HR Mavericks

Eddy’s HR Mavericks Encyclopedia

Career Pathing
If you want to retain top talent, keep employees engaged, and ensure your company's long-term success, you need to invest in career pathing. Take a few minutes to read about it and learn how to create a program that works for your organization.

What Is Career Pathing?

Career pathing, also known as career development planning, is the process of creating a structured plan for an employee to advance their career within your organization. It involves setting short-term and long-term goals, identifying the necessary skills and experience needed for career growth, and creating a plan to achieve those goals. The goal of career pathing is to help employees develop the skills, knowledge, and experience to achieve their career objectives while also supporting the needs of the organization. Career pathing helps employees visualize their career progression and encourages them to stay with the company, ultimately benefiting both the employee and the organization.

Benefits of Career Pathing

As the company invests into the employee by giving them opportunities to increase skills and improve performance, the employee invests those skills back into their job. Here are a few benefits.
  • Clear career direction. Career pathing helps individuals identify their goals and define the steps they need to take to achieve them. This clarity can help individuals feel more focused and motivated in their work.
  • Improved job satisfaction. When employees are presented with opportunities to build the skills they need in order to achieve their goals, they are likely to be more engaged and satisfied with their jobs. In this survey, Career Management found that 41% of respondents believe that career advancement opportunities are a very important factor to job satisfaction.
  • Enhanced retention. Career pathing help organizations retain employees by providing a clear understanding of the opportunities available to them within the company. This can help employees see a future with the organization and feel valued and supported in their career development. In fact, retention rates are 34% higher among organizations that offer employee development opportunities.
  • Increased productivity. When employees have a clear understanding of their goals and the steps they need to take to achieve them, they are likely to be more focused and productive in their work. This gives them additional purpose in their role, which contributes to higher morale and overall better quality of work. The same survey found that employees who have access to professional development opportunities are 15% more engaged.
  • Better succession planning. Career pathing helps organizations identify and develop the next generation of leaders. Taking this approach as a long-term investment into the success of the company contributes to the overall success of the company while increasing employee loyalty.

How to Create a Career Pathing Program

Creating a career-pathing program is crucial for the growth and development of employees. It helps employees identify their career goals, provides them with opportunities to acquire new skills, and motivates them to achieve their full potential. In this section, let’s explore how to create a career-pathing program that effectively addresses the individual needs of each employee while avoiding bias or favoritism. By following these nine steps, organizations can build a program that empowers their employees and drives business success.

Step 1: Assess the Needs of the Company

Determine the goals and objectives of the organization and what types of skills and competencies are required to achieve those goals. Before creating a career-pathing program, it's important to establish a framework that aligns with the organization's goals and values. The program should also define the criteria for career advancement and what types of opportunities are available to employees, such as learning opportunities, upskilling, reskilling, and identifying key positions. Understanding the needs and resources that will be the basis for creating goals and steps with each employee.

Step 2: Decide on a Framework

Once you're aware of your organization's needs, you can decide on a framework (or combination of frameworks) that will serve those goals. There are several common career pathing frameworks.
  • Lattice. This framework emphasizes horizontal career moves and focuses on building skills and gaining experience across various functions or departments within an organization, rather than strictly moving up a vertical career ladder.
  • Vertical. A vertical career enables employees to progress up a hierarchical career ladder by taking on progressively more senior roles in their department or field.
  • Competency-based. Focusing on developing a set of core competencies that are essential for success in a particular field or industry enables employees to progress along a career path by acquiring and demonstrating mastery of these competencies.
  • Job- family. This framework groups related jobs or roles into job families and establishes clear career paths within each family. Employees can then progress through a series of roles within a specific job family with each role building on the knowledge and experience gained in the previous role.
  • Hybrid. This framework combines elements of the other frameworks to allow for a more flexible approach to career pathing that can be customized to meet the needs of individual employees and the organization as a whole.

Step 3: Communicate the Program to Employees

Once the framework is in place, it's important to communicate the benefits of the program and how it works. Employees should also be informed of the process for requesting career development opportunities and how to access resources to support their career growth.

Step 4: Conduct Skills Assessments

To effectively create a career pathing program that meets individual needs, it's important to assess each employee's current skills and identify areas for development. This can be done through self-assessments, manager assessments, and peer feedback.

Step 5: Identify Career Development Opportunities

Based on the skills assessment, the organization can identify career development opportunities within the program that align with the individual needs of each employee, such as on-the-job training, job shadowing, mentorship, coaching, or professional development courses.

Step 6: Create Development Plans

Once career development opportunities are identified, it's important to create a development plan for each employee. The more involved the employee is in this part of the process, the more vested interest and purpose they will feel, ultimately leading to better program engagement. The best career pathing is done by the employee with direct guidance from a champion (see step 7 below), who asks strong questions and educates the employee on opportunities that align with their goals. Each development plan should outline specific goals, objectives, and timelines for achieving career advancement. It should also identify the resources and support needed to achieve these goals.

