In today’s workplace, employees are looking for more than just a paycheck. While total compensation is important, they also want to know that their employers value them and see a forward trajectory for their careers at work. Younger generations in particular want to have an impact, growing and developing as they do meaningful work that makes a difference.
It’s easy to tell employees that they and their work matter, but in order to keep your top talent engaged and motivated to stay, you need to show them that they have a bright future with your organization. And you can do that by implementing a career pathing plan within your organization.
So, in this article, we’ll define career pathing and share examples that illustrate its importance in the modern workplace. We’ll also take a look at the step-by-step plan for getting started with career pathing as a part of your comprehensive employee development and retention program.
By the end, you’ll have a better understanding of how to implement a career pathing plan at your organization to keep your employees thriving and your workplace running smoothly.
So with any further delay, let’s dive in.
What Is Career Pathing?
Career pathing is the process of working with employees to develop a trajectory of potential future roles for them within your company. Ideally, in this process, managers work with employees to determine where the employee’s skills, experience, and goals line up with the organization’s needs and values so that both workers and the workplace benefit from the plan.
Career pathing is closely related to succession planning, the process by which an organization prepares employees in advance to move into key roles when they are available. And both of these professional development methods are essential parts of a comprehensive retention strategy. But where succession planning is interested in high-value employees on their way out, career pathing focuses on the workers you most want to keep.
Because retention is the goal, it’s important to note that career pathing is not a “one-size-fits-all” strategy. It’s a complex process, and the definition of a successful career path can vary greatly from one employee to the next.
For example, the traditional career ladder, in which high-performing employees are promoted to management positions, is a vertical career path that may not be right for everyone on your team. These positional and monetary changes only make sense for employees who both have the leadership skills needed to manage others and, crucially, want to move into management roles.
For other employees, an appropriate career path might be either lateral or expansive.
In lateral moves, employees whose skills outgrow their current positions might move forward into a different role at the same level in another department.
In expansive moves, employees happy in their roles but seeking further growth or learning might work with managers to broaden their expertise and take on more responsibilities within the same department.
Career pathing strategies can also vary based on an individual’s current career phase. For example, a fresh college graduate might be more likely to see career paths that help them to build foundational skills, develop core competencies or explore multiple possible career trajectories that they might consider.
Meanwhile, a mid-career senior developer, for instance, might prefer a path to more stable responsibilities or even a shift into a different field within their skillset. If you approach career-pathing conversations without these variations in mind, your attempts could come off as tone-deaf or oblivious. Damaging employees’ impressions of how well the company understands them and affecting their trust that you’re acting in their best interest
There are a lot of factors to keep in mind and it can seem overwhelming at first. After all career pathing is not a quick fix to your retention problems and it can take time to develop tests and implement appropriate career paths that work for your employees. But it’s well worth the time and effort invested. Let’s go over why.
The Benefits and Drawbacks of Career Pathing Plans
Starting a career pathing program from scratch can be tough – especially at smaller companies, where there may not be an existing clear ladder of advancement in every department.
For example, if you’re an HR head in a company, it may not be obvious where you can grow in your career without changing companies. But that’s why career pathing is so important. While some are satisfied with their current jobs and happy to keep working on the same projects and responsibilities indefinitely, the majority of workers have personal and professional growth goals, and if they don’t see a path forward with you, they will probably go and find it somewhere else.
For smaller companies, then, figuring out a career pathing is crucial for keeping turnover low.
It’s also a win-win situation for you and your employees. While career pathing plans improve employee retention, they also contribute to employee engagement, and in connection with succession planning, help your organization retain trade secrets and industry knowledge, which both advances your company and when someone leaves a role, makes training faster and easier because you’re more often able to hire internally.
At the same time, employee well-being benefits from that increased engagement, and workers will appreciate recognition for their accomplishments. When employees feel valued and respected, employers get to keep their top talent longer, and everyone wins.
5 Steps To Implementing a Career Pathing Plan
If you’re ready to bring career pathing to your organization, you’ll want to follow five key steps:
Let’s look at each of these in more detail
Write Clear Policies
Whether you’re developing career paths or not, it is foundational for your organization to have written versions of its hiring and promotion policies.
