The Specialist Pipeline Concept clarifies roles and responsibilities for different specialist positions in most organisations. This framework provides performance expectations for each specialist role and highlights career paths with opportunities for promotion and development as a specialist in the organisation.
These days, highly matrixed organisations, networking architectures, and agile setups are disrupting organisational structures. To accelerate time to market, decentralise decision-making, and mobilise innovation throughout the business, organisations need to adapt to survive.
Many established hierarchical organisations are unable to adapt to these disruptions. This is because they do not have a structure to maximise the potential of the technical expertise of their talent.
The Leadership Pipeline Institute created the Specialist Pipeline concept to allow organisations to build the necessary architecture for their specialist to solve real business challenges.
In ‘The Specialist Pipeline: Winning The War For Specialist Talent’, Kent Jonasen has given a very detailed insight into the Specialist Pipeline Concept, with examples, case studies and the background to the Concept.
We highly recommend that any decision maker, people manager, specialist or anybody interested in keeping up with the latest concepts in business management read this book.
We will present a general summary for those unfamiliar with the Idea or those considering the Specialist Development Programmes.
Who needs to implement the Specialist Pipeline Concept
- Companies pursuing an Agile Transformation Strategy
- Companies in knowledge-based Industries
- Professional service companies
- Companies requiring highly skilled and experienced individual contributors
- Any organisation that is serious about Talent Management
- Any company focusing on Diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) ensuring strong focus and incentive for specialist roles and specialist development overall
- Companies who want to retain talented specialists in their organisations
Specialist Pipeline Passages
Generally speaking, entry-level employees begin their careers as entry-level Individual Contributors. In most cases, even degree-educated entry-level candidates will still not be sufficiently qualified to be eligible for jobs above’ entry-level status’. However, their education or previous related experience denotes a certain level of knowledge exclusive to people with those shared characteristics. Therefore, consider these individual contributors ‘professionals for simplicity. A professional is normally hierarchically at the ‘bottom of the organisation’ but is seen as someone junior with the theoretical potential to progress to more senior specialist roles in the future.
Traditionally most the people shared belief that the true career progression is the professional to People Manager role. However, as pointed out at the beginning of the article, this doesn’t have to be the case. This mindset could be very harmful to the organisation, the Individual contrubutors, colleagues, People Managers and Specialists.
To explain the ‘Specialist Pipeline Concept,’ can refer to Specialists as Individual contributors who are Knowledge Experts, Knowledge Leaders and Knowledge Principals. While certain professionals have titles like ‘Specialist’, ‘Lead’, or even ‘Manager,’ this doesn’t necessarily make them specialists or people leaders by default.
The stage of the Individuals’ career path along the Specialist or Leadership pipeline is governed by their skills, work values and time applications. Not by their placement on the org chart, an excel sheet or presence on the about us page of the company website.
Professionals who go on to pursue career progression opportunities as specialists will go through the following passages:
Passage 1: From Professional to Knowledge Expert
Knowledge experts will move from achieving the goals of a line manager to establishing their own goals. Additionally, knowledge experts move from depending on their competence to guiding and providing input to others.
Knowledge experts will shift their focus from daily task planning to activities like mentoring colleagues and advocating for their areas of expertise. Additionally, knowledge experts will devote time to building their own personal brand inside and outside the company.
According to many organisations, people who are specialists at heart frequently choose to work as people managers. They lost a talented specialist a few years later but gained subpar management in his place. It’s a lose-lose situation right now. However, the manager route has been considered the only method to “build a career” by many professionals.
Companies must design a clear career path for specialists if they want to change this behaviour. Most businesses offer leadership training to their team leaders to assist them in taking the arduous initial step into a managerial career track. The knowledge expert Programme (which forms part of the Specialist Development Programmes) , which aids specialists in taking their first difficult step into a specialist job, is the of highest value since represents the hardest transitions in the specialist career paths.
Passage 2: From Knowledge Expert to Knowledge Leader
Knowledge leaders will go from establishing their individual goals to organisational goals for tasks and procedures. Knowledge leaders move from giving people feedback to being crucial players in change management. The role of the knowledge leader will also change from directing structured issue solutions to influencing the problem-solving methods of junior-level specialists.
