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Discover The Future of Work

When you encounter a good manager, you know it. When you encounter a poor manager, you feel it. It’s time to stop forcing employees into people management in order to rise through the ranks. Many of your employees are not built to manage others and you’re losing high quality talent because of that.

By design, businesses exist to transact and efficiencies are needed to maximize profits. This leads to the prevailing philosophy that your employees should be as multi-functional as possible and assume a plethora of diverse responsibilities in order to deliver maximum value to the business.

But what happens when a team member finds her stride in an individual contributor capacity? If this team member excels in her functional expertise and wishes to remain in that capacity, she should be allowed to without it hindering her career progression. Ideally, functional experts should have a secure seat at the business’ helm because of their on the job experience, insight, and institutional knowledge.

What happens in the alternative case when a team member finds his stride in people development? If this team member excels in building relationships, coaching, and developing other team members – and wishes to remain in this capacity, he should be allowed to without it hindering his career aspirations. People managers are critical to the long-term success of a business because of the value of talent. As a result, organizational career path structures should be designed accordingly.

There are hundreds of reports written about the value of happy, healthy, engaged employees. Part of cultivating happy, healthy, engaged employees is management’s people philosophy which needs to be people-centric. Recognize that people are people and, as such, they are unique. Top talent demands a personalized approach to work structures and expectations. This is a vital lesson for all businesses. Success long into the future will depend on an organization’s ability to align talent with best-fit roles and appropriate responsibilities based on interest and capability. According to Gallup research, forcing team members into roles that just don’t fit is costing you:


Disengagement includes employee tardiness, missed workdays, decreased productivity, and a cultural impact on the workforce. Employee disengagement is estimated to cost an organization 34% of employee salary.

Attrition & Replacement

In 2019, 27% of workers voluntarily left their jobs. Collectively, US businesses lose $1 trillion each year to voluntary exits. Replacing an individual team member who voluntarily exited the business costs up to 2.5 times that employee’s annual salary. One of your highly trained leaders could cost $250,000 just to replace.

Gallup research also found that over half of surveyed exiting employees said neither their manager nor any other leader spoke with them about job satisfaction or their future with the organization within the three months before their departure. This demonstrates a severe lack of interest in employee satisfaction and a much deeper issue in terms of people management.

Using this baseline, here are some thought starters on how organizations can move forward with two tracks:

  • Create two tracks that both lead to senior leadership: Functional Expert and People Manager.
    • If you’re just kind of okay at the work, but you get people, then you’re in the perfect position to focus on establishing relationships with coworkers and coaching teammates. Mentorship and advocacy are key markers of successful careers. Through these actions, you deliver value to the company.
    • If you’re not a people person and you love the work that you’re great at, you’re delivering value to the company. The business needs you to continue its daily operations, to streamline and improve processes, and to innovate new strategy and opportunities. You should be enabled to engage with these duties fully.
  • Creating two career tracks frees each team member to focus on what interests them most, how they can best contribute to the business, and what they’re best suited to.
    • This shift has the potential to reduce job stress, to limit attrition costs, and to relieve low employee morale. This approach may also address the lack of engaged, personalized communication with team members.
  • In the best case scenario, Functional Experts and People Managers have distinct responsibilities and operate as tag teams that work together seamlessly to ensure employees understand and fulfill their responsibilities, their expected contribution to the business, their role in the team, and their potential future with the company.
    • Functional Experts and People Managers work in tandem to create clear pictures of job roles, functions, and duties. They communicate regularly to document and share performance makers and breakers for each team member.

So wait, the idea here is that a critical step to set a business up for success is to employ some team members who focus on the many facets of that business’ operations while other team members focus on the success of those team members? Yes, that’s the idea. Understandably, you may have some questions.

Question: Can someone be both? Yes! It’s super rare to find a team member who exemplifies the compassion, empathy, and interest in developing others while also finding the time to perfect a function. So if you have one, keep her at all costs.

Question: Can you jump between paths? Yes! Team members should always be encouraged to find professional fulfillment within the firm. Professional development and growth are spurred within each employee independently. Note, there will likely be some form of catch up needed to jump back in as a Functional Expert if you’ve been out of the trade for some time.

Question: Aren’t client-facing roles a strong corollary to people management roles? Yes! The fundamentals of client and team member relationships (development and management) are the same. You’ve got to connect with that person, understand who they are (including what they’re dealing with, what they’re interested in, and what they need), and deliver.

In the same way that businesses don’t hire supply chain professionals to be accountants or marketing people to lead finance departments (though an argument could be made for that), organizations should take a careful look at how their team members are positioned to operate day to day. As market competition for high value customers and high quality talent increases in intensity and frequency, this dual track approach will position forward-looking organizations for market leadership. To secure future growth and prosperity of the business, leaders need fully engaged functional experts. Similarly, in order to cultivate and retain happy, healthy, engaged talent who drive the business, you need fully engaged people managers. Specialists help companies design products and services for the world we have yet to experience. This employee engagement strategy should prove to be a competitive advantage today, tomorrow, and beyond.

Read “21 HR Jobs of the Future” for more insight into how HR can lead the organization in navigating the future of work and prepare talent for the next decade.

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