Creative ideas for developing your technical staff

Most companies do a lousy job of developing their best technical talent. In fact, they often end up sabotaging themselves by promoting the best technical people into managerial jobs, to which they are ill suited. The company loses the person’s technical contribution and the technical person is less satisfied by managerial work. It’s a lose/lose situation. 

Here are some ways to grow technical staff and help the organization at the same time. 

Encourage internal entrepreneurs

If you want to be an entrepreneur you usually have to leave your job and venture out on your own. Not so, in one savvy organization. This food company figured out a way to create an entrepreneurial culture without losing the independent thinkers. Here’s how they do it: 

If an employee has a new idea for a product, he or she pitches the idea—complete with business plan, marketing plan, resource needs and financial requirements—to a cross-functional “venture capital board” of executives and managers. If the idea has merit, the employee may be granted time off from his or her job, along with a budget and necessary resources, to launch the new product.  

In one case, an entire new frozen entrée was created. The problem of rewarding the internal entrepreneur was solved by promoting him to head up the venture, along with a piece of the action based on sales. Is there any surprise that entrepreneurial thinking is alive and well at this progressive company? 

Technical career ladders

Many companies kill the goose that lays the golden eggs by promoting the best technical producers into managerial jobs. One company has solved the problem by encouraging the technical whizzes to head up challenging new projects. They go through extensive Six Sigma training, to learn the latest statistical techniques, and then they are assigned an ever changing collection of high profile projects to work on.  

They lead others—usually a cross-functional team of experts—through a technical process to drive out costs, trim down bureaucratic processes and investigate new ways to do business. Like a SWAT team of highly focused sharp shooters, these super-charged technicians are challenged to do what they do best and skip the administrative tasks that go with the typical upward climb. In addition, their pay keeps up with the managerial side of the advancement ladder. 

Combining technical career ladders with entrepreneurial thinking

In a technology company, there is a well-defined technical ladder that rewards each step up the rung with more independence and more complex projects. As you reach the highest levels of technical competence, you are rewarded with entrepreneurial projects, much like the food company mentioned earlier.  

Ideas are presented to a cross-functional board, that grants resources and time off from regular responsibilities, to pursue the idea in a way seldom granted in the typical organization. The employee’s regular responsibilities are delegated to someone else, while he or she has the freedom to research or design the new concept full-time. 

What can you do in your company? Here are some ideas to get you started: 

  • Reward technical performers for significant accomplishments, rather than forcing them to move to a managerial role to earn more money. 
  • Off-load some responsibilities to a junior technician when a prized technical worker is given a significant, new technical project. 
  • Provide company forums for technical experts to present their project results and showcase their research. 
  • Keep the projects challenging and varied. Encourage employees to pitch project ideas on their own. 
  • Pair up-and-coming technical workers with experienced, star technicians. Rather than overburdening your stars with employees, they can work closely with a single protégé to share their expertise.

Joan Lloyd is a Milwaukee based executive coach and organizational & leadership development strategist. She is known for her ability to help leaders and their teams achieve measurable, lasting improvements. Joan Lloyd & Associates, specializes in leadership development, organizational change and teambuilding, providing: executive coaching, CEO coaching & leader team coaching, 360-degree feedback processes, retreat facilitation and presentation skill coaching and small group labs. Contact Joan Lloyd & Associates at (414) 573-1616,, or 
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