Two out of three employees have recently considered leaving their job because there aren’t enough opportunities for skills development, career advancement, or transitioning to different roles or a new career path. Professional growth is clearly top of mind for many workers right now and career pathing is a powerful tool employers can use to facilitate that growth.


What is career pathing?

Career pathing is the process of creating a road map to help your team members realize their professional aspirations. It may involve development activities, lateral moves, and promotions that move employees closer to their short- and long-term career goals.

Career pathing typically aligns with future opportunities within your organization, though it doesn’t necessarily need to. Employee development is still well worth the investment, even if you can only help your team members get to a certain point in their professional journey. While these employees will eventually need to leave your organization to realize their career goals, they’ll be more equipped to help you meet your business goals in the interim.


The benefits of career pathing

Effective career pathing helps your team members master new competencies and reach their career goals, which has many worthwhile benefits for your business.


1. Attract more job candidates

A recent LinkedIn survey found that 61% of U.S. business leaders say it’s challenging to attract top talent right now. Showcasing opportunities for career progression can help.

Nearly 9 out of 10 job seekers want to see clear career paths, a skills development program, and career advancement opportunities when they’re considering a new job role.

Highlight your dedication to employee career growth in your recruiting materials and throughout the hiring process so candidates know you offer them. For example, GitLab shares career paths on their job posts and in their employee handbook so applicants can envision a career — not just a job.

2. Increase employee retention

Career pathing enables your team members to visualize their future with your organization and grow within your company. This helps your team members feel valued, resulting in higher job satisfaction, employee engagement, and retention.

Internal mobility has also been shown to increase employee retention. An employee who has made an internal move has a 75% likelihood of staying with their company after two years. This drops to 56% for employees who haven’t changed roles. Career pathing makes it easier to identify and promote strong internal talent.

3. Improve business performance

Having a structured career path increases your team members’ motivation to do their best work so they can reach their professional goals. This can have an enormous impact on business metrics that drive performance.

For instance, Gallup found that development is a top driver of employee engagement and that highly engaged teams experience:

  • 81% less absenteeism
  • 18%-43% less turnover
  • 28% less shrinkage (theft)
  • 10% increase in customer loyalty and engagement
  • 18% higher productivity
  • 23% higher profitability

Given these benefits, it’s no surprise companies that facilitate professional growth are 2.6x more likely to exceed their financial targets.

4. Future-proof your business

Skills sets for jobs have changed by around 25% since 2015 and this number is expected to double by 2027. Three in four employers are already reporting that they can’t find talent with the right blend of technical and soft skills — and the skills gap is likely to continue widening.

Career pathing can help your team members evolve to meet changing job responsibilities and prepare for emerging roles. This enables you to build a strong internal talent pipeline for your most in-demand, mission-critical roles so your business can continue to thrive.


6 steps to building compelling career paths

Considering its many benefits, career pathing is underutilized by many organizations.

Only 36% of organizations have multiple formally defined and communicated career paths for the entire organization. And while high-performing organizations are 21% more likely to provide career paths for individual contributors in addition to their managers, only 45% of all organizations offer career paths for ICs.

Companies can benefit from creating structured career pathing programs for all of their team members.


Step 1: Assess your business needs

Get started by assessing your business’ needs, goals, and growth trajectory. What are your most challenging roles to fill right now? Do you have reliable succession plans for your leadership and mission-critical roles? Which emerging roles do you expect to see at your organization in the next five to 10 years? Answering these questions can help ensure that employee development is tailored to the needs of your organization.

Build clear job descriptions for each of your current and anticipated roles and include the skills, qualifications, and experience needed to be successful in them. This will help provide clarity and transparency around what it takes for an employee to move into each role.

Map out traditional career paths within your organization and how emerging roles would fit into those. Then consider the transferable skill sets that would enable your team members to move between job functions at your organization so you can map out nontraditional career paths as well.


Step 2: Discuss career goals with your team members

Hold regular conversations with your team members to learn about their short- and long-term career goals. For example, you may have a recruiter who wants to move into a marketing role, or an account manager who ultimately wants to become a chief revenue officer. Both goals are attainable with the right career mapping strategy.

Discuss growth opportunities that may be available within your organization, what a career path might look like, and the criteria for moving into each new role. This is a good time to review your employee’s current skill set and development opportunities so you can align on next steps.


Step 3: Build a personalized career pathway

Find the intersection of your team member’s goals and your business needs to create realistic, personalized career pathways for each employee. Highlight the skills, knowledge, and experience your team member needs to gain so they know what it will take to advance to each stage in their career path.

Keep in mind that career paths aren’t always vertical and linear, like a traditional corporate ladder where someone would move from an individual contributor role through the ranks of leadership. Employees may move laterally, cross-functionally, or take a demotion in their unique career journey and still feel fulfilled.


Step 4: Create an employee development plan

Upskilling and reskilling are crucial for building an effective career plan. Employees who have opportunities to learn are 3.5x more likely to say their company can help them meet their career goals.

Build tailored career development plans to help each employee progress toward their goals. This may include online learning courses, stretch assignments, certifications, coaching, and mentoring to learn the hard and soft skills needed for the next stage of their career journey.

Provide specific development recommendations; 78% of learners expressed the need for course guidance based on their individual career goals and skill gaps. This can yield enormous benefits, as companies that recommend courses on LinkedIn Learning see 69% more hours watched per learner.


Step 5: Monitor employee performance

Monitor and assess performance regularly to ensure your team members feel supported and have the resources they need to reach their goals. Two-way communication is crucial so you can both give and receive feedback on what’s working and what could be improved. Build these discussions into your one-on-ones and performance reviews so you can consistently provide employees with new opportunities for growth.

Modify plans as needed to give employees the best chance of success. This can include offering mentorship, using a different learning format, or changing the direction of the career path altogether. Effective performance management requires flexibility to adapt to changing needs.


Step 6: Reward professional development 

Rewarding your team members for progressing along their career path can help improve your employees’ morale and motivation so they keep working toward their goals. Rewards can also send a strong message that hard work pays off at your organization, motivating other employees to participate in your development programs. This is a great way to build a transformative learning culture that cultivates your team’s potential through development opportunities.

Provide your team members with ongoing encouragement and recognition as they gain new skills and experiences. This could be as simple as a private acknowledgement from the employee’s manager or a public shout-out over Slack. You may also offer pay increases and promotions as team members achieve a specific milestone or goal, especially as an employee’s increasing skills and experience warrants a higher pay grade.

Final thoughts: Career pathing is an ongoing process

Career pathing is a powerful tool for businesses that want to encourage professional growth but it requires an ongoing effort to get it right. Your team member’s goals and your business needs will change over time and employee career paths may need to adapt. Take a fresh look at your career pathing program at least annually to ensure it stays relevant and your team members stay engaged. Give this program the attention it deserves and you’ll find it well worth the investment.

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