In the martial arts, you may know that once a person obtains a black belt there are usually levels of progression upwards. Each of these levels is called a “dan” and there can be 3 or more progressive levels, sometimes designated with astripe ortape around the end of the black belt.

We’ve taken that concept as a beginning for a career development plan for Black Belts. We ask for a 2 – 3 year commitment as part of our hiring process, and hire new Black Belts at a “novice” level if they have not previously been certified as a Black Belt elsewhere. After training and internal certification, and meeting other organizational requirements, they are promoted to “practitioner” level.

At this point, we start discussing possible future paths: Continued learning in project management and expanding the focus of the projects; or possibly going back into operations and a Green Belt level of participation; or possibly upwards to incorporate moreteaching and mentoring. In the last case, the level is called “sensei” and can be obtained through a number of ways,demonstrating effectiveness in project management, teaching of our Operational Excellence courses, and formal mentoring programs.

Each of these levels has a salary band within the Black Belt wage range, and the promotion process includes preparation of a portfolio to be presented to a group of executives who will consider the appropriateness of the promotion.

We’ve put this structure together in the last several months, and will be setting up the first portfolio reviews this fall.

I’m working whether there are any other Black Belt level concepts, like this one, being used “out there?” If so, please share!

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