People lose motivation to give their best or look for new jobs when an organization doesn't give them a clear perspective.
But how do you tell employees and job aspirants that the company cares about their career growth?
You build a roadmap: a career progression framework.
A progression path is a great way to increase employee engagement, improve retention, and build a positive workplace culture.
🌱 What is career progression, anyway?
Career progression is an employee’s career path to achieve professional growth. It’s the steps a person can take to grow in their profession within (or outside) the company.
The career growth definition varies for everyone, but promotion is a typical growth indicator.
or achieving a career milestone—like getting to work with your dream company.
A strategic career advancement plan helps employees visualize their professional growth and invest in it.
🪜What is a career progression framework?
A career progression framework(also called career path framework or career pathing framework) is a roadmap that defines how an employee can grow and achieve specific professional milestones within an organization.
The framework describes the required competencies for each role and how they are interlinked.
People want to work at companies that offer career growth opportunities. A well-defined job progression plan helps organizations attract and keep top talent.
Companies use the framework to evaluate employees’ competencies and promote them because of such evaluations.
⚙️ How to build a career progression framework in 10 steps
1. Identify your purpose
It's essential to identify your "why" before embarking on a framework's development or modification journey. Every company has a different mission, and its pathing framework should reflect organizational goals.
Unclarity on how ratings and promotions were determined.
The company held employees accountable for things out of workers' control.
Misalignment and overlapping of competencies.
Improper description of responsibilities at the highest levels.
No documentation of many critical competencies.
Once you identify the issues, coming up with ideas, solutions, and tangible goals becomes manageable. You'll be wasting the organization's time and money on vague processes if you don't have a definite purpose.
2. Assign responsibilities for the framework development
Developing a career pathing framework can be tedious if done wrong.
What can you do to prevent frequent requests for its modification?
Assign someone – a team or a senior executive – responsibility for its development. Assigning ownership has some key advantages:
Shows a company's commitment to its employees' career growth
Enables effective resolution of blockers during the development stage
Puts a face to the process
The person you choose for the framework creation should have the relevant skills and knowledge.
Be aware that you will absolutely want to include managers in the creation process later.
Tip: Hire external experts if your organization doesn't have someone who can lead the development.
"Review the org design elements for your key functions to understand whether it is the most efficient structure for the nature of your business. Evaluate how creating new roles or consolidating some roles could streamline your business or costs."
4. Take inputs from domain experts and stakeholders.
Talk to your employees and the management. They know the roles best.
To have varied insights,get inputs from employees working in different functions like:
Human resources (HR)
Ensure that you speak to employees across job levels. Talking to a recently graduated employee and a senior manager will tell you how people's aspirations evolve at different career stages.
Doing so will also give you insights for developing a relevant framework across the organization. It will also help build trust among employees and managers who will be using the framework as a guide for career development.
Here are some ways you can gather data from experts or stakeholders:
Questionnaires or pulse surveys
5. Define the structure of various career tracks
A well-structured career path framework should:
Explain the competencies and behaviors expected for each position
Clarify promotion criteria at each level
Define how different roles are interlinked (often called organizational structuring)
State opportunities (or roles) employees could get in the future
Yadu Devayajanam recommends for each role within your company, define:
Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
The more specific you can be about each position, the easier it will be for employees to understand what they need to do to progress.
On the other hand, SnackMagic, a build-your-own SaaS snack box service, follows a unique approach.
The company begins building personalized career frameworks by writing fluid job descriptions during recruitment. SnackMagic then asks employees to write their job descriptions based on their experience.
The primary goal behind this unique approach is to discover new hires' talents and create personalized job descriptions centered around those strengths.
Shaunak Amin, the co-founder and CEO of SnackMagic, says:
"Allowing employees to help define their position within our organization empowers them to have ownership and accountability for their roles and responsibilities. It also enables us to work with them in tailoring their career growth using a combination of performance reviews and self-assessment. Doing so entrusts employees to lead the way in structuring a successful career path that is manageable for them."
While a dynamic arrangement might work well for growing startups, a standard framework is best for larger organizations.
