Level Up Employee Career Growth Using This Professional Framework
Job-seekers are looking beyond competitive salaries and generous bonus packages in favor of employers who promise career growth opportunities.
A significant 63% of Americans quit their jobs during 2021 when this was lacking.
But what exactly does career growth mean?
And does it benefit both employers and employees alike?
Spoiler alert: the answer is yes!
Let's dig in to learn more about the strategic role of employee career growth for your business outcomes.
🌱 What is career growth?
First up, let's look at defining career growth.
Career growth happens when employees develop their skills, knowledge, and experience over time to progress in their current roles and overall career.
This progression may be an upward movement within a company. But it can also include sideways or diagonal moves that help employees to expand their skill sets and take on new responsibilities.
The end goal of career growth is working in a dream career role (don't worry if you haven't figured that out yet!) This takes careful planning, course-correcting, mentorship, and opportunities for learning and development along the way.
Career growth is a constant work in progress.
❓ How is career growth different from career development?
People often use the terms career growth and career development interchangeably. But while they're related, there is a key distinction.
Career development usually refers to the individual steps employees take to reach their long-term goals. This might include:
- taking on new assignments,
- earning a promotion, or
- completing training and development programs.
Career growth encompasses all of these activities, but it also looks at the bigger picture of an employee's journey and how they can progress within a company or outside of it.
🔍 Why is a personal career path so important for your employees?
Career growth and development is a defining element of all stages of the employee life cycle. It starts as early as recruitment.
To attract top talent, your company needs to offer a clear path for employees to follow as they develop in their careers.
Tip: A growth culture will ensure that you bring in the right people for each role while ensuring that your best employees stick around for the long haul.
Reduce churn by embracing employee enablement and providing a sense of stability that employees crave, as well as the chance to increase their skill sets.
"A career path gives employees a continuous way to improve their abilities, which can result in increased job satisfaction, job enrichment, and career advancement.
Employees are more engaged when they feel that their employer cares about their professional development and offers ways to accomplish their own goals, desires, and aspirations to mold their careers through guidance in making professional decisions."
- Maciek Kubiak, Head of People at PhotoAiD.
👀 What are the stages of career growth?
Individual employees should always have the option to forge their career paths.
That said, Gary Burnison, CEO of Korn Ferry, outlines six typical stages of career development from entry-level to retirement.
Fresh out of school, college, or into an apprenticeship, employees focus on acquiring skills and carrying out orders at the Follower stage. Employees at the bottom of the pecking order have the potential to pick up new skills rapidly and learn what it takes to follow someone.
As employees gather steam as valued team contributors, they work with others as Collaborators and have a greater impact. Team members start to see the business as a whole and how their role affects the bottom line.
Employees learn how to set an example and inspire others in a first-time leadership role, such as a supervisor. As Instructors, they'll know exactly what needs to happen but can delegate these tasks to others.
Managers are people leaders. They'll manage in an upwards direction by influencing their boss and downwards by developing the skills of those reporting to them.
Influencers are rainmakers who know how to get things done to positively impact the business. These people look beyond their teams and departments to what's best for the company as a whole.
A Leader's impact reaches well beyond their own teams, inspiring other managers and employees to think about their contribution to the company. They're also role models for the organization as a whole.
🏆 What are the benefits of career growth planning?
Career growth has advantages for both employers and employees. Here are some of the top benefits.
Better job retention rates
"For businesses, investing in career growth planning means that employee retention is likely to be greater. If an individual feels that the organization is invested in them and will offer them opportunities to progress, they are more likely to show loyalty and choose to stay. Offering employees opportunities to learn new skills also helps to keep them interested and engaged.
Additionally, organizations known for investing in employees' career growth often attract the top talent in the market when recruiting." - Wendy Makinson, HR manager at Joloda Hydraroll, a global partner for loading and unloading systems.
HBR recommends the three best ways to improve retention rates through professional development, including:
- Connecting employees to learning right out of the gate;
- Making learning a ritual;
- Providing coaching beyond the C-suite.
And if you do these things? You can expect employee loyalty.
At the same time, a recent Better Buys survey found that employees with access to career growth options show 34% higher retention rates than those who don't.
Greater employee satisfaction
Employees who trudge into work daily with no goals or ambition are less likely to be fulfilled.
But when they have a plan for their future career, with developmental steps to reach along the way, it's easier to be engaged and satisfied with their work.
"While an employer's moral obligation to invest in employees should never be ignored, investing in the long-term growth of the people you hire can have several positive effects on your business and its performance.
Providing a viable career path for your employees and empowering them to follow it can increase morale and motivation, result in better-developed employees, and develop your business rapidly.
A workforce focused on growth and empowerment inevitably improves any business and its prospects." – Mitch Chailland, President of Canal HR, an American human resources company.
This drive for growth can also increase productivity as employees strive to reach their goals, especially when timelines are introduced.
Tip: Don't be fooled into thinking that a new job title is enough to improve productivity.
Forbes reveals that taking on new career roles and responsibilities, rather than job titles, is linked to improved productivity.
