Career Pathing: How to Create Powerful Roadmaps for Employee Success
In today's work environment – ever-shifting, dynamic, fluid – careers don't pan out as they used to.
You can go from studying molecular biology to working at an investment bank to analyzing algae formation in a marine research lab—all within a few years. This zigzagging trajectory is becoming increasingly common, and it's precisely why career pathing is essential.
It involves building a flexible framework for employee career paths and accommodating these diverse career moves.
Career pathing is the GPS that charts an employee's professional journey within an organization. It's not just about promotions or moving up a proverbial ladder. It's about growth, learning, and tailored trajectories that cater to individual aspirations and company needs.
Career pathing offers a modern, more helpful answer to the age-old question: "Where do you see yourself in five years?"
This article will:
- Discuss what is career pathing.
- Analyze the benefits of career pathing (think: employee retention, improved employee satisfaction, and much more).
- Guide you through the steps for implementing career pathing in your organization.
- Offer 6 actionable best practices for career pathing.
- Share tips for how small businesses or startups implement career pathing without extensive resources.
🛣️ What is career pathing?
Career pathing is the process of mapping out a professional journey within an organization, outlining potential steps, roles, and growth opportunities. It's a practical, strategic plan for employees looking to advance their careers.
Gone are the days when a job was just a means to an end. Now, it's a journey of personal and professional development.
Career pathing is the roadmap that guides this journey, offering a structured approach to career progression. It lets workers align their skills, aspirations, and strengths with the career advancement opportunities available within their organization. For employers, it's a strategic tool that not only aids in improving employee retention but also optimizes workforce planning.
We'll go through the practical side of things below.
Can career pathing be used for all roles, including non-managerial ones?
Absolutely – career pathing isn't just for those eyeing the corner office. It's a versatile tool that can be applied to roles at all levels, including non-managerial positions. Whether they're a software developer, a customer service representative, a graphic designer, or something else, career pathing can help employees identify the skills they need to hone and the steps they need to take to upgrade their professional growth.
It's about more than just climbing the corporate ladder; it's about lateral moves, skill diversification, and even preparing for roles that might not yet exist.
With a defined roadmap for growth, career pathing ensures that every employee, regardless of their current position, can develop and progress.
🕵️♀️ Why is career pathing important for organizations and employees?
In today's workplace, career pathing has plenty of benefits – for both organizations and their workers:
- Improve internal recruiting: Career pathing creates a talent pipeline within the org. Using it to identify potential leaders and high-performers early on, companies can more easily fill roles internally, reducing the time and cost associated with external hiring processes.
- Promote employee growth: With a clear path for advancement, existing employees are more motivated to develop their skills and take on new challenges. This not only benefits the worker but also adds value to the organization as a whole.
- Attract and retain employees (particularly top talents): Offering a structured career path will always be a great selling point for prospective employees. It signals their long-term career growth and success will be invested in, making it an attractive workplace. And it's a great way to make current employees want to stay and level up.
- Create a culture of learning, improvement, and career growth: Career pathing helps brew a company culture where continuous learning and development are encouraged. This creates a positive feedback loop, where employees are motivated to grow, and their career growth then contributes to the organization's success. (Check out our career progression examples for possible ways this can pan out.)
- Effectively manage talent: Career pathing allows for better talent management by aligning employee skills and aspirations with the firm's needs. This means that the right people end up in the right roles, optimizing productivity and effectiveness for everyone. (Combined with a talent management system, it's even more powerful).
- Boost morale and engagement: Knowing there's a path for career progression can boost employee satisfaction, morale, and engagement. It gives team members something to strive for, boosting their job satisfaction and overall well-being.
With these key areas addressed, career pathing makes for a win-win strategy for both the individual and their employer.
🪜 7 Steps for implementing career pathing in your organization
Define your organization's current goals and how you want career pathing to support them
The first step is to align it with your organization's strategic objectives. Whether expanding into new markets or improving operational efficiency, clearly understanding these goals will help make career pathing much more effective.
Identify current roles, responsibilities, and necessary skills
Take stock of the existing roles within your organization and outline the responsibilities and core competencies required for each. This will serve as the foundation upon which career paths can be built.
Predict future roles
Even if your organization isn't hiring or has a small leadership team, planning for the future is important.
Which roles may be needed in the coming years?
Can you plan clear career paths involving them?
Answering these questions not only helps in strategic planning but also signals to employees that there are long-term opportunities, making it worthwhile to stay.
Identify training needs
Once roles and future projections are clear, identify the training and development needs that will help employees move along their career paths. This could range from technical skills to leadership training. You can do this systematically with a training needs assessment.
Define clear promotion criteria
Establish transparent criteria for promotions, such as performance metrics or skill mastery. This removes ambiguity and ensures employees know what's expected for career advancement.
Create realistic timelines for achieving career milestones. Whether it's a six-month plan for skill development or a two-year plan for a managerial role, timelines help keep everyone accountable.
Roll this out in a standardized framework document
Finally, compile all this information into a comprehensive, standardized document. This serves as the official guide for career pathing within your organization, ensuring consistency and clarity for everyone involved.
Following these steps will create a robust career pathing strategy that benefits your employees and aligns with your organization's goals and vision for the future.
So that's how to do it – but how do you do it well? Here are some best practices to make the most of your career pathing program.
💡 6 Best practices for making the best use of career pathing
Utilize the value of mentors and managers as coaches - your people are your best assets
Social learning means using the expertise and experience of mentors and managers to guide employees through their career paths. It's an excellent fit for this practice – experienced minds can provide invaluable insights, advice, and support, making them essential assets in the career pathing process. Great coaching offers massive benefits – building it into everyday work can make a huge difference.
