Professional employees must be closer to Business

Bringing the individual contributor close to the business and its problems is also the only way to avoid projectitis – a common diseases resulting from attempts by management to control professional work which they do not understand. Management understandably wants to see results; it gets ‘projects’ going – usually focused on immediate urgencies rather than on long range thinking. But the only way to get real benefit out of high grade professional people is to hire good men and then let them to their own work, For that however, they have to understand the business and its objectives and have to be able to figure out for themselves where they can make the greatest contribution and how.

It is in the area of promotional opportunities for professional employees that the plausible but false division of industrial society into managers and labor does particular harm. As a result, the typical enterprise knows only one kind of promotion: promotion to an administrative position that entails responsibility for managing the work of others.

But the best professional employee rarely makes a good administrator. It is not that he normally prefers to work alone, but that he is bored, if not annoyed, by administration. The good professional employee also has little respect for the administrator. He respects the man who is better professionally than he is himself. To promote the good professional employee into an administrative position will only too often destroy a good professional without producing a good manager. To promote only the good administrator – who more often than not will not be the outstanding professional in the group – will appear to the professional employee as irrational, as favoritism or as reward for mediocrity. Yet, so long as business has no promotional opportunities except into administrative positions it will be confined to choosing between these two evils.

What is needed is a promotion ladder for individual contributors that parallels the administrative one (General Electric is at present building such a ladder). Positions such as senior metallurgists or chief consultant are needed in additions to that of manger of metallurgical research. And these new promotional opportunities should carry the same prestige, weight and position as the traditional opportunities for promotion to managerial positions.

They should also carry the same financial incentives. Again, largely because of the false either / or of manager or worker, pay incentives for the professional employee are largely tied today to promotion on a man’s contribution to the business. And we must recognize that a man can make fully as great a contribution as he can make in the role of manager.

To make the professional employee’s job truly that of a professional, two things are needed. In the first place, he must not be supervised. He needs rigorous performance standards and high goals. A great deal should be demanded of him, and poor or mediocre performance should not be accepted or condoned. But how he does his work should always be his responsibility and his decision. The professional employee’s job should, in other words, be organized like the job of a manager; his relationship to his superior should be like that between the manager and his superior. The superior of professional people should therefore be chosen for his ability to assist them, to guide them. And his relationship to them should be much closer to that between the senior in a university and the younger men on the faculty than between boss and subordinate.

We must be able to place correctly the man who wants to devote his entire life to learning more and more about a small field, the man who wants nothing more than to become the World’s greatest expert on, say rheostats or depreciation allowances in the Revenue Code. —