Here is an argument for creating a model of advancement that favors advancing the skills of the generalist over that of creating a specialist class. This approach, if implemented correctly, can help boost team morale and smooth out the processes around customer interactions.

by Beth Gauthier-Jenkin
Date Published March 29, 2021 - Last Updated July 26, 2021

This article first appeared in ICMI.

Developing a non-traditional approach for career progression and learning often can be an inexpensive and effective path to organizational improvement. A non-traditional career path model can bring out the best in people and unlock their discretionary effort toward their roles in ways few other initiatives can.

What does this model look like?

Here are the main foundations of this model:

  • Focuses on a generalist model, where all team members can learn and contribute to all work assignments. Team models do not “graduate” out of previous work learned, but they may have less of that work as they also complete work in a new learned path.
  • Requires demonstrated mastery in the new path before formalizing promotions. If quality standards are not maintained, team members can regress to prior stages of the career path.

Pitfalls to the traditional approach

In the traditional approach to development and advancement, most of a team’s human resources are assigned to large volumes of commonly received work. The repetitive nature of this work may cause increased error rates and fail to challenge and engage team members. This can lead to increased turnover, particularly if a path to more engaging work is unclear. Also, promoting specialists as the primary means of career progression splinters the team’s total pool of resources, decreasing effectiveness and making consistent achievement of responsiveness targets difficult.

It is also problematic to rely on a select few of the workforce to manage specialized assignments of less frequent, more challenging work. Often, these redirected human resources leave the main thrust of the organization’s work behind. The use of specialists may increase customer effort to resolution by building in the need to pass work from generalist resources to specialists.

A better way forward

With a changed, updated career path approach, organizations may benefit from improved engagement, increased effectiveness, and greater chance of effortless customer experiences. Generalist-centric models of career advancement and learning ultimately can reduce waste in the process of customer support by reducing the need to transfer customers to specialist care. Avoiding waste builds more efficient, effective teams, and can increase customer and client satisfaction, as the first person the customer connects with is prepared to manage the interaction from start to finish.

There are, of course, potential obstacles to this approach, regardless of the chosen approach, including that leaders must prepare to deliver more training content regularly. Also, there must be documented, consistent methods for managing team members who don’t meet expectations as they progress in their careers. Overall, however, the potential gains for teams, companies, and customers very well may outweigh the pitfalls.

Tag(s): supportworld, coaching, collaboration, communications skills, diversity, employee engagement, employee satisfaction


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