💡 Tip: If you want to support your mentors with guidance on the process, investing in some coaching skills training can make it easier for them.
Make learning and improving a core part of your culture
A culture that values continuous learning and employee development naturally supports career pathing. Encourage employees to take courses, attend workshops, and seek out opportunities for skill development. This creates an environment where career growth is not just possible but expected. (Want some examples of this in action?
🔎 Check out our case studies on L&D success at BCG or the culture of continuous learning at Spotify.
Be ready to address resistance to change from managers, employees, etc.
Implementing career pathing can bring about resistance from various quarters. Be prepared to address concerns and objections, giving clear communication and reassurances to smooth the transition. You should be more open and discuss the 'why' behind these decisions.
Ensure managers and their direct reports are on the same page
Open and transparent communication between managers and their teams is crucial for successful career pathing. Clear guidance from above is a must – don't leave them to work it out themselves.
Make development conversations a part of your feedback and performance review cycles
Don't limit discussions about career development to annual reviews. Incorporate them into regular feedback sessions and make it an ongoing dialogue.
Chatting regularly about these topics keeps career goals at the front of everyone's minds and encourages working toward them.
Find a tool that can support you
There are different career management software options on the market.
We recommend looking for tools that go beyond career planning and skill assessments. Robust features like training and course management, performance reviews, and succession planning are also vital. They help to manage, grow, and nurture talent across different departments and levels.
While career talk is often left to self-assessment forms and performance development reviews, it's best to have these topics in the open as a standard part of doing business so everyone continually benefits.
🏢 How can small businesses or startups implement career pathing without extensive resources?
You don't need a sprawling HR department or line managers to pause their work for days to implement effective career pathing. With limited resources, small businesses and startups can still make this happen.
You can create meaningful career paths in minutes with Zavvy's AI-powered career framework builder.
It's a streamlined, user-friendly system that allows you to set up a tailored career framework with just a few clicks. It's designed to fit your company's needs, from roles and levels to core competencies, making it an ideal choice for small businesses and startups.
Zavvy's AI considers your company size, roles, levels, and specific competencies. It ensures the framework is customized to your organization's unique needs. Once the AI has generated your framework, all that's left are the finishing touches. You can focus on preparing a proper launch without getting bogged down in the details.
The system allows you to deeply connect your feedback and training processes, enhancing them with AI. It's all part of our AI-powered 360-degree growth system, a tech-enabled leap into the future of people development.
And it doesn't end there. In addition to our AI tools, startups and small businesses can use Zavvy's strategic consultation services.
Whether new to people development or looking to refine your existing processes, our people experience team guides you. We offer hands-on support, consultation calls, and live Slack support, so you're never left in the dark.
➡️ Invest in your people's career paths with Zavvy
Don't leave your employees' career growth to chance. Zavvy's career pathing software offers a fast, efficient way to create meaningful career frameworks.
You can seamlessly guide your employees toward success with features like clear role requirements, data-driven pathways, and powerful templates.
You can create career paths for individual contributor and leader positions. All your people, from junior employees to senior managers, will understand how to shape their career trajectory within your organization.
📅 Take the next step in people development and give your employees the growth opportunities they deserve. Get a demo from Zavvy today.
How often should career pathing be reviewed or updated?
Career pathing should be reviewed at least annually. Still, more frequent reviews, semi-annually or quarterly, are recommended for fast-paced or rapidly growing organizations. Regular informal conversations about career development can also help ideas develop outside of the times you formally review plans and progress.
What is an example of career pathing?
An example of career pathing could be a software developer progressing to a senior developer, then to a team lead, and eventually to a software engineering manager. Career pathing would involve planning how to get to each position and drawing out the steps to get there. It could include setting personal goals and participating in learning and development programs. It could define the mentorship programs to join in or the development of specific skill sets. Each step would have clear competencies, specific skills, and milestones to achieve before progressing to the next level.
What are the 4 types of career paths?
The four types of career paths are generally said to be:
- Linear: This path is all about climbing the corporate ladder. Success is defined by moving up in the organization. Still, it can be limited due to fewer positions at the top.
- Expert: In this path, success is gauged by becoming the best in your field. Whether you're a craft worker or a surgeon, being known as the best among your peers is the goal.
- Spiral: Moving laterally across different fields or departments to gain a broad range of skills. This path involves broadening your skill set by moving to related but different roles, allowing you to accumulate a wide range of knowledge and experience.
- Transitory: Frequently changing roles or industries driven by market demand or personal interest. This path is for those who like variety. Success is defined by changing jobs frequently, often every two to three years, and these jobs may not be related to past experiences.
What is the difference between a career path and a career ladder?
A career path is a broader concept that outlines various routes an employee could take for career development, including lateral moves and specializations. A career ladder is a more linear, step-by-step progression upward in a hierarchical structure.
What is a career lattice?
A career lattice is a flexible approach to career development that allows employees to explore diverse roles and directions while still achieving their long-term goals. It encourages lateral moves, skills expansion, and personal growth, offering a more dynamic and fulfilling career path than the traditional career ladder.
What are questions to ask during career path planning?
Here are some questions to consider asking an employee:
- What are your long-term career goals?
- What skills or competencies do you need to develop to reach those goals?
- Are there any gaps in your current skill set that must be addressed?
- What method of learning best helps you obtain new skills?
- Do you think you'd benefit from having a formal mentor? If so, what role or department would you like them to be from?
👀 Looking for more inspiration? Head to our guide on career development conversation questions. You'll find 27 real examples you can use.