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Image Credit: <www.thespringboardacademy.com


Most professionals are looking for progression over the course of their careers. 1. This is of course a general statement and not true of everyone. Some people reach a point in their careers where they are happy and not looking to progress any further. This is fine – all organizations need continuity players.The job one is in now is not the job one wants to be in 10 years from now. 1

There are lots of ways to prepare an employee for the next level of responsibility, but broadly speaking there are three things that need to be considered in determining if it’s time to advance an employee into a bigger job.

Technical Knowledge

Conceptual Knowledge

Relevant Experience

Let’s break these down one by one:

Technical Knowledge

Technical knowledge is simply made up of the raw skills required to do a given job. For a Certified Public Accountant in the U.S. this may mean obtaining a CPA (and all the relevant table stakes skills that come with one). Still for other jobs this may be something as simple as having a GED or High School Diploma.

Some technical knowledge can be learned on the job if one has the right 2. Pay grades, job mapping, ranges, variable compensation plans, long term incentives, various equity grants and the merit cycle were mostly abstractions to me before I started working in compensation, but I had the educational background and cultural context required to quickly pick all of these things up.foundational skills, 2 but rather said skills are learned on the job or not, technical knowledge is a critical component of job success.

Conceptual Knowledge

I tend to think of conceptual knowledge as “knowing what’s important and why.” Put another way, one can have all of the technical abilities required to complete a task, but if one doesn’t understand why the actions in a process are important then he or she misses out on the nuances required to be successful. It’s akin to knowing how to multiply a fraction without having a conceptual understanding of what a fraction is. Even at the very most unskilled levels of labor, one has to understand what their actions are supposed to accomplish in order to effectively do his job – a sweeper that can push a broom but doesn’t understand he is trying to move all of the dirt and debris on the floor to one point will never 3. As a final (self depreciating) example, I have no idea what the Scientists in the R&D department of my company do. Are they trying to create new types of oil-seeds? Are they testing for bacteria of some sort? The entire function is a mystery to me. Even if I possessed the raw technical ability as it concerned educational background/pedigree (doubtful) the curve behind learning the concepts required to take on a meaningful role in the function are likely totally beyond me. I give this example because many treat the conceptual value of work as a given, but yet most people can think of a function or industry that they know nothing about (many people think Yahoo and Google are paid by ISPs).effectively sweep the floor. 3

If you don’t know what your boss does (and how the role adds value to the company), then you either aren’t ready for her job or she doesn’t actually add value.

Relevant Experience

Experience is a word that gets thrown around a lot. Companies routinely require “X years experience” in job postings, and relevant work experience is broadly looked at as a prerequisite for progression at each level of one’s career.

I think that companies often bloat work experience requirements on job postings, but that isn’t to say that the value of experience is to be undervalued.

I tend to think of work experience as what allows a job incumbent to make contingencies and address challenges as they come up.

Frankly, one can have very high technical skills and strong conceptual understanding of a job, but there are dozens (sometimes hundreds) of nuances to consider when completing a complex task. This fact is important because mistakes are a product of the learning process.

A good, simple example of this principle is as follows; when you were in middle school and learning the distributive property in your Algebra coursework:

Algebra HR 1

You read the textbook, understood the concept, and had the foundational technical knowledge (arithmetic and pre-Algebra) to complete the task. Yet it took you several practice problems before you didn’t make any more mistakes.

Algebra 3 HR

Eventually you got it, but perhaps the first time you forgot to combine like terms, re-order the variables alphabetically, or you used the wrong sign somewhere.

The same is true of stepping into a new job with no experience. Using a business/real world example, if you’ve never coordinated the acquisition of a new business there are both technical details and conceptual nuances that you’ll miss.

I tend to think about determining readiness for a larger role as follows:

This post is getting long, but I want to talk about this chart in detail at a later date.

I want to talk about this chart in detail at a later date.

If one passes two of the three tests here, they may be able to succeed in a new role if they have strong support from either their direct reports, the outgoing incumbent, and/or a manager with a strong background in the space. Further, even without this support it’s probably possible to succeed in a new role passing only two of three tests if the learning curve on the “failed” tests is 4. A senior leader once told me that one doesn’t need a lot of experience to negotiate a labor contract – just the ability to say “no” a lot. If this is true then I suppose a strong labor and employment law background, understanding of the labor contract being negotiated and a strong BATNA are probably enough to offset a lack of experience.exceptionally low. 4

With that said, if one only passes one of three tests he or she probably has no business stepping into the new role.

…Anyway, we’re over 1,000 words so I’m going to wrap up here.

As always, please share your thoughts in the comments section below.



If you have questions about something you’ve read here (or simply want to connect) you can reach me at any of the following addresses: 

SomethingDifferentHR@gmail.com OR rorytrotter86@gmail.com