Sightlines

November 2010

In this issue:

R&D Career Ladders 3G

The dual career ladder has been used in most R&D organizations for many years to allow research scientists and engineers to advance their careers without going into management positions. The dual ladder—which now often looks more like a trident, with a third program management prong inserted between the purely technical and managerial branches—recognizes that a technologist's contribution increases with knowledge and experience and that it is in the company's interest to develop and retain these committed, passionate individual contributors.

The ladder has always been somewhat problematic in execution, however, and as the R&D landscape is changing, it is getting harder to make it fit the way research and development work is really organized. Technologists are increasingly being asked to participate in the "business" side of development; they are collaborating in new ways with innovators around the world, inside and outside the organization. The roles and functions of R&D are becoming more complex and multifaceted, and technologists' career aspirations are similarly diversifying.

Tonushree Mondal, a principal in Mercer's Human Capital practice, discussed the future of R&D career ladders with members of the HR in R&D Network at their fall meeting last month. She pointed out that careers are becoming more driven by experiences and interests than by moving up a ladder rung by rung. So while the fundamental structure of a carefully constructed ladder is still necessary, to work in the rapidly changing, increasingly complex world of generation Y, the structure needs to be fluid and flexible. The R&D career ladders of the future, Mondal suggested, are likely to allow hybridization of the various career paths, tailored to the individual technologist. An individual's path would be a combination of work assignments, each with independent valuation and reward.

A hybrid career path would enable technologists and the organization to exert greater control over the velocity and direction of each person's career. It would also clarify the rewards to be expected along the way. While someone who chooses a straight managerial path, for example, might look for quick growth in title and status, salary and incentives tied to goals, and development of leadership skills, the rewards for someone who opts for a cross-functional career path might be defined in terms of long-term potential value to the organization, personal marketability, new challenges, and professional development.

Mondal offered some suggestions for implementing career ladders successfully, including:

The Human Resources in R&D Network provides HR leaders a confidential forum in which to discuss the special issues that arise in research and/or development organizations. For more information, contact Michal Fineman, or join our LinkedIn group. To discuss career ladders in greater depth, contact Tonushree Mondal.

New Enforcement Measures Complicate Compliance with Disability Laws

The Obama administration has stepped up regulatory and enforcement efforts around individuals with disabilities in the US. In recent audits, the Office of Federal Contract Compliance Programs (OFCCP) has required contractors to show not only that they are actively engaging in outreach to disability and veterans' rights groups, but that those efforts are actually increasing the numbers of individuals hired and promoted. If not, the agency is insisting that the contractor change its outreach partners.

OFCCP has indicated that it may require federal contractors to develop goals and timetables for individuals with disabilities similar to those required by the agency for women and minorities under Executive Order 11246. This requirement would be complicated by the fact that, unlike women and minorities, the US Census does not currently ask US citizens if they consider themselves "disabled" as that term is defined under the Rehabilitation Act and the ADA Amendments Act (ADAAA). Also, federal contractors can ask candidates to identify their race, ethnicity and gender during the selection process. The ADAAA strictly forbids employers from asking whether a candidate is an individual with a disability until after the candidate is made an offer of employment.

The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 was extensively revised in 2008 when Congress passed the ADA Amendments Act. The ADAAA, as the revision is known, focused primarily on reversing US Supreme Court decisions that had severely limited the definition of who was disabled under the ADA. Upon passage of the ADAAA, Congress directed the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to issue revised regulations within one year of the effective date of the ADAAA. So far the EEOC has issued proposed regulations, but the process has been delayed by the slow pace of the confirmation process for Obama nominees to the commission. Nevertheless, the commission is looking to finalize the proposed regulations which employers believe substantially expand the reach of the ADAAA beyond that envisioned by Congress.

Meanwhile, EEOC is pursuing aggressive systemic enforcement against employer practices which it believes violates the ADAAA. Recently, the agency has taken the position that employers who automatically terminate the employment of employees who have been on leave in excess of a certain time period and whose disability cannot be accommodated violate the ADAAA by not engaging in the interactive process prior to the termination of the employee on leave. This approach by the EEOC has raised questions about employers' obligations under the interactive process and when that obligation ends. Unfortunately, these questions will not be answered by the final ADAAA regulations as their focus is entirely on the definition of who is disabled.

For more information on disability law and enforcement in the US, contact Nita Beecher. Ms. Beecher is an employment law expert who leads the Employment Law & Litigation Group and the Global Workplace Compliance Network and co-chairs the Workforce Opportunity Network.

When Talent, Mobility, and Management Collide

Many companies have excellent talent management processes that identify high potential employees and carefully shepherd them through their careers to give them the developmental experiences they'll need to prepare for leadership responsibility. These same companies may also have well-designed mobility programs that administer the movement of employees among geographic locations in the most efficient, cost-effective manner possible. Unfortunately, it is not uncommon for these two sets of programs, first-class in and of themselves, to actually work against each other and the company's business strategy.

Members of the East Coast Roundtable explored these issues at a recent meeting of international mobility managers. Haig Nalbantian and Richard Guzzo, partners in Mercer's Human Capital consulting practice, explained how misalignments between job movement and business cycle can lead to counterproductive results—for example, in a company where high flyers moved every 15 to 18 months, but new product launches took 3 to 5 years, managers rarely saw the outcome of their decisions or were able to learn from their mistakes. Pay and promotion systems also rewarded excessive mobility, despite the disruptive effect backfilling all those vacated jobs had on the organization and whether or not the moves really benefited the company. Other companies, though, have the opposite problem—management practices that discourage mobility, impeding the company's ability to grow.

The trick to doing mobility well, argue Nalbantian and Guzzo, is to be explicit up front about three questions:

What kind of mobility is needed?

Different types of job moves serve different ends. If you're developing someone to take over a business unit, you may want him or her to lead different functions within the unit. Moves between business units are more valuable for developing corporate-level capabilities.

Mobility for whom?

Organizations that decide to reserve planned job moves for a few select individuals will use a "sponsored mobility" model, while those that want to spread the opportunities among more employees can apply a contest-mobility approach in which employees compete for internal job openings. Or there may be a hybrid approach combining the two. Also, what levels of employees will be covered by the program chosen? The answers depend on a number of factors such as operating goals, cultural values of the organization (e.g., collaboration v. completion), the elements that make up the total rewards package for employees, and so forth.

How much mobility?

Organizations should think about questions such as the optimum length of assignments given their business and development goals, how many international assignments will be enough to teach what the future leader needs to know, how many different business units or functions the individual needs to experience?

Nalbantian and Guzzo advised Roundtable members to do their due diligence when assessing their mobility programs: describe the current state, evaluate the positive and negative consequences of the current state, and simulate possible future scenarios depending on how the system might be altered. Then decide whether changes are needed to optimize the impact of the firm's mobility program on talent and business objectives.

For more information about Expatriate Roundtables and other mobility services, contact Steve Nurney. To discuss Nalbantian and Guzzo's ideas further, contact them directly at haig.nalbantian@mercer.com and rick.guzzo@mercer.com, respectively.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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