When hearing the words ’’non-linear’’, if your mind immediately jumps towards video games, you already sort of get the point.
In a non-linear game progression system, you start at the same spot as every other player. But when you arrive at a crossroads, instead of going straight down the first path like you usually would, you get to choose if you want to go left, right, or even take a step back and see if you can get to your current position again, by taking another path. This progression helps you pick up new skills and new experiences that will make the path ahead much easier.
This is also how the current trend in career progression looks. Companies no longer expect people to stay in the same career path for decades, slowly working their way up the corporate ladder. This rings especially true for agencies, where skills from different career paths transfer almost seamlessly and complement each other with a broader outlook on the problems being solved.
As an example, if you have a frontend developer who discovered she likes designing more than she likes coding, you should give her a chance because:
- She already knows the limitations that code can have on some designs
- She can design with systems and reusable assets in mind
- She can give better estimates on project length and the overall development time
- If she wants to progress further into something like art direction, the added coding skills are always a plus when communicating to both clients and developers alike
If your agency has people who have invested in their craft to the point where they are considered experts, top talent, or masters, their progression will eventually hit a plateau.
And while just existing at the top and using your skills to their full potential is a fantastic feeling… ultimately, the need for self-improvement and innovation that got them to the top of the talent pool will make them want to progress further. But you can’t really go further up than the top, so where do you go?
This is where people start considering switching jobs or pursuing entrepreneurship because it seems like the only challenging way forward.
The classic solution to this “problem” is to promote them to the management level. Clearly, if someone is performing exceptionally well as a specialist they will automatically become an exceptional manager… Right?
The solution is not always that simple and pushing someone to become a manager (or a manager of a bigger team than before) is not for everyone. Some top talent enjoy being a specialist and would rather spend their time performing their tasks, than managing a team.
“In a hierarchy, every employee tends to rise to his level of incompetence.”
– Laurence J. Peter, Author of The Peter Principle
The previous quote refers to what is known as the Peter principle, a concept of management developed by Laurence J. Peter. The principle suggests that people tend to get promoted outside of their skillset and competence, based on previous success.
Meaning: Your best front-end developer is first and foremost… a front-
end developer. Having 10 award-winning projects under his belt does not make him an instant candidate for managing the next project. That requires knowledge of front-end and an additional management skill set, lack of which could lead to disaster down the line.
The modern solution to the problem is working with non-linear progression and promotion. Instead of the career path only going one way – towards management – you can set an alternative path. This could be anything from giving your top talent more influence on projects or a seat at the table when tough decisions are made to simply giving more freedom to perform tasks their own way. Once you start thinking outside the box you’ll be amazed at the possibilities there are for non-linear progression.
And the result?
Happier top talent that gets a truly unique position at your agency, which they won’t be able to find anywhere else.
At SQAEB, most of our junior employees start out in the SWAT department, helping our users with day to day issues. This helps them naturally and quickly get an overview of all the other departments, the products, and how everything fits together. Later they can choose to transition into newly opened positions in the company that they find interesting or get places in completely new positions based on their specializations.