How to Make Powerful Employee Career Paths that will Retain High-Performers

March 15, 2018 by James Taylor

Creating career paths for employees can be a challenging but worthwhile initiative. In today’s ultra-competitive job market, it’s becoming more and more important to invest in your employees, so you can retain them in the long-term. The problem is, many companies are simply not doing a great job at providing tangible vertical career paths for top-performing employees.

A recent survey by Gallup found that 93% of people advance their career by taking a position with another company. This means that just 7% of employees are being promoted internally. For high-growth companies, recruiting might seem like the only option to quickly obtaining the best talent.

However, promoting internally can save you the time and money that would traditionally be spent on recruiting external candidates. Beyond this, internally recruited employees typically have a far shorter “ramp-up time”—meaning they can start making a big impact in their new position immediately.

In this post I’ll explore the benefits of creating clear career paths for your employees and outline a step-by-step process to launch your own career pathing program.

What is Career Pathing

Career pathing is a structured employee development program which helps employees visualize career progression within a company. When done right, career pathing not only helps employees see their potential for career progression, but also sets clear milestones and provides the development opportunities necessary to reach these goals.

Career pathing involves, on an employee-by-employee basis, taking an inventory of career aspirations, skills, necessary knowledge, experience, and personal aptitudes. This information is then used to create a custom plan for achieving what is necessary in these areas to reach key career milestones.

As mentioned, organizations with the most successful career pathing programs provide employees with the support they need to develop the necessary skills and aptitudes in accordance with their career path.

Benefits of Career Pathing

For any growing business, implementing a formal career-pathing program is essential to developing and retaining a high-performing workforce. Investing in the creation of a strategic career-pathing program can bring your company many benefits including:

Improved ability to attract top talent: In today’s competitive job market, many growing businesses are struggling to attract top talent. A robust talent development program can play a big role in your ability to bring in the right people for the right jobs.

High employee engagement and improved employee performance: with effective career-paths in place, employees are incentivized to become top-performers and reach their career milestones. A motivated, engaged workforce means better outputs for your company.

Reduced employee turnover: In organizations without clear career paths, entry-level employees are more likely to become stagnant in their roles and begin looking for other opportunities. This turnover can quickly become costly. By creating crystal-clear career paths, you give employees a vision for their career progression and help incentivize them to stay onboard for the long-term.

Increase diversity in the leadership team: by investing in and recruiting internally, you ultimately build a more diverse leadership team.

Setting Goals for Your Career Pathing Program

Before implementing any new employee development initiative, you should set goals for your program. For example, if your company struggles with turnover, reducing turnover might be a good objective for your career pathing program. Or, if your team struggles with productivity issues, then increasing employee engagement might be a good objective.

To develop your goals, it helps to sit down with the leadership team of your business and discuss what they believe are the biggest retention and engagement challenges. After this conversation, decide on and document the goals of your new program.

Some examples of career pathing program goals might include:
● Build a strong internal pipeline of highly-qualified talent
● Reduce employee turnover
● Increase employee engagement
● Increase diversity in the upper management team

Creating Your Career Pathing Program

1. Create Career Roadmaps
For each of the key function areas of your organization, you should create a career roadmap. This is typically a graphic or diagram which represents the potential vertical and horizontal position changes with any given business function (i.e. marketing, sales, HR, operations, customer support, etc.). This framework will be the cornerstone of your career pathing program, as it highlights the opportunities for vertical employee career progression.

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2. Create Position Profiles
Next, you should create “position profiles” for each of the roles highlighted in your career roadmaps. For each role you should outline and document the core responsibilities, skills, and general requirements. To add clarity to your career pathing program, you can outline more detailed specifications for each role. These might include recommended or required education, technical trainings, licenses, and certifications necessary for success.

3. Define Performance Standards
Next, it’s important to document expected performance standards. To do this, you should document the behaviors and benchmarks that are typically shown by top performers at your company. These behavioral competences will translate across all horizontal and vertical role changes.

4. Incorporate Training and Development
To further enhance your career paths, you should identify key training and development milestones for each position profile. These milestones might include leadership training courses, cross-functional training, revenue responsibility, or international exposure. Outlining key development experience in relation to relevant career paths will help upper management have more meaningful career progression discussions with employees.

Communicating Your Career Pathing Program

As with all employee engagement programs, effective communication is key. Sharing your career development philosophy with staff is a great first step in launching your new program. You should make it clear that you value your team and are committed to investing in their growth.

In organizations with particularly effective career pathing programs, providing new-hires with a document that overviews their progression possibilities is a commonly used tactic. This document should overview key progression milestones such as clearly-defined goals, timely training opportunities, and dates for performance reviews.

Establishing buy-in from your management team is also important in facilitating a new career pathing program. Managers should be kept in the loop on career pathing objectives and be encouraged to continuously have candid conversations with employees about their career aspirations.

Setting Up Systems to Optimize Your Career Pathing Program

When launching a career pathing program, you should establish systems to track and optimize its performance. A great way to do this is to conduct a company-wide survey. You might choose to do a career development survey before launching your program and then do another survey a few months after launch. Completing an initial survey will mean you’ll have benchmark data to compare.

Download Taylor Group's foolproof career development survey template.

In additional to using career development surveys, in the months after implementing a career pathing program you should also monitor changes in turnover rates and employee performance metrics.

Key Take-Aways

Developing and implementing a proactive career pathing program isn’t easy, but it can have a big impact on your organization’s long-term growth. Here are some key take-aways from today’s post:
• Career pathing affords many benefits including higher retention rates, increased engagement, reduced talent acquisition costs, and increased leadership diversity.
• Documenting career roadmaps and clear position profiles is the best way to start a career pathing program.
• Communicate your career development philosophy across all levels of your organization.
• Establish buy-in from management so employees can have more productive career path conversations.
• Leverage a career development survey to benchmark and monitor the impact of your career pathing program.

Does your company provide clear opportunities for career progression? If not, do you think you’ll implement a career pathing program in 2018? Drop your thoughts in the comments box below.

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