6. Set terms about lateral career movement
"I don't want to be a manager."
Many experienced professionals like to keep working as individual contributors (IC) or stick to technical roles. And the organization should give them the flexibility to do so.
After all, the core idea of Talent Management is to assign people responsibilities that align with their strengths.
For example, a senior software developer up for promotion should have the flexibility to choose between becoming a software architect or a project manager. The former requires the employee to have strong technical skills compared to people management skills.
Finalize a framework structure that allows people to pick between management or IC roles after reaching a particular career milestone.
You can also allow people to move between different verticals if there is an overlap of skills.
Suppose a journalist at your firm wants to switch to digital marketing – blog writing, social media, or copywriting. The marketing team could benefit by onboarding someone who has extensive experience in writing and impactful storytelling.
7. Set promotion criteria
Employees should have a strong understanding of the skills and behaviors expected at each level. With this information, they can take additional responsibilities to perform at a higher level to show their capability.
For example, the competencies needed to be a technical team lead will differ from those required for a project manager - the next job level.
Yadu Devayajanam suggests specifying "A list of needed 'must have' and 'nice to have technical and soft skills, etc." for the next role.
Each step on the career ladder comes with specific milestones and performance targets that the employee is expected to meet before moving on to the next level. But finalizing promotion decisions can be tricky. Don’t be surprised if a top-performing employee quits because you didn’t think they are “well-deserving.”
But how can you know if an employee is ready for promotion?
Nicole Kohler, Operations Manager at Campfire Labs, believes we should promote someone "when they are doing about 50% of the new role."
"If you view a job description as a list of boxes to be checked, someone moving from manager to director should check about half the boxes before getting the new title and pay bump."
According to her, "Someone can definitely act as a manager before they are one, or display initiative, autonomy, brand ambassadorship – whatever behaviors you associate with a higher level – and signal to you that they're getting ready for a bump."
"I don't expect someone to be already managing before I give them a manager title, and that's just silly and paves the way for uncompensated work. But I would like to see some ownership of tasks expected at the next level – like mentoring junior employees."
Plus, you'll need to decide how often to promote employees.
8. Create Learning & Development (L&D) programs
Informing employees about the required performance expectations and the promotion criteria isn't the end of your responsibilities.
As an HR or a manager, you have to remove the stumbling blocks in your employees' career growth journey. Skill and knowledge gap is one such blocker hindering promotions.
While a competency model and a career path framework tell the workforce about the performance expectations and skills needed to move to the next level, you need a proven method to identify the status quo.
The way to go here?
🔄 360 Feedback to assess where people actually stand - and based on that:
9. Create a draft framework and launch it after a pilot run
Create a draft framework and ask all stakeholders:
employees across different departments
and HR/training and development experts
to review it.
This is a central document. And you will want buy-in from everybody.
10. Update based on feedback
You'll need to continuously evaluate and improve the framework based on feedback from employees and management. With a bit of effort and the right tools, you can create a thriving workforce that can reach its full potential.
👤 What does a typical employee’s career path look like in 2023?
People want to gain experience and skills to help them achieve their long-term career aspirations.
Many think career growth is like climbing a ladder:
You move up one step at a time until you reach the top. But an employee’s career path doesn’t have to be linear—where they can only advance in one direction. Like a river, people can change their path wherever they see an opportunity.
Frequent job-hopping for a better salary or a position is typical.
Let’s talk about the importance of a career progression framework.
❗ Why is having a career path framework essential?
Businesses need a career progression framework to align employees’ goals with the organization’s strategic objectives. It enables HR to identify skill gaps and recommend relevant training to fill those gaps.
As people leave jobs in record numbers, companies and People Teams need to take every step to retain talent.
1. Sets standards of high performance
The framework tells everyone what the employer considers “great work” for every level. The Talent team and the company’s leadership can use it to set performance standards throughout the organization.
2. Improves employee engagement
In the 20th century, salary increment was a typical solution to pacify disgruntled employees. Fair pay is still a key factor affecting an employee’s happiness at work.
Why shouldn’t it? Everyone, including HR, likes seeing the “salary is credited to your account” notification.
