Thursday, 5 February 2015

Rewarding People By Not Making Them Managers

My grandfather, Boet, turned 85 at the beginning of this year and we celebrated with a lovely party thrown at my folks' house. 

During his party, we got chatting to how management can be a blessing or a curse, depending on who is doing the managing and whether they're actually qualified for it or not. Back in the day my grandpa was involved in Agriculture and then he ended up working for the South African Embassy in the USA for a while - so he knows a thing or two about bureaucracy and management. 

Anyway, we had a really good chat about this and our biggest point was that all too often we see people who are doing a great job technically, moving into management because that's the only way to grow (and get a bigger paycheck - because let's face it, we all need a bit of money to survive) within a company. Sometimes these appointments work out. Sometimes they don't. When they don't work out, then the whole department or team suffers as a result.  

The question that Boet and I were chatting about was, how do we retain and reward strong technical people without pushing them into a management role if they aren't interested in management? I don't know if there's a hard and fast answer here, you probably need to take it on a case by case basis. Moving into management often means one won't have a chance to use the skills that have been learnt over the years, which is a waste of knowledge and experience. Managing people is also something that needs a particular skill set - often this is something that either comes naturally to a person or it doesn't. Putting someone without those people skills into manager positions often results in unhappy staff and a disconnect in your team. Putting someone with strong technical skills into a position of mentorship, where they can share their hard earned skills with others is probably a better way to go about things. But this will only work if people feel secure in their jobs and are thus confident in sharing their skills with others, with the objective of improving the skills of all parties.

At my current job, we have two different "management" streams within our teams. The first stream is structured around people management, project management, basic technical ability and client interactions. The other stream is structured around in-depth technical know-how, project execution, helping junior developers with technical problems and technical interactions and specifications with clients. Both "managers" are responsible for the success of the team, however their areas of focus are slightly different, allowing the technical people to retain their experience and allow the technical leads to to what they do best and share that knowledge with others.

I think this is a pretty wide topic, with many different points of view. What are your thoughts on this? Any suggestions for things that have and haven't worked for you in the past in terms of rewarding technical ability without the person having to move into a management role?

Family Picture at Boet's 85th birthday - I printed this picture for him on a canvas
as my gift to him :)

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