Ways to Grow/promote Talent in Small Companies other than Management Roles


If you are in a little company, there aren't enough people to give people career growth by asking them to manage people. However, your great employees who want management experience or promotion opportunity can leave and go somewhere bigger where they can get this chance/experience.

What can a small company do so that it engages, retains and grows its talent that if the company was bigger would be promoted into management roles?

Succession Planning
Employee Development
Ellen Raim
6 months ago

15 answers


As a young professional I gained most from participating (assisting in small ways but most importantly simply attending and observing) key meetings: board discussions, presentations to key clients.
My junior colleagues gain a more comprehensive and nuanced view of what is going on, and how their day-to-day job fits into everything. More meaning = better engagement.

Veronika Litinski
6 months ago

leadership TECHNIQUES can be learned...not everyone will be a leader or even wants to be a leader

Ellen Raim
5 months ago

Hi Ellen,
The scope here raises three ideas (which I think are interesting.....):

  1. what is a "small company" in today's context?
  2. how do the constraints of being 'small' relate to skill development and/or management experience?
  3. what are the employee priorities -- immediate and near-term (2-3 years)?

Small company

  • limited number of employees?
  • early stage and/or startup?
  • focused on a niche market; boutique, specialized (business model as collection of niche firms)
  • franchises -- part of a larger nework

I'd pose that many 'small companies' are part of a larger ecosystem. Consider partners, customers, suppliers, local/national associations, government/public (incl. economic development), etc. Each of these could provide opportunities for gaining experience.


  • simple vs. complex business model (e.g. few departments, limited scale, low volumes, few exceptions)
  • type of people involved and/or diversity (e.g. everyone's age 24-28, people with greatly differing values and/or work priorities; level of experience and/or risk taking, etc.
  • nature of the work -- transactional, operational. And, there' just might be few team-based efforts or management activities to perform

I'd pose that each could be overcome by adjusting one of several filters:

  • timeframe (one week vs. month, quarter, or year
  • business scope - individual company vs. include partners and/or others
  • stakeholders and/or targets for whatever efforts are viable: community leaders, university / teaching, special research project, potential investors, current owners/investors, new/different department head

Employee priorities
If workers aspire to management roles, would the small company be the right place for them anyway (currently, or out a couple years)? For example, if someone aspired to run a region of stores/restaurants, would they choose to work at a single-location establishment or start off at a chain?

What does the employee consider 'managing'? Must it be over the HR functions (recruit, train, oversee, direct-collaborate, measure/evaluate?), or does the person want to lead (responsible for a certain result, plan, assign, facilitate, coordinate a group, be spokesperson...)

Does the person want exposure (awareness, learning, getting an inside view) or actual experience? Different actions would be needed for each. I've seen where a junior assignment, special project, mentored stretch goal was set up....but, the person really wanted just to see what's it like to be in different roles or levels?

Hope this is helpful -- reach out directly any time as you wish. Michael

Michael Franken
5 months ago
Thanks. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago

The obvious answer is projects. Changes that need organising and coordination that don't fit neatly into current structures, potentially with external links as well. As well as giving the person experience of organising people, it lets you and others see how they cope.

Alan A
6 months ago
But, is this not mere task training? - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
David E. Marcinko MBBS-MD DPM MBA MEd CMP® Mere task training?? Not sure how you got that from my answer. I'm talking about giving junior people important change projects to design and manage, so they get to solve real business needs and manage people who don't actually report to them. I've seen graduates run projects that involve managing people right up to exec level successfully. - Alan 5 months ago
Mangagemt is largely taught. Leadership is largely inborn. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
I'd say both are learned, and a lot more people could be better at both id they had early opportunities to experiment and practice - Alan 5 months ago
So why are there far more grunts, than leaders.? - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
I don't regard leadership as something related to a role or level. I've seen 'grunts' who are great leaders, and senior people who are rubbish at leadership. To reinterpret your question, why are most organisations triangular hierarchies? Habit. It's what we've had for decades and most people think it's the way things have to be. - Alan 5 months ago
Well, you may not but most folks do. And, if the grunts are great leaders, why are they grunts? - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
Grunts, need great leader grunts, too? - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
Anecdotes are moot in DeCartian Logic. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago

At the end, money is a key-motivator. Of course, young talent enjoy interesting projects, travels and positive work environment. But later they want to found families and will look for financial stability. If talents get interesting offers from the big players, smaller companies hardly can compete.

Instead, companies should establish good connection to a limited number of universities to ensure receiving new potential talents, which could be build up, before the leave to the bigger companies. It is similar as in Soccer.

Patrick Henz
6 months ago
NOPE: At the end money is not the key motivator. Look-up 'Theory X' and 'Theory Y' - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
A phenomenon that Herzberg’s “Two-Factor-Theory” wants to explain. According to the scientist, there are two independent factors, one can explain the motivation of the employee and the other one the job dissatisfaction. As result Herzberg argued that in the working environment exist “motivators” and “hygiene factors”. - Patrick 5 months ago
As each human being is different, there exist distinctive factors which can motivate you, as for example challenging projects, recognition, responsibility, an office with a view, or maybe just an additional plant. - Patrick 5 months ago
In opposite to this, the hygiene factors bring not additional motivations, but cause demotivation, if they are not given, for example regular unpaid overtime or missing job-safety. - Patrick 5 months ago

Theory X and Theory Y

'Theory X' and 'Theory Y' are theories of human motivation and management. They were created and developed by Douglas McGregor at the MIT Sloan School of Management in the 1960s.