Improved knowledge transfer
Having people within your company in positions of influence leads to better knowledge transfer between departments as they champion initiatives and best practices.
These internal teaching opportunities fast-track career growth for employees but also ensure you pass on critical information and plug any knowledge gaps.
🌱 6 Types of career growth
Does career growth always follow the same predefined path?
No, not at all.
The below examples highlight some creative ways that employees progress in their careers.
Vertical career growth
Vertical career growth is most familiar to professionals.
It's the idea of moving up a career ladder, from an entry-level position to the top rung, which might be a CEO position.
Career growth has long been defined as a straight line, with promotion after promotion until you reach the top.
If you work for an organization with low turnover, you may quickly hit the ceiling where there's no higher position to move into. This means that if your employees are hungry for more challenges, they will search for them in other organizations.
Horizontal career growth
Horizontal career growth uses a career lattice rather than a ladder, which means plenty of sideways opportunities for growth in the form of lateral moves into different departments, shadowing, mentoring, and more.
Steady-state experts excel in what they do and choose to stay in their role, continually developing skills without changing jobs. They may take on additional responsibilities or lead teams without changing titles or compensation.
Spiral career paths
Spiral career paths involve a series of steps up and outwards, moving up to a certain level in an organization, then leaving to pursue other opportunities. Someone on a spiral career path isn't afraid to leave their status behind and begin a different role further down the ranks to learn new skills.
A T-shaped career growth
A T-shaped career growth describes a professional with deep expertise in one area and a broad range of skills in others. The horizontal line of the T represents the breadth of skills, while the vertical line stands for depth of knowledge.
Transitory career paths
Transitory career paths are for employees who want to earn a salary and pursue personal goals outside work, e.g., traveling. While this doesn't sound like a great reward for hiring managers, it can be useful for businesses that need short-term contractors or specialists to complete a one-off project.
🏢 Best companies for career growth
So, which are the top companies prioritizing employee career growth? Here are three that are leading the way.
Curious how exactly other companies do this?
Get out free database with 13+ real-life career frameworks from companies like Dropbox, Buzzfeed, Optimizely, and more!
Adobe provides its employees with numerous opportunities to hone their skills. Career development programs are available at all levels, from those who've recently completed their graduate degree up to senior leadership teams, including courses on career management, inclusion, executive masterclasses, and more.
The best part?
The Adobe Learning Fund program offers $10,000 per year to any employee who wants to dedicate themselves to higher education. For shorter-term opportunities like attending a professional conference, $1,000 is available.
When employees are keen to change roles, they can participate in pro bono work to stretch their skill sets before applying for internal positions (made available for two weeks before extending to external hire pools.)
👀 Curious how Adobe does performance and feedback? Read our full case study here!
Dropbox's Learning and Development team hosts a dedicated Career Week, encouraging colleagues to pinpoint their unique strengths and develop a career growth mindset.
Another favorite is Hack Week, where employees hit the pause button on their regular projects and dive into a professional or personal growth project instead.
Finally, skills-based volunteering is a big hit with Dropbox employees. In 2020, workers helped at 10+ social impact projects, including developing onboarding experiences for the Larkin Street Youth Services and revamping the Allies Against Slavery website.
Palo Alto Networks
This cybersecurity company is heavily invested in developing a culture of authenticity and collaboration to keep people protected online. Palo Alto has created a transparent structure, where employees are encouraged to express new ideas and rapidly deploy innovative solutions (which always look great on a resume!) Employees also have the opportunity to advance their skills to benefit their careers and the wider cybersecurity industry.
Looking to be inspired by even more companies? Check out the top 10 large and small/medium companies highlighted by Comparably's annual Best Companies for Career Growth report:
- Boston Consulting Group
- Amazon Consumer Group
- Ring Central
- Insight Global
- Zip Recruiter
- Samsung Semiconductor
- Sentinel One
- Therapy Brands
📝 12 Tips for enabling career growth in your workforce
So, you understand the importance of career growth and want to invest, but what's the best way to transform your organization into one that prioritizes development?
It's not something that happens overnight, but you can take immediate action by following these tips.
Establish company-wide career growth culture
To establish a company-wide culture in which career growth is a priority, everyone from the CEO down needs to be on board with setting the tone. Leaders should consider sharing their own career journey with employees as this demonstrates an understanding of the challenges and rewards of development. And it also shows that you haven't forgotten where you came from.
Focus on employee experience
Onboarding is the ideal time to prove you're committed to each new joiner's development.
➡️ Explore our onboarding templates gallery. You'll access real Zavvy journeys made by our learning designers, customers, and other forward-thinking companies.
Tip#1: Consider offering mentorship programs, internal development courses, and external learning opportunities.
Tip#2: Plus, give each employee access to a dedicated member of the People team, so they know who to direct any career growth queries.
Prioritize talent sharing over talent hoarding
Take an honest look at your culture and identify if you're guilty of talent hoarding.
Talent hoarding occurs when managers are afraid to share their best employees with other departments or projects in case they lose them.
