by Adam O’Neill MBA, SPHR – Sr. Human Resources Consultant
During half time of a very competitive high school lacrosse game, my goalie son made an impassioned case to his team to rally in the second half. It was not the first time he’d been so vocal, and it never went unnoticed by the fans. In fact, during this intermission, the mother of one of his teammates climbed up the bleachers to exclaim, “Good job… he’s definitely management material!” Proud parent moment? Well perhaps, but maybe the presumption was premature.
According to CareerBuilder only one-third of American workers aspire to manager positions. This makes sense, as not everyone is cut out to be a manager. But there exists a faulty assumption among some business leaders that if an employee develops into a spectacular task performer or process manager, they can logically develop into an equally successful people manager, or leader. The fact is that some brilliant, very creative, and hard-working professionals have no interest at all in overseeing people; it’s just not something they’re passionate about or particularly good at. And with this reality Human Resources has designated these very important people as Individual Contributors, or ICs.
An individual contributor is a professional without management responsibilities who contributes independently to an organization’s goals and mission. They have a reporting senior, but no direct reports. They may be the manager of a process or project as part of a team or individually but are not responsible for managing a team of people. ICs can be found in most companies, many at their career midpoint, and they are extremely valuable.
Retaining ICs is critical to meeting customer demands and maintaining corporate knowledge, competitive advantage, and brand identity. Finding a meaningful place and career path for ICs starts with effective evaluation of employee performance and succession planning. By understanding performance dimensions of all employees, organizations can identify those who demonstrate IC potential and those with management potential and design professional development and career plans accordingly. It is worth noting that most employees will fall somewhere on the spectrum of high technical performance and high leadership potential, so some strong individual contributors can develop into effective leaders.
To encourage high job satisfaction among individual contributors and to maximize value, organizations may consider interdepartmental IC assignments to promote collaboration and fresh perspectives on how work is performed. Furthermore, ICs can be leveraged to provide less experienced employees with invaluable 1-on-1 mentoring. To be effective, both approaches will require some level of planning and oversight, but the return on the investment may be well worth it.
Like many young adults, my son is still figuring out what he wants to be when he “grows up.” Whether he’s management material or not is unclear, but what is certain is my hope that he, as a leader or an individual contributor, is challenged by his work, continues to learn, and makes a positive impact in the lives of those around him. After all, anyone who carries these aspirations into the second half of any career is bound to win the game!
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