These theories describe two contrasting models of workforce motivation applied by managers in human resource management, organizational behavior, organizational communication and organizational development.

So, determine the motivation and what drives the employees; and then seek to fulfill.

Any thoughts?

Dr. David E. M
5 months ago
Humans are hybrid, due to this, Theory Z and Y let to Theory Z. - Patrick 5 months ago
Actually, it is about 80/20 percentages. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago

HR departments just think to throw money out for motivation, which does work 80% of the time [trivial many].

But, just for mangers, grunts and those who are trained and not for educated leaders and visionaries [vital few].

Dr. David E. M
5 months ago
X is extrinsic and easy to determine - Y is internal and tough to determine motivators. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
Money is a hygiene factor for motivation. As employees have fixed costs, they a motivated to find a work, with which they can pays these costs. Furthermore, money is a symbol for status, as non-direct motivator, the employee can use it to buy real motivators, as car, holidays, house, etc. - Patrick 5 months ago
OK - Dr. David E. 5 months ago

I agree with your characterization about motivational activities.

I am asking a slightly different question. I want to know when you are in a small company, and there are no more management slots to fill, how you give your key/strong individual contributors some growth opportunity and leadership learning so that they feel they are developing enough to want to stay with the company

Ellen Raim
5 months ago
Ask them; but beware their response. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
I agree, managers should have regular one-on-one talks with their employees to understand their individual motivators. - Patrick 5 months ago
PR=Performance Reviews - Dr. David E. 5 months ago

So, just ask an HR department how different all the employees really are?

Expect a laugh. Next employee - next applicant - next file - next in line - next slot!

This is simple efficiency and legal risk reduction. SAME- SAME and SAME.

Dr. David E. M
5 months ago
Depends on the business, not for all companies it is easy to attract talent, here the existing employees have to be kept and brought to the next level. - Patrick 5 months ago
It all depends.. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago

you are in quite the cynical mood today David.

Let me pick up on your earlier comments. You said that you can give junior folks pithy projects that have real impact.

how do you think that stands up against being able to talk about their fancy title (which would be inflated if there was not a large enough role) or telling their friends they are managers?

Ellen Raim
5 months ago
NOPE: Never said that at all. Not me. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
Especially younger employees want to align their job with their personal values. If possible, companies can use this and give these employees time to manage social projects. This supports also the organization to present itself as good corporate citizen. - Patrick 5 months ago
Really - Maybe this is why there are so many couch potatoes.. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago

On H.R.

Not cynical at all; just academically and pragmatically experienced. You see, I co-founded and started a firm that grew to 1,350 employees. We tried to go public but the markets crashed in 2008.

HR is a nightmare, and when you finally have good folks, grunts or senior management, they leave for another company as employee, or launch a start-up of their own. I know because that is what I did.

Dr. David E. M
5 months ago
For this it is imperative to build up junior management with potential to become senior. This to adequate regular training and job shadowing - Patrick 5 months ago
Churn em AND burn em' - Dr. David E. 5 months ago

so, to apply your thoughts to my question/problem, I should assume there will be a hefty turnover of the bright and ambitious junior folks and rather than making "make-work" an organization should just create a pipeline of other bright ambitious folks?
that's a different way to look at the problem

Ellen Raim
5 months ago
If you have to "make-work"; you've got too many employees. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago

More on MH

While the Motivator-Hygiene concept is still well regarded, satisfaction and dissatisfaction are generally no longer considered to exist on separate scales. The separation of satisfaction and dissatisfaction has been shown to be a mere artifact probably as a result of its age [mid-fifties] and rapid growth of domestic industrial jobs after WW-II.  

For example, the theory does not allow for individual differences, such as particular personality traits, which would affect individuals' unique responses to motivating or hygiene factors. It is just too simple for the real word - as X and Y seems to persist as more executable, today.

But, X-Y is never the less hard to implement although I always try for the top 20% of all my employees; regardless of industry.

Dr. David E. M
5 months ago


The Queen is leader of the ant hill; until the little Chihuahua dog comes and urinates on it. So, it is all a matter of perspective, limits, operational terms and context.

But, there are more grunts than leaders. And, if leadership could be learned, why are there still more grunts, than leaders?

Dr. David E. M
5 months ago
Leadership can be learnt, but this means costly training. If companies not offer such training for employees and not show respect to them, they will hardly turn into leaders. Besides that it does not make sense to offer training to all, as without followers, there are no leaders. - Patrick 5 months ago
NOPE: Leadership can be cultivated, but generally inbred. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
Manager can be taught. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
PS: We TRAIN dogs; we EDUCATE people. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
We train people to follow rules and processes, educate would be workshops, where people not learn to follow the rules because of sanctions, but understand the importance of these guidelines. - Patrick 5 months ago
NOPE: We TRAIN dogs; we EDUCATE people. - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
Employees who work for example in fast food restaurant are trained to follow processes without thinking. Education is for processes which require thinking. - Patrick 5 months ago
Leadership skills can be taught, people are not born with such. - Patrick 5 months ago
Again; NOPE – Training is merely mindless repetition; very Pavlovian! - Dr. David E. 5 months ago
Exactly this is what you need and get if you work for example at a typical fast-food chain. For this such jobs get now automated. - Patrick 5 months ago
OK - Dr. David E. 5 months ago

OF course. Most are indeed grunts. So =- what was YOUR issue again? 

Dr. David E. M
5 months ago

Have some input?