Alternative Career Paths: No Place for Employees to Go – Now What?

by LWoods

Bulletin,  HR Expertise and Support

A common struggle for many employers is what to do with employees who are not interested in, or don’t have the opportunity to, grow into management or supervisory positions. Not all employees want to be managers, but in many cases, management is the only opportunity they will have for advancement, pay increases, or to learn new skills.

Enter the dual career path and the career lattice.

A dual career path is a developmental path for employees who are not interested in supervisory or managerial positions. Generally, a dual career path identifies higher-level, non-supervisory, non-managerial jobs of increasing responsibility and value to the organization, thus meeting employees’ needs and justifying higher salary levels and other benefits associated with those jobs. A career lattice is a similar program that involves lateral moves rather than upward moves. A career lattice may be a lateral or a downward move in order to gain new knowledge or accommodate employee interests.

Dual career paths are most common in fields that are highly technical like IT, medicine, science, etc., but can work in other fields. There may also be fields of expertise or processes that need a high-level, non-manager champion as well. Career lattice programs are common where available leadership positions are scarce or as part of a succession plan. Dual career paths and career lattices are ways to keep quality employees challenged, engaged, and remaining with the organization.

Both programs have to be well managed to be successful. A poorly managed dual career path can turn into a dumping ground for lower-performing managers. Managers on the supervisory path may be resentful that they are receiving similar pay to a manager who doesn’t have the extra burden of managing employees.

A poorly managed or poorly communicated career lattice program may be misunderstood. For example, an employee who is interested in a lower level of responsibility to gain access to a new discipline may be looked at with suspicion on the assumption that he or she will get bored with a downward move.

Well-thought-out criteria, communication, and processes are so important to the success of alternative career paths. The programs must be aligned with the organization’s strategic plan and vision. Employees and managers must understand the programs and how they benefit them and the organization. Employee development needs to be part of the culture and move beyond just training courses to job rotations, cross training, etc. Compensation structures need to be adapted to be equitable, particularly with a lattice program. Organizations must consider the compensation treatment of lateral and downward moves. Well-developed career path models can lay out the skills and experiences needed for growth and success in the organization.

Not all employees want to be, or are suited to be, managers of people. Not all organizations have management positions available for quality employees. Alternative career programs like dual career paths and career lattices can help organizations develop and hold on to those employees as well as continue to meet strategic plans. These programs also offer employees career development and growth which boosts employee engagement and loyalty over the long term.

About the author

Laura started at Employers Council as a consultant in the Human Resource Services Department in 2007, and moved into the Information Services Manager role in 2019. Laura’s background includes creating and managing corporate training, recruiting, and human resources departments. She has also managed payroll departments for multi-state companies. Her HR, training, recruiting, and payroll experience includes banking, retail, sales, distribution, and service organizations in Colorado, California, Arizona, and New Mexico, among others. Laura is a member of SHRM and the American Payroll Association.