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Developing Career Paths and Ladders for Your Team
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Talent Development

Developing Career Paths and Ladders for Your Team

One-Minute Takeaway

  • Career path planning increases employee retention rates.
  • Career planning boosts employee engagement.
  • On-the-job learning opportunities are a key part of career growth.

Career path planning – or career pathing – is a strategic process. Growth takes careful foresight and diligence. Most people want to move upward, but not everyone knows how to plan ahead. And as a leader, it’s your job to nurture your team.

Mapping out your employees’ career paths can benefit everyone. It boosts employee engagement, makes your workers feel valued, and helps your company achieve financial success.

The Purpose of Career Path Planning

Long-term career planning helps your team members see the big picture. They’ll practice strategic thinking, which is an important skill in its own right. As they dream about their own futures, they’ll naturally find ways to move your company toward its business goals.

Company-wide career pathing also helps you cultivate a culture of excellence. You can encourage employees to support each other through professional development, and hold each other accountable when they fall behind. This approach can boost employee engagement overall job satisfaction.

The Importance of Career Path Planning For Your Team

Career path planning helps you develop your team in a variety of ways. First and foremost, it can increase employee retention rates. Data suggests that employees with clear career paths are less likely to quit their jobs (Harvard Business Review). Career pathing fosters loyalty and creates a more stable work environment for everyone.

When you promote current team members instead of hiring externally, you save time and retain valuable institutional knowledge. This continuity is crucial for maintaining the quality of your work. It also preserves the best parts of your company culture.

Studies show that career development is the key to employee engagement (LinkedIn). Employees with clear opportunities for growth are more motivated to do well at work. This boosts productivity across the board. It also creates a culture of excellence, in which your team members help each other succeed.

Defining Career Goals

Everyone’s career path is unique. That can make it hard for employees to define their personal goals. To help them get started, invite each member of your team to follow these steps:

  1. Self-evaluate. It’s easier to achieve success when your work feels meaningful and fulfilling. Start your career pathing process by honestly assessing your strengths, weaknesses, and values. What tasks do you genuinely enjoy doing? Which ones would you prefer to outsource? What achievements are you most proud of? Answering these questions can help you understand your deepest needs, goals, and values.
  2. Write a vision statement. Your vision could include hopes for yourself, your company, your family, or the world. There are no wrong answers here. You might say, “I want to double my income in the next 10 years” or “I want to work for a company that fights world hunger.” In this step, give yourself permission to dream big.
  3. Think strategically. Compare your self-assessment with your vision statement. Identify any new skills, connections, and resources you need to achieve your goals.
  4. Get specific. Set measurable goals that will help you bring your vision to life. This step is the heart of career pathing. Create a timeline with short-, medium-, and long-term milestones. Describe what specific actions you’ll take to work toward each goal. Make sure to include a definition of success! That way you celebrate every achievement along the way.
  5. Review and adjust over time. Set aside time to review your action plan on a regular basis. You could return to it quarterly, monthly, or even daily. As you learn and grow, your goals may change significantly. Try to stay flexible. You’ll probably need to edit your action plan over time.

Sharing these steps with your team is one easy way to invest in their career growth. If you want to lead by example, you can even share some of your own goals to get a conversation started.

Mapping Your Career Path

There’s more to career mapping than just defining goals. The act of working toward them is even more important. Your employees can use these strategies to stay on track.

  • Set SMART goals. They should be Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. For example, “Attend 3 conferences for my industry this fiscal year” is a SMART goal. “Improve my people skills” is an important goal, but not a SMART one. This framework empowers people to evaluate their progress and keep moving forward.
  • Replace the ladder with a lattice. People are starting to question the idea of a corporate ladder. Today, leaders are thinking about a new metaphor: the career lattice. Lattices are complex, 3-dimensional structures that allow for more agile movement. Instead of climbing to the top, why not move diagonally toward the best job for your skill set? You can also move around obstacles, instead of getting stuck on the rung beneath them. This subtle shift in perspective could make a big difference in an employee’s long-term trajectory.
  • Structure the learning process. This might mean taking classes, attending webinars, joining a book club, or something else entirely. Then, look for ways to stay accountable throughout the process. Connecting with a mentor or a peer group can be extremely helpful. 

Developing Key Skills

Developing key skills and competencies is a huge part of professional growth. This makes your employees and your company much more competitive. It also gives team members a more nuanced point of view, helping them develop unique insights.

As a leader, it’s your job to identify what key skills your employees need to succeed. Every member of your team is an investment. Connecting them with educational resources will improve their engagement and productivity – and therefore, your bottom line.

Not sure how to get started with a career path outline? We’ve got a template just for you! Check out our Customizable Career Path Template.

When you and your team embark on a journey of career development, expect each person’s goals to shift over time. Like any learning process, career pathing offers a brand-new perspective. At its best, that perspective adds richness to your company culture and shared knowledge. Stay open to new information and ready to incorporate it into your strategic plan.

The Importance of Networking

Building relationships is an essential part of career pathing. Every successful business depends on its wider community. Whether you’re applying for a job, hiring employees, courting investors, or making sales, you’ll sink or swim because of your network.

When you talk to your employees about professional growth, it might be tempting to ignore their personal relationships. That’s a mistake. Family and friends can offer emotional support, helping people avoid burnout. Connecting with them is also a way for workers to hone soft skills. And what’s more, meaningful relationships outside of work are important for mental health (CDC).

Encourage your team to maintain a healthy work/life balance. You can even host social events for your company so they can get to know each other off the clock. Most importantly: Lead by example. If you regularly respond to emails at 3 am, you send the message that work is more important than sleep. In the short term, you might get through your to-do list a little faster – but in the long term, you’re inviting your employees to burn out.

Common Challenges in Career Laddering

Career development can be hugely rewarding, but it isn’t easy. Many people face these common challenges during this process:

  • Job Market Changes: In this digital age, industry standards are changing faster than ever. For better or worse, rapid innovation has an unpredictable impact on the economy. Opportunities in your industry may come and go rapidly. Job descriptions might to change overnight. Exciting as that is, it can also be destabilizing. The best way to navigate these massive cultural shifts is to stay flexible, and continue learning new skills.
  • Plateauing: At some point, almost every career hits a plateau. That could happen because of something directly related to work, like scheduling or the changing job market. It could also be for a more personal reason, like moving to a new state or having a baby. Plateaus aren’t always a bad thing, but it’s important to understand what’s causing them. Remind your team that career growth is a marathon, not a sprint.
  • Time Management: How can you do well at work, connect with friends and family, and still make time for career development? Leaders can help with this by offering on-the-job training opportunities. Look for ways to combine career development with other important tasks. For instance, you might ask a junior employee to take notes during a strategy meeting. When all your business goals align with each other, achieving them gets much easier.

Remember that every challenge is also an opportunity. By supporting your team through the hard times, you can build trust and solidify employee loyalty.

How Paycor Can Help

Paycor empowers leaders to develop winning teams. Use our suite of HR tools to track your teams progress and share educational resources.

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