How to Create Compelling Career Paths for Employees

Not sure if the advancement opportunities you offer are compelling enough? Read on for a crash course in creating compelling career paths for your staff.

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How to Create Compelling Career Paths for Employees

Here's what you need to know:

  • Ultimately, a career path is a route that takes an employee from a low-level position through progressive new roles
  • Retention is a major reason why you should offer career paths that people want, but there’s more to it than just that
  • If there’s no clear path forward at your company, you’re going to miss out on attracting top talent
  • Offering compelling career paths can give employees a motivational sense of purpose in their work

Employee retention is important but also complex. It takes a lot to keep employees actively engaged in their work, from mentorship to development opportunities and much in between.

In an effort to retain the talent that keeps your business going, you can throw all of the development opportunities at them that you want. But if those development and progression opportunities don’t ladder up to career paths that people actually want, it’s all for nothing.

There’s no one set way to define a career path. They can be short-term, long-term, and ideally both.

Ultimately, a career path is a route that takes an employee from a low-level position through progressive new roles. These new roles ultimately land an employee at a more advanced level than where they started.

Advanced can mean all sorts of things. An advanced role can be one that switches from hourly to salaried.

An advanced role can be transitioning from an individual contributor to a manager and maybe even into a leadership role. It can also entail transitioning from a contract worker to an employee.

What career advancement has to be is compelling — it has to be a path forward that people want to travel down. Otherwise, you’re going to have people in dead-end roles who have nowhere else to look but elsewhere.

Not sure if the career advancement opportunities you offer are compelling enough? Is this a new idea that you hadn’t considered before? Read on for a crash course in creating compelling career paths for your employees.

Why compelling career paths matter for companies

There are several reasons for investing in compelling career paths beyond simply retention. Of course, retention is a major reason why you should offer career paths that people want. But there’s more to it than just that.

Most people care about progressing in their careers and aren’t interested in staying in one position forever.

If there’s no clear path forward at your company, you’re going to miss out on attracting top talent. Most people care about progressing in their careers and aren’t interested in staying in one position forever.

Plus, offering compelling career paths can give employees a motivational sense of purpose in their work. Even if they’re working in a role they’re not jazzed about right now, they’re more likely to stay engaged in it if they have a real chance at advancing out of it.

Ensuring that you have evolving roles also factors in to your business’s competitive edge. If you’re not creating new roles that are responsive to the modern world and market, you’re going to fall behind.

When you devise new roles to fill, why not fill them with people who already know your company like the back of their hand?

Compelling career paths start with organizational structure and planning

The last thing you want to do is create new roles just for the sake of creating new roles for your people to advance into. These new roles have to be linked to business needs, either current or future.

The first place to start is with an organizational chart, or org chart. If you already have one, make sure it’s up to date. The idea here is that you’ll have a map of all of the roles in your company.

Once you have this, you can map the roles you currently have to the roles you’ll need in the future as your business grows.

If you’re adding new products or services in the future, what new roles will you need to carry out that work? Once you have those roles defined, look at your current org structure.

What are the current roles that are most likely to advance into these new roles? From there, figure out how you can chart a path for the current roles to evolve into the new ones.

What kind of training and upskilling will be necessary to fill these future roles? How will you accomplish that? What is the timeline associated with filling these new roles?

In this exercise, you’re essentially working backwards from the future state you’re planning for your company.

Create clear job positions and descriptions

You’ll need to do more than just define the future roles you’re looking to add. You’ll want to build out full job descriptions for each new role.

Cover everything from the experience and education necessary to the hard and soft skills you’d like to see from a person in that role.

As you do this, consider grouping the current and future roles at your company into career clusters. This helps you identify the jobs that relate to each other and, thus, the roles that can segue into other more advanced roles.

From there, you’ll want to devise a clear roadmap for how lower-level positions can ladder up into these new future roles.

What would it require for an entry-level employee to advance into these new roles? How much time would it take? What kind of skills development would they need?

What about mid-level roles? Do this for all of the roles in your career clusters.

Develop and offer training and development programs accordingly

If you’ve already invested heavily in training and career development, this will be more of a tweaking of what you already have than a new effort or a major overhaul.

But if you don’t have as robust of a training program as you’d like (or don’t have one at all), this is the part of the process that will require most of your effort.

In order to create compelling career paths, there has to be an accessible way for your current employees to advance into future roles. This likely means that they’ll need some form of skill development or training.

Depending on the specific needs of your future roles, this could be internal trainings or mentorships. But creating these systems takes time and effort. If that’s not something you’re able to tackle internally, you’ll have to look to external resources.

Look into conferences and conventions. Hire outside consultants to come in and provide the training that people at your business will need.

It’s your responsibility to provide the necessary resources for your employees to level up into the roles you’ll need in the future. Otherwise, you’ll be forced to hire externally and your current employees will find themselves in dead-end roles.

Ensure that every manager takes career development seriously

One of the central elements of creating compelling career paths is to match employees’ skills and interests with future roles. Interest matters just as much (perhaps even more) than skills. You can teach someone the skills they need, but you can’t manufacture interest.

To identify your employees’ interests, you’ll likely have to rely on their direct managers. They’re the ones that know your employees best.

That’s why it’s crucial that every manager knows that employee development is serious. Create baked-in times, perhaps quarterly, when managers are required to report out on the career development goals of those on their teams. This way, managers are accountable for keeping up with the career development of their direct reports.

Look to them to recommend people for future roles, but don’t rely solely on managers. Not all managers are great managers even if they seem like they are to leadership, so make sure that there are other ways for employees to signal their interests.

This is a great opportunity to get creative! Build some kind of internal referral or interest-signaling system where employees can recommend themselves or their coworkers for new roles. It’s all about what works for your business and your unique crop of employees.

If you’re really stuck on figuring out your employees’ interests, try employee engagement surveys. Track what’s lighting them up now and what’s not. That way you can keep your employees’ interests in mind as you begin the org chart work that kicks the whole process off.

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