What are parallel tracks, and do we need them?

Posted by Jonny Burch on



A lot of people who start using Progression, or who talk to us about setting up their progression framework, ask about whether they should have 'parallel tracks'.

Broadly what they mean by that is: 'should we have separate ladders for our managers and non managers?

What's quite typical traditionally is that you only have one ladder. That means when you get to a certain level of seniority the only way to proceed is to start to manage people.

What people are starting to see and want now, is two tracks that go parallel to each other and allow a non-manager to become more senior without going into management, without flipping over to the management side.

We think that that's really important to do — we're big fans of parallel tracks. Here's why.

The Problem

If you don't have parallel tracks, two things will happen.

First of all, not everyone can be a manager. It doesn't make any sense. If everyone is a manager, then no one is doing the work any more. So not everyone is going to be able to be a manager, so therefore not everyone is going to be able to get to a certain level.

What that means is that some people will look at that and say, well. There's nowhere for me to go here. So you're going to lose them. They're going to leave your company.

The other thing that might happen is that you end up getting some managers who really wouldn't want to be managers Or worse, might not be qualified to be managers, but end up being managers because it's the only thing that they are able to do.

What you end up with there is managers that don't really enjoy the job may not be that engaged with getting better at it.

At worst it can be destructive and culturally bad for the company. So you really just want to avoid putting people in a situation where the only thing that they can do to get more senior is to become a manager.

Time for Parallel Tracks

So parallel tracks is the way to do it.

What we would encourage is that you make your seniority levels on your non-manager side (your individual contributor track) as high as you can possibly go. It may not go all the way to the top of your organization, but it should go high enough. The vast majority of people should have somewhere to go without having to feel like they have to be a manager.

Then what you'll find is that the people who do want to manage will naturally gravitate towards that so you'll get better managers. You also won't lose so many people who don't feel like there's any other option.

Built into the core of Progression

In Progression it's really easy to set this up. So you'll see here that we have a individual contributor track, product designer, and a manager track design manager.

And you can really just add levels as high as you want on both sides. And it's very clear visually here that, the equivalency between, for example, a senior product designer and a design manager so people can get a real sense of, Hey, there's options for me here. You know, when don't want to get to the next level.

We hope this guide has been helpful! Let us know if you'd like us to create guides for any other aspect of career development.

Written by Jonny Burch

Jonny is CEO at Progression


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