the company moving forward. They’re masters of their craft, yet can also see how it works into the broader goals of the company or client. Strategists are good at defining a task and how to get it done. Strategists are usually discoverer/sharers.
Creators are the doers of the group. Creators bring the magic that implements the strategies. They’re the backbone, and without them all of the managers, strategists, discoverers, and sharers are doomed. Creators are definitely of the discoverer/implementer ilk, by and large.
Let’s not celebrate “climbing the corporate ladder” in the old sense of the term. Instead, let’s build new ladders that people can climb and fully realize themselves as the kind of person they are — discoverer, manager, strategist, implementer, sharer, and creator all.