Employee Career Progression


A large IT services firm was acquired by a computer hardware manufacturer. The acquisition brought new opportunities for growth and economies of scale, but it also increased pressure to lower service costs through offshoring.


The IT services firm had several distinct roles with very different skills, including system architects, scripting and automation engineers, and customer-facing software maintenance engineers. The firm also had a global presence, with offices in the US, Eastern Europe, and Asia.


Turnover was rare, but when it occurred in client-facing roles, it could cause major disruption. The cumbersome hiring process made it difficult and time-consuming to replace highly seasoned experts with hard-to-find skills.. It often took many months to fill vacancies, during which customers would understandably grow increasingly frustrated.

The specialization and differentiated experience requirements of the three primary roles also created a lack of career progression for software maintenance engineers who wanted to become architects.

Additionally, the pressure to reduce costs led to offshoring work to less skilled teams with higher turnover rates. More skilled employees in higher-wage regions were tasked with filling the experience gaps, leading to burnout and unhealthy internal competition.


To address these challenges, I developed a cross-training program, designed primarily to create a career progression for the maintenance technicians in all three regions. I pared each technician with a system architect as a mentor. Both were allowed time every day to work on the program, and whatever support they needed, in exchange for committing to the program as their top priority. The architects developed and delivered the curriculum, mentored and assigned lower-risk tasks to the maintenance technicians, who were eager to acquire the skills and expertise required to be successful in the higher-paying architect role. As they gained the requisite skills and experience, new recruits were invited to join.


The cross-training program quickly solved the primary challenges it was designed to address. Turnover became a non-issue, not only because the new career progression made it even less common, but also because there was always a highly qualified resource ready to move into a more critical role. Because each region was included in the program, the skills gap from one region to the next shrank and eventually disappeared. The company was able to offer true follow-the-sun services with industry-leading cost and quality.

But the program's ultimate success far outweighed expectations. The mentors benefited arguably more than their mentees, as their job satisfaction increased from feeling more connected to the organization's purpose and having the opportunity to contribute to a teammate's development. They were also surprised to learn that the maintenance engineers had a high level of automation expertise that they could employ in configuring and maintaining the supporting infrastructure. This saved time, which the mentors reinvested in the program and devoted to more innovative and impactful projects.

The maintenance engineers also created their own cross-training program using the methods they learned in the original program. They combined their skills with those of the scripting and automation team, creating a virtually endless supply of extraordinary talent for the company. This led to the development of multiple disruptive new services that were sold to both existing and new customers.