Dual-Tracking: Creating Career Opportunities for Scientific/Technical Personnel

August 16, 2017 by John Collins MA, SHRM-SCP

The personalities most likely to climb the organizational ladder are not always best for getting the work done where it counts. 

In high-stakes organizations, the employee who enjoys monotony, who tends toward introversion as a personality trait, and who finds joy in managing the smallest of details might strike us as being well-suited for work in scientific or technical organizations.

And we would be correct. 

Conversely, the outgoing and socially adept employee will likely perform well when it is called for – when making a sale, closing a deal, working a room, or persuading an audience. We might even suspect that these go-getters will often compete more effectively for management positions when they become available.

And, again, we would be correct. 

A difficult organizational dilemma arises from this fundamental truth about employees and their opportunities for advancement. Too often, professional careers seem predetermined by our personality tendencies and work preferences no matter how good we are at our jobs. 

Many organizations don’t meet this challenge head on. Management positions become monopolized by the ambitious, leaving thoughtful scientists and technical personnel, who may actually have leadership potential of their own, to accept what is often viewed as a limited future. 

Both technical and managerial excellence can equate to leadership excellence as long as the people who serve as the good examples in your organization are rewarded for it. 

Dual tracking, as it is called, is a type of organizational structure that allows scientific or technical employees to follow one of two possible career paths—scientific or managerial. 

The advantage of such a system is that it allows employees whose preference is to advance their scientific/technical expertise and stature to strive for growth and earning potential despite their wishes to stay clear of management positions. Ultimately, this benefits managers as well because they will have an easier time retaining high-value scientists over the long term. 

The disadvantage is that some managerial employees struggle with outdated attitudes about compensation when they realize that non-managerial employees, in such a system, can actually earn higher salaries than their managers at any one time, especially if the man-ager is younger or has fewer years of experience. 

Similarly, managers can become disenchanted with a dual track system if they feel that employees on the technical track are not being given responsibilities and assignments of the same complexity and intensity. If overworked, overstressed managers see highly compensated, relaxed scientists reading journals for hours on end with their feet kicked up on their desks, expect trouble. 

Dual tracking, fortunately, is like any other organizational structure or compensation package in that it must be designed and managed well. The key is to structure opportunities, responsibilities, and compensation around the exercise of leadership, whether that lead-ership is technical or managerial. 

Over time, well-developed employees on either track can compete for executive-level administrator positions, which is a good sign that the system is working well. Either track can produce leaders worthy of executive consideration.