Step 7: Assign a Career-Development Champion

To ensure the success of the career-pathing program, it's important to assign a career-development champion who will be primarily responsible for overseeing the program and ensuring that employees receive the necessary support and resources. This person is typically a manager or HR professional.

Step 8: Monitor, Evaluate, and Adjust

To ensure that the program is effective, it's important to regularly monitor and evaluate its success. This includes tracking the progress of individual employees and assessing the overall impact of the program on the organization. This information can be used to improve the program and ensure that it continues to meet the needs of employees. This could include revising the criteria for career advancement, providing additional resources and support, or expanding the types of career development opportunities available.

Step 9: Celebrate Successes

Finally, it's important to celebrate the successes of employees who have participated in the career-pathing program. This could include recognizing their achievements publicly or providing incentives for achieving career-advancement goals. Keep in mind that each individual has different preferences for recognition and appreciation (some may love being publicly acknowledged while others may be socially anxious), so be sure to do so in their preferred way for maximal effect. Celebrating successes not only reinforces the value of the program but also encourages other employees to participate.

Best Practices for Career Pathing

Career pathing is a critical component of talent management and employee development. To do so effectively, however, there are some important things to keep in mind. By following these best practices, organizations can ensure that their career pathing programs are effective, fair, and supportive of employee career growth and development.

Have Job Roles and Create Career Paths That Are Clearly Defined

It is essential to have a clear understanding of the different job roles within the organization and how they fit together in the career ladder. Some of this may seem like common knowledge, but for the sake of the employee, assume they know nothing of the opportunities the company has to offer. This information should be communicated to employees so they understand the skills and experience needed for each role and the potential career paths available to them.

Ensure Career Goals and Company Goals Align

Career pathing should be linked to the organization's overall business strategy and goals. This ensures that employees' career aspirations are aligned with the company's needs and helps the organization develop the necessary skills and expertise to achieve its objectives.

Encourage Transparent Communication and Feedback

Career pathing is an ongoing process that requires regular communication and feedback between employees and managers. This helps identify skill gaps and career development needs and provides opportunities for employees to express their career aspirations.

Use Objective Criteria for Career Development

To avoid bias and favoritism, it is essential to use objective criteria for assessing employees' skills, performance, and potential. This can include performance evaluations, skills assessments, and job-related tests.

Provide (and Communicate) Training and Development Opportunities

Organizations should provide employees with training and development opportunities that support their career goals and help them develop the skills needed for future roles. This can include on-the-job training, mentoring, coaching, and formal training programs. It’s also important to keep in mind what potential barriers to participation can arise and how to avoid them. Some of these barriers could be universal, such as language, money, time, and precursory requirements. Wherever possible, ensure inclusion by offering employer-sponsored development opportunities, courses during work hours, translators, entry-level opportunities, and education reimbursement.

Foster a Culture of Continuous Learning

Organizations should encourage a culture of continuous learning and development where employees are motivated to learn new skills and take on new challenges. This can include providing access to learning resources, creating opportunities for cross-functional collaboration, and recognizing and rewarding employees who demonstrate a commitment to learning and development.

Make Career Pathing a Part of Performance Management

Career pathing should be integrated into the performance management process to ensure that employees' career goals are aligned with their job responsibilities and that their progress is tracked and evaluated regularly.

Career Pathing Examples

As each employee has unique goals and organizations have a wide variety of needs and opportunities, it is highly unlikely that two career paths will look the same. With that in mind, here are a few generalized examples of what a career path could look like.

Technical Career Path

In this path, an individual may start as an entry-level software developer and progress to a senior software developer, technical lead, software architect, and finally to a chief technology officer (CTO) position. The technical path focuses on developing the necessary technical skills and knowledge required to succeed in the chosen field.

Management Career Path

In this path, an individual may start as a team member and progress to a team leader, manager, senior manager, and then to a director or vice-president position. The management path focuses on developing leadership and people management skills.

Professional Services Career Path

The professional services path focuses on developing consulting and project management skills, as well as building a deep understanding of a particular industry or functional area. An individual may start as an entry-level consultant and progress to a senior consultant, principal consultant, and then to a director or partner position.
Kayla Farber

Kayla Farber

Kayla is the Chief Innovation Officer at Hero Culture, where the passion is to create company cultures of retention using the power of personality.
View author page
Frequently asked questions
Other Related Terms
Adult Learning Principles
Career Coach
Cross Training
Employee Development
Employee Empowerment
Employee Leadership Development
Group Training
Individual Development Plan
Job Shadowing
Learning & Development Statistics
Lunch and Learns
Manager Training
Rotational Program
Skills Gap Analysis
Skills Inventory
Soft Skills
Stretch Assignment
Time Management Training
Training Needs Analysis/Assessment
Virtual Team Building
Eddy's HR Newsletter
Sign up for our email newsletter for helpful HR advice and ideas.
Simple and accurate payroll.
Pay your U.S.-based employees on time, every time, with Eddy.