- Dual ladder career paths allow employees to develop technical or managerial skills
- Some companies have set aside paid work time for employees to innovate and create
- 3M is a good example of a company that utilises both strategies for innovation
- Not applicable to all industries
Human resources are presented with the difficult task of finding the right personnel for the right positions. The job of head-hunting, while tedious, isn’t the most difficult part. The real indicator of a successful hire is the ability to retain the talent, and maximise their potential. Corporations all over the world have cracked their brains with unique and tailored incentive schemes to try to achieve this. Let’s take a look at the two strategies that seem to reap the best results in terms of innovation – the dual ladder career path and time set aside for personal projects.
Dual Ladder Career Paths
The dual ladder career path describes the two possible paths an entry level employee can embark on in the company. These usually take the form of managerial paths and technical paths. Companies that employ this career progression allow employees to get promoted without ever having to manage people. Some examples of companies that offer dual career tracks include 3M, British Petroleum (BP), Rolls Royce and Mastercard.
Image from mercer.com
Mastercard is a great example of a company that has successfully implemented a dual ladder career framework. Described as consultants (functional) or leaders (managerial), Mastercard employees have the option to lead a group of people, or become subject matter experts in their respective domains. By offering employees the opportunity to choose, Mastercard has managed to reduce turnover rates and improve employee satisfaction.
The beauty of this system allows employees to be managed by competent managers who actually choose to assume the role. Companies are often plagued with poor managers who do not want or even know how to manage people.
Self-Empowerment – Innovation Time
When we talk about setting aside time to work on personal projects, Google often comes to mind. The global tech company allowed employees to set aside 20% of company time to work on personal projects which may eventually become household products under Google. This ‘innovation time’ implemented by Google gave birth to significant products such as Gmail, Google Earth and AdSense – a testament to the effectiveness and success of the program.
By providing employees with the space and resources to work on personal pet projects, Google has managed to empower their employees. In Maslow’s Hierarchy of needs, this constitutes the highest tier of human needs – self-actualisation. A quick search of ‘Google employee benefits’ will let you know that the company has the other 4 tiers pretty well covered too.
However, due to poor enforcement, the ‘20% rule’ eventually gave out to the ‘120% rule’ where Google employees end up working overtime if they wish to work on personal projects. Google, as a whole, have moved on toward a more focused approach to innovation, working on select projects with a select group of specialists. The strategic move allowed Google to streamline the innovation process and improve efficiency. Some have argued that this could jeopardise the innovation culture established in the early days of the 20% rule.
Case Study: 3M – best of both
A company that has masterfully executed both the dual career path and innovation time programs is 3M. They have allowed innovators to continue experimenting and creating new products without having to manage others, and have made it mandatory for employees to set aside 15% of work time to work on new innovations.
Their culture of nurturing innovation from all levels in the company produced one of the most used products in the world – Post-it Notes. The creator of the Post-it Note, Arthur Fry, went on to stay in 3M for over 30 years, under the role of corporate scientist, where he was given the freedom to innovate and create, without the burden of budgets, KPIs and team management. The combination of an innovation culture and a dual ladder career system has been the backbone of 3M’s continual successes in innovation.
Companies need to carefully consider if a dual career path is ideal for their corporate needs. If well-suited, it shouldn’t be too hard to implement. However, setting aside work time for chasing dreams is a little harder to inculcate. 3M established their 15% rule in 1948 and is deeply ingrained in their company culture. Google attempted to replicate this but have since given up on the risky strategy. In this current era of disruption, companies need to carefully consider if they should opt for efficiency and profit maximisation or innovation and creativity when implementing HR processes.