Community Forum - Tell us about your career system / ladder

Our organization is seeking to update and improve our existing technical career system and advancement process. We would appreciate any insights or feedback from the IRI community regarding dual career ladders, systems, and associated processes and documentation.



2. If yes, please share your insights and details about your system as it was created and evolved over the years. 

  • It has evolved over the years and continues to do so. Managers initiate advancement but all promotions are approved by our technical leadership team. Fellows are very limited but use the same process as noted above. These individuals are recognized annually at our engineering conference. This is equivalent to VP level on our management track.
  • I don't know the history, but it has been used for more than 30 yrs. Key criteria: contribution, expertise, leadership, judgement, initiative and communication. Supervisors initiate the process. I believe the different levels are perceived to be of value. Fellow levels have additional criteria to include commercialization impact, cross-organizational influence and senior management engagement.
  • Highly valued, expert career track established for all levels of hierarchy, systematic criteria. Development path for director/executive level experts handled parallel to management track, executives are responsible for development. Key criteria: impact, internal and external network and expertise, commercial importance of field of expertise.
  • Created about 20 years ago with an internal cross-functional team. Included technicians cross-over to higher level what are normally degreed roles. Advancement can be initiated by employee or manager. The upper roles the most difficult to achieve and harder to validate the contributions across all technical roles. 
  • While maintaining strong technical expertise as a foundational element, we modified the program to put greater emphasis on broader business competencies critical to success including Problem Solving, Business Judgement, and Influencing.  We de-emphasized years of experience as a critical criteria and use that only as a secondary guideline.  We have also de-emphasized a “vertical ladder” and instead opt for a more fluid and broad approach to allow for broadening and provides a pathway back and forth from individual contributor to people leader.
  • Research staff (with terminal degrees) have 3 levels in the technical ladder above entry level, each with additional responsibility and compensation. The next level above is Senior Fellow, a special role reserved for at most a couple people. Each level has well documented requirements, which makes it challenging for managers to develop staff and submit for advancement. More levels might be helpful.
  • Technical ladder has three levels starting with the Fellow level. Advancement is self-initiated to the next level. Approval is made through a board but can be overruled by an C-level member. Advancement needs both technical and commercial achievements although there are exceptions for those positions that require deep institutional or discipline knowledge. There are mixed feelings about the value of the ladder which seems to be highly personal. The advancement comes with the ability to do more independent research depending on level. However, this also depends on the business unit directives.  The technical ladder is perceived as a valuable position to attain.
  • Search "technical ladder" on
  • TCLHandbook.pdf


3. What are a few aspects that work best about your organization's system?

  • It offers a way for individual contributors to advance their careers. However, while we have a process, the tech track has many of the same issues as the management track.
  • The criteria is well communicated, honest feedback is critically important to convey.
  • Dedicated budget at the discretion of experts for university collaboration and conference visits.
  • Clear expectations of the roles. People have seen the system work.
  • It is broad and can be applied to multiple disciplines and it is designed to develop a well-rounded technical professional who understands all of the aspects of our business.
  • Our top level (other than special role of Senior Fellow) is a Principal Scientist or Engineer, which is a significant milestone. The entire population at the Principal level participates in strategic program reviews, which increases top level collaboration and leveraging.
  • Reduced personnel anxiety and hard-feelings.
  • The process is well defined and communicated. However, there is some latitude on the advancement which depends on the achievements and constraints in the individuals accomplishments.


4. What are the best lessons you have learned?

  • Fewer levels and less emphasis on title are best. Compensate people but try to reduce the time spent on titles and levels.
  • The employee development process has evolved over time to reinforce advancement criteria and to have an improved communication and feedback process that is valued by employees to be constructive with open dialog to bring about a high performance culture.
  • Role definitions need to be revised due to emphasis on effectiveness of changing world of virtual/in person activities and competencies.
  • By emphasizing vertical movement as the primary objective, you will not get well rounded technical professionals.  You must also provide multiple ways for individuals to gain experiences they need, and then provide them with opportunities to practice their skill.
  • We added an intermediate technical level ~ 6 years ago, with the intent of allowing faster growth and development. Some staff viewed it as the opposite, making it harder to make it to the top technical level in the organization.
  • There needs to be flexibility in the system because of the job responsibilities and business unit policies. Individuals having different backgrounds/disciplines have to treated in a way that is fair which is not always easy to quantify.






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