Talent management is an integral element of HR’s core responsibility from a development, retention, engagement and a skills depository perspective. Developing internal career paths is an important component of this talent management mix and can influence whether an employee meets business’ expectations, underperforms to the detriment of the individual and employer, or leaves the business because of a lack of opportunity.
During a recent HR Leadership Think Tank, we benefited from Zx Ventures’ journey of developing a career paths process that promotes strong internal mobility and allows individuals to explore opportunities from a lateral, vertical or even diagonal perspective. Based on this experience, and the collective expertise of our Think Tank members, we are pleased to share our eight tips for developing employee career paths.
1. Understand what you’re trying to achieve
This can be linked to numerous things such as boosting employee engagement, retaining your top performers, attracting new talent or creating an experience so that talent boomerangs back around. It’s key to understand what gap exists between your ‘present day’ state and where you’re hoping to get to.
2. Ensure that your line managers and leaders ‘get it’
It’s essential for your leaders to understand the importance of what you’re trying to achieve and feel engaged to help you meet the objectives. Securing their buy-in at the start of the process is going to be invaluable.
Line manager engagement and accountability is also key. It’s advisable to create a guide for managers to ensure they’re supported in enabling career path progression and know the process to follow.
3. Remember that career paths don’t have to be vertical
The days of mapping out an entire career path are over. It just doesn’t work in the more fluid and accessible world we now find ourselves in. Career growth can come in many different forms: lateral moves, committee involvement, stretched assignments, vertical promotions, work experience etc. It’s therefore important to recognise all areas of career progression when developing a process to help your workforce grow. If your talent is hungry for more opportunities, then they might need to venture out of their specialism and head down a different path.
4. Co-create career paths with the business
Developing career paths should be a collaborate cross-business exercise. They should not be ‘owned’ by anyone and should be viewed more as ‘career partnerships’ as opposed to something prescriptive. This concept will be informed by the company’s culture and it’s important that it’s transparent, shared and talked about internally.
5. Start small and roll-out to the wider business when you have success stories
When implementing career pathing it’s advisable to focus on a small pocket of the business to test and tweak parts of the process before evolving it and formally implementing it on a wider scale. Opt for a highly engaged and top performing team who are going to feel energised to grow their careers and champion your initiatives.
6. Identify opportunities to embed career conversations into everyday working life
Whist it’s important to have some structure around embedding career paths, informal moments also matter and shouldn’t be underestimated. However, the list below is a brief summary of ways you could help embed career pathing with a little more structure:
- Regular one-to-one catch ups
- Quarterly career transformation lunches
- ‘Growth networks’ to help promote and support employees on accessing internal opportunities. These networks are a great way to open people’s minds to lateral moves and will help put the owness back on the individual to progress
- Encouraging employees to identify a mentor outside of the business. This is particularly useful if your employer is an SME
- Appointing ‘career coaches’ within the business (not line managers) who can help guide an employee to progress their career from a more impartial standpoint.
7. Use technology to support career paths, but make sure it’s accessible by all!
Once you know what you’re trying to achieve, technology can act as a great enabler to embed your initiatives on a larger scale. The list below reflects a selection of different technologies that were referenced during this Think Tank:
- Some ATSs and HRISs use artificial intelligence (AI) to help candidates and employees understand different career paths available to them within the business (this is obviously more applicable for larger organisations. The system builds up a profile on the candidate or employee and uses the data and insight to make rationale suggestions about career next steps.
- Chatbots and instant messenger tools can be useful for engaging with employees around career path conversations
- Clickable PDF career guides were actually the star of the show from this Think Tank! Sometimes simplicity is key and creating an interactive document (in this case a PDF) that helps present different career pathways is what’s needed! This tool (produced by Zx Ventures) can be used by everyone to explore job possibilities, role profiles, career journeys and general resources.
- Automated learning platforms (e.g. Sunlight) and help with managing an L&D budget, providing training for specific skill-sets, tracking career objectives and enabling both line manager and employee involvement.
8. Define your key success measures
With any initiative or project, it’s important to review how it’s delivering against your set objectives. It’s therefore crucial to obtain feedback throughout the process and evolve areas accordingly. There are certain measures that will be useful for you to consider when evaluating the success of your career path strategy. For instance usage and utilisation of career path resources and tools, employee engagement, internal mobility, number of career returners and the impact on recruitment costs.