Knowledge leaders eventually transition from representing a professional area to leading their expertise. Additionally, knowledge leaders will switch from training others to managing stakeholders’ expectations. Finally, the knowledge leader will also move from attaining achievements via individual labour to achieving results through others.
Knowledge leaders need to get used to coping with ambiguity because their work will have an impact on the planning process over the next two to three years.
This team of knowledge leaders are essential to the business. They should assume this much more independent role since they have important expertise to contribute. Unfortunately, the delivery of their company objectives feels out of hand for many knowledge leaders, and their direct manager does not provide them with much professional coaching.
Knowledge leaders frequently operate at a low level, concentrate solely on current deadlines, and fail to develop their areas of expertise further if we do not assist them in shifting from knowledge experts to knowledge leaders. As a result, they simultaneously feel frustrated in their job, which raises the possibility of quitting or demotivating.
Passage 3: From Knowledge Leader to Knowledge Principal
The knowledge principal may possess an important depth of knowledge, but they are typically unable to function at the executive level, which forces them farther down the organisational ladder. The best course of action would be to assist them in accepting and filling their duty. The role of knowledge principals will also shift as they move from managing stakeholder expectations to leading change, innovating, and contributing to creating competitive advantages.
Knowledge principals will start devoting time to developing their specialities strategically. Additionally, knowledge principals will devote more time to strategic networking and outside inspiration. Often knowledge leaders will be held responsible for long-term architecture in their domain of expertise with cutting-edge innovation and groundbreaking results.
Principles of knowledge move from attaining results through relevant colleagues to achieving results throughout the organisation. Therefore, knowledge teachers will need to switch from two or three to three to five-year planning.
Unfortunately, numerous businesses demonstrate that managers neglect the expert’s voice vertically and horizontally within the firm.
How Business Leaders can get started with implementing the Specialist Pipeline Concept
- Audit existing Roles and Organisational structure
- Conduct a Job Classification exercise
- Identify your People Leaders, Specialists, Project Managers and Individual Contributors
- Benchmark their performance and the actual day-to-day job responsibilities to the role’s intended purpose
- Invest in Specialist Development Programmes and measure the results
The difference between the Specialist and Leadership Pipeline
The Leadership Pipeline Concept allows organisations to maximise their People Managers’ effectiveness and potential. The Leader Pipeline Concept provides a framework with the necessary Work Values, Time Applications, and Skills needed to successfully transition between each stage of the Leadership Pipeline. In addition, the Leadership Development Transition Programmes help these leaders make the necessary change.
The newly promoted Leader of Others and maybe even Leader of Leaders will find that the skills, knowledge, experience and processes they may have mastered as Individual Contributors are almost completely discarded. A wise HR Decision maker or their immediate boss is probably not interested or impressed with their technical knowledge anymore. Instead, the focus is on the manager’s ability to motivate others, delegate, communicate, hire and engage with people whose job entails personal efficiency and technical work.
This isn’t an issue for many managers, especially so-called’ natural leaders’. Many ambitious professionals dream of the opportunity to divorce themselves from individual contributor work because they truly aspire to Lead Others and everything that comes with that role. Sadly, this doesn’t necessarily result in ‘natural’ success, but these individuals’ motivation is very visible. For these people being an individual contributor or professional was just an unavoidable stepping stone towards their long-term vision of career success.
There are other people who are truly passionate about their domain knowledge and prefer authority in their field instead of being responsible for others. For these people, people management can be a daunting and unavoidable transition they have to take if they want to get paid more and if they want to ‘grow’. Unfortunately, these people can end up wasting their talent and unintentionally damaging their organisation as mediocre people managers. Furthermore, their technical expertise can and, for many companies, must be utilised at more senior levels.
The specialist pipeline gives people that perform better as specialists than people managers an alternative career progression path. It also gives the business’ Individual contributors’ who operate at a higher level where they can make a bigger impact on decision-making. It also creates critical insights that it would be impossible for senior management to acquire as people managers or from far less experienced junior professionals at the bottom of the organisational hierarchy. Finally, it allows individuals to move between Specialist and Leadership positions without being demoted. People who have been promoted vertically and horizontally are much more well-rounded and potentially much more valuable than those who have followed a purely linear career path.