Hoarding talent creates an environment of competition and mistrust, damaging employee morale and motivation.
But when managers proactively help employees gain exposure to new experiences and knowledge, this is known as talent sharing.
Sharing internal talent benefits everyone in the company by ensuring that teams share their knowledge and expertise. Yes, a department may lose a team member in an internal transfer, but this is better than losing an experienced employee out of the door to competitors.
Understand how leadership influences career growth
Leaders are in a unique position to enable or disable career growth. Their words and actions have a significant impact on company culture.
Tip: If you want to promote career growth, your leaders must be held accountable for doing the same. Consider implementing a leadership development program to ensure that your leaders have the skills to support employees in their development.
Commit to career mapping
"Here at WikiJob, we believe a clear career path is a key motivation for our employees. It is only natural that talented and motivated employees want to advance, do more, and achieve more. Thus, career pathing appears to be motivation for employees and a crucial factor in overall business success.
Career pathing also has the following benefits:
- Keeps employees informed about their opportunities within the organization.
- Increases employees' engagement in what they do.
- Encourages gaining and sharing knowledge." Tania Doshko, Content Manager, WikiJob.
To commit to career mapping, follow these steps:
1. Employers use their organizational chart to create a map of all internal roles.
2. They outline the skills, competencies, and experience required for each role.
3. Leaders urge their employees to create individual career paths from their current position to their preferred role. Even if it's several moves away – think of it like a chess game!
4. Employers provide L&D opportunities to support employees along their journey.
Invest in employee training and development
Employers need to be proactive about training and development rather than reactive. That means investing in employee training before waiting to be asked.
Employees should have access to multiple learning opportunities, including online courses, external workshops, or microlearning sessions.
Tip #1: Training and development are not just about technical skills.
Tip #2: Focus on developing soft skills, like teamwork and communication skills. They are essential for career growth and will make employees more well-rounded individuals.
Promote mentoring and job shadowing opportunities
Mentoring is a great way to support employees in their development. It's a two-way process where more experienced employees share their knowledge and expertise with less experienced employees.
This can happen informally through conversations and day-to-day interactions. Or a more formal approach would be setting up structured mentoring programs.
"We encourage various mentorship programs across departments. As a business, cross-department mentorship is incredibly effective in encouraging knowledge sharing. It also provides staff with the opportunity to shift their focus from one field to another." - Amy Bos, COO of Mediumchat Group.
Similarly, job shadowing allows employees to learn from more experienced colleagues by observing them at work. As a result, they'll quickly gain insight into new roles or learn more about different departments within their organization.
Create a succession planning program
Succession planning is when employers identify and develop individuals with the potential to fill critical roles within their organization.
Planning for succession is important for two reasons:
- The company has a pipeline of talent to draw on when vacancies arise.
- Employees have a clear development framework, which can motivate them to stay with the company for the long term.
To create a succession planning program:
- Employers identify key roles within their organization.
- They assess the skills and experience required for each role.
- They identify individuals with the potential to fill these roles.
- They create development plans for these individuals to help them acquire the necessary skills and experience before the succession.
- They provide opportunities for these individuals to shadow employees in the relevant roles.
Clarify career growth goals
Career growth goals should be specific and related to an individual - they don't always need to follow the same well-trodden path from A to B.
For example: if you worked in admin, a typical career path would be: Admin Assistant > Executive Assistant > Office Manager.
But a customized career growth plan could involve taking on additional responsibilities, like project management, payroll, or HR. The employee could reach a more senior role, like an Administrative Director.
Developing a career growth timeline
Developing a timeline will help you stay on track and keep your career growth goals realistic.
For example: if you want to move into a more senior role within two years, you might set yourself the following career milestones:
- 6 months: complete an online course in project management.
- 12 months: take on additional responsibilities at work.
- 18 months: apply for a more senior role.
- 24 months: assess your progress and course-correct as required.
Encourage employee ownership
Career growth isn't possible without employee buy-in. Employees must be proactive about their development and responsible for their career growth. They should seek out new opportunities and request regular feedback on their progress.
Document the process and track the progress
To solidify this ownership, employees should work with their managers to document their career growth goals. This document should include:
- Their current role and responsibilities
- Their desired role and responsibilities
- The skills and experience they need to acquire
- The development opportunities they plan to take advantage of
- A timeline for their career growth
This document should be reviewed and updated regularly to ensure that employees are on track to meet their specified goals.
Remember: Be flexible in your approach to career growth, and allow employees to experiment with different roles and responsibilities.
At Zavvy, we use a "Role Cards" feature to establish clear competencies for every role and seniority. Plus, we offer an easier way to track and effectively implement career progression initiatives.
➡️ You can't grow your business without growing your people
Zavvy follows a unique and highly successful approach to career growth.
Our employee development software focuses on equipping your business and your people with all the tools they need to succeed. What can you expect?
- A continuous cycle of development.
- Clearly defined career progression frameworks to cement your development processes.
- Precise competencies, specific for every role and seniority.