Formalize the process by which employees are hired, onboarded, and promoted so that everyone can see clearly how these policies operate and you can get feedback on how thorough, clear, and equitable the policies are.
As you’re examining your current hiring practices, identify areas of opportunity within your organization that current or future employees could go into. What needs might they begin to fill as they learn and develop? Then you can address these questions during hiring or onboarding.
If goals don’t align with what your organization needs, that’s something you need to consider when screening applicants and communicating with your current team. After all, you can’t expect employees to grow in alignment with your organization’s goals if they don’t know what those goals are.
Establish The Core Competencies Needed For Each Role
Depending on the size of your organization, this can be a massive undertaking. So, you’ll want to work with departments to determine the most important elements of each role.
To tackle this key step, we recommend creating a levels document as shown above. It is a reference document that tracks experience in a position alongside increasing skills and scope of responsibilities to standardize raise and promotion practices.
It is one part of a transparent compensation policy that can help keep these decisions above board and help employees track their progress toward their goals.
Get Manager Involved
You may not be the expert on the responsibilities of every role in your organization, so it’s important to work with managers in developing this document.
Our top tip is to write the first draft yourself for each category of roles. Then give it to the appropriate manager and ask for feedback. This draft should include your understanding of both the scope and skill appropriate to each level. For scope, consider the role’s domain. What is the expanse of that role’s reach? For skill, consider the competencies required to do the tasks within that scope well.
While this can be time-consuming, it’s an important first step. Giving managers a first draft offers them something to markup and revise rather than demanding they start this task with a blank page while juggling all of their other responsibilities.
Once you have notes from each manager, review and adjust the document accordingly and repeat until both HR and management are happy with the results. This process would produce a detailed and accurate levels document for each category of roles. A document you can then use in the next step.
Build Out Career Pathing Routes
Step four is to actually build career paths for your organization. That means, for each role you need to map out a trajectory an employee could follow to advance from that role to another one or a way to expand responsibilities within the same role.
This part should be a collaboration between HR, managers, and leadership in which everyone works together to design multiple potential paths that align with your organization’s needs and offer enough flexibility to appeal to employees with varying goals and interests.
The levels document you made in step two is a crucial tool here. Having an outline of the skills and scope of each category of roles can help you draw lines from one position to another both within the same team and across departments depending on where those qualities overlap and build on each other.
To make these paths work, you may need to get creative, especially at smaller companies. It’s easy to see how the levels document can facilitate vertical career paths, helping employees to move up from one role in the compensation level to the next.
But remember that the traditional job ladder is only one way to chart a career path. Compare competencies on levels documents for different roles and look for places where they could build across positions or even departments. In addition, to helping with retention, creative career paths can help mitigate with downfalls of organizational silos and contribute to succession plans for when senior team members move on or retire
Communicate Plans to Your Employees
Finally, it’s vital that you communicate these career pathing plans with employees. Ideally, managers should collaborate with their direct reports during this process for the sake of transparency and getting employee input. But at the very least everyone needs to know about career pathing plans once they exist
Weekly one-on-ones are a great place to start the conversations around career pathing. Managers can get a sense of their employees’ goals and encourage upskilling and developing new skills through continuing education, in-house training, or even certifications. Remember that career pathing is an investment and upskilling is a part of that investment.
Organizations that are really committed to retention and growth through career pathing need to be prepared to walk alongside their employees on those paths, including tangible support for upskilling by investing time, money, and resources to help employees grow their skills.
The last piece of the communication puzzle is rewarding this development when it happens. The professional development part of the career pathing only works if employees get results from their efforts. So make sure you honor the compensation and promotion policies laid out in your levels documents and elsewhere as well as the career path options you’ve established.
As always integrity is key to building lasting mutually respectful relationships with employees. With so many employees prioritizing valuable work, difference-making, and healthy company culture, it’s more important than ever to say what you mean and then do what you say. An effective career pathing plan can help you make that happen.
In this article, we’ve covered what career pathing is. Why you should consider it? And how to go about implementing a career pathing plan at your organization.
Career pathing is a key strategy for retention, engagement, and developing a healthy company culture. Although, it takes some investment in time, effort, and sometimes money. At the end of the day, investing in a career pathing is a valuable practice that can lead to greater satisfaction and success for everyone. As always, remember that your role is as strategic as you make it.