Most businesses have a leadership pipeline that aspiring managers move through during the course of their careers. The exact titles and responsibilities may vary depending on the industry, but they generally follow the path illustrated in the Leadership Pipeline figure. Employee development is frequently based on this career path.

leadership development First transition: From Managing Self to Managing Others. Employees just starting out usually spend their first few years in an organization as individual contributors.   They contribute by doing the assigned work within given time frames and meeting objectives. When individual contributors demonstrate that they can produce effective results and collaborate well with others, they receive additional responsibilities. If they show they can handle the responsibilities and uphold the company’s values, they may be promoted to first-line manager positions. This is where they start the transition from accomplishing tasks to managing others.

Second Transition: From Managing Others to Managing Managers. This is a critical juncture because these level-two managers select and develop the people who will become the company’s future leaders. At this level, managers must be able to recognize that some individual contributors are not cut out to manage and lead others—and to find a way to continue development for them.

Third Transition: From Managing Managers to Managing Functions. At this point, managers need to learn new communication skills because to communicate with individual contributors, they must now go through at least two layers of management. They also report to general managers who manage multiple functions. They may need to learn about areas unfamiliar to them and think about aligning their unit’s strategy with the business’s overall strategy. They will spend more time working with other functional managers in business-team meetings and less time on purely functional responsibilities.

Fourth Transition: From Managing Functions to Managing Business. Business managers are responsible for the bottom line. They usually have significant autonomy and see a clear link between their efforts and bottom-line results. At this level, managers must learn to reserve time to reflect and analyze, because they must balance short- and long-term thinking.

Fifth Transition: From Business Managing to Group Managing. A business manager values the success of his own business; a group manager values the success of other people’s businesses. A leader at this level must have a global perspective. They must prepare themselves for the bigger decisions, greater risks and uncertainties, and the longer time spans inherent to this leadership level.

Sixth Transition: From Group Managing to Enterprise Managing. This transition is much more focused on values than skills. Enterprise managers must set direction and develop operating mechanisms to know and drive quarter-by-quarter performance that is in tune with longer-term strategy. Enterprise leaders must let go of the pieces, i.e., the individual products and customers, and focus on the whole, i.e., how well do we conceive, develop, produce and market all products to all customers. This role is commonly titled CEO.

What happens if you can’t promote employee? There may be several reasons promotions aren’t an option:

Isolated roles – Highly specialized, support, or remote roles may be difficult to promote.employee development

Hiring and wage freezes – You may not have budget or growth opportunities readily available.

Employees working longer – Rising retirement age, financial constraints, and personal preferences are keeping employees on the job longer, which prevents higher-level positions from becoming available.

Narrowing Hierarchies – It’s a simple numbers game; organization charts narrow to the top like a pyramid. Even if your company is growing, generally only one or two out of every ten people can become managers.

Also consider that many individual contributors are happy in that role and have no desire to manager others. That doesn’t mean they don’t want to grow in their careers. If management is the only path to promotion and raises, you’ll either get the wrong person in the wrong role or you’ll lose valuable employees. You need to find ways to offer employee development when promotions are off the table. Here are three suggestions to get your thoughts flowing.

1 – Consider Lateral Moves

A change in responsibility or role can be just as motivating and refreshing as a promotion. When someone on your team starts to look restless or bored, talk to them about other areas of the business they’re interested in. Maybe they’d like to cross-train with other team members, which would provide growth opportunity to others and foster teamwork as they train each other.

2 – Focus on Skill Growth

Take a look at each team member’s skills. See if there are areas you can work with them to improve. Identify new skills they’d like to learn that could be tied to future opportunities or passion areas. If you don’t have much of a training budget, get creative! Books are relatively cheap. A mentor further along in a similar career could provide guidance and advice. Learning from a peer skilled in the team member’s area of interest could have a big impact. Look for affordable professional meet-ups or conferences they can attend. Free and inexpensive courses from respected institutions like Harvard, MIT, and Sorbonne Universities are available online from sites like EdX and Udemy.

3- Tap into Their Passion

As companies and teams grow, habits and processes can become outdated. Maybe it was the best you could do at the time, but now employees are complaining about them. The next time somebody complains about a broken process or inefficient system, ask if they’d consider taking it on as a project. This feeds their passion because if they care enough to complain, they’re likely motivated enough to fix it. If it works and you can measure the results, it creates a success story to enhance their resume for the future. Fixing a daily hassle provides stress relief for the employee and maybe even the whole team—happier employees are easier to work with!

Passion projects tap into the three keys to motivating employees intrinsically: autonomy, mastery, and purpose:

  • Autonomy – They’re in charge of the project, leading to goals you agree on.
  • Mastery – They’re building skills by taking on the project.
  • Purpose – The project helps them, their team, and the company in a measurable way.

A sense of accomplishment is invaluable to a fulfilled, loyal workforce. Don’t let a lack of opportunities for promotions prevent you from investing in employee development. Get creative and find ways to boost morale, motivation, and employee retention.

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