But the pay is only one part of the equation now.
People’s engagement with a company and workplace happiness depends on factors like career development opportunities.
It helps retain employees because it signals the company cares about its employees’ future and invests in them.
4. Supports performance evaluation and talent management
A career progression framework assists HR and managers in several ways regarding performance assessment and management.
Fair assessment: Ensures everyone within the same career level is evaluated using the same standards, improving promotion transparency. It reduces the lapses of favoritism or office politics.
Effective feedback: It also gives you a logical structure for managing your employees’ growth, so you can provide feedback on what they need to do to get where they want to go.
Promotions: A career path framework documents the required performance expectations of all career levels—from an intern to a CEO. Managers and the Talent team can focus on who is best suited for the next level and move them up without losing face.
5. Basis for targeted development plans
The Talent team and managers can (and should) use competency models to recommend training programs that help an employee move up the career ladder. An employee and their assigned mentor can use it to create robust individual development plans.
6. Helps attract top talent
Everyone wants to progress in their profession.
Job aspirants want opportunities (training, challenging projects) that align with their long-term career goals.
A well-defined career progression framework shows potential candidates how they can build a career within your company. It tells aspirants the company is dedicated to its employees’ career progression and future.
7. Aids in succession planning
Suppose a progression framework enables you to hire internally.
In that case, you can avoid the hassle of training outsiders on the organization’s intricacies and culture. This helps ensure that the organization can continue its success long into the future.
🏢 Career progression plan examples from other companies
1. Gusto - Product Management Career Framework
The company came up with this framework by breaking down product management into four key attributes:
Contribution to Product Milestones
Contribution to Company Strategy
Contribution to Product Team Success
Contribution to Other Teams’ Success
Gusto doesn’t have titles but maps out employees’ careers by “levels.” The company promotes an employee when he moves from one level to another.
📈 4 Best practices for developing a career path framework
1. Help employees track their progress
Most people will find the career pathing framework too complicated and complex.
Do not let them rely on their perceptions of where they stand or what they need to do next. Instead, ensure that employees clearly understand the path forward and support them with the necessary training and opportunities.
Yadu Devayajanam suggests designing a mentorship or coaching program.
“Design a mentorship or coaching program for your top talent to help them stay on track with their career goals. Also, review the status of their training and development plan.”
2. Identify common themes across all levels
Many HR managers struggle with defining career progression for senior roles.
For Nicole Kohler, it was the opposite.
The experienced HR struggled to define the expected behavior for junior hires at Campfire Labs – a boutique content marketing agency that experienced journalists run.
“Because our team is so experienced, we instead had to work backwards and decide what the more junior roles would look like,” says Kohler.
Her General Manager, Hal Walling, came up with a solution: they identified what separated each job level and mapped out generalized criteria.
“Each role now has the same criteria across all levels, like autonomy, industry knowledge, institutional knowledge, leadership, “ says Kohler.
3. Take inspiration, but don’t copy another framework blindly
Structuring your progression framework based on what’s working for others seems like the right step. And you shouldn't waste time on ideating or developing something when you can use a standard approach.
But every organization has different goals and needs. Customize the framework that would help a company achieve its goals faster.
4. Keep the framework dynamic
A framework needs to be dynamic and evolving so that it can change with the changing needs of the organization as well as with development in technology, policies, processes, and practices.
For instance, Dragos Badea, Yaroom’s CEO, says the progression framework needs to be structured carefully for high-growth enterprises.
SMEs are constantly taking on new projects, creating new teams, and charting new priorities,” says Badea. “This often leads to high potential employees feeling like they are not progressing along their career path as fast as they could be, due to the trajectory of that path changing (or bending, if not entirely going a different direction). ”
He suggests SMEs keep their career progression frameworks reasonably high-level and make up for the difference in certainty by more periodic career reviews between employees and management.
Badea also says,
“While a roadmap might be easier to follow, the more personal touch usually means there are fewer hard feelings and more personalized progression.”
🤯 Make career progression management stress-free with Zavvy
Managing employee career progression can be mind-numbing if you don't have the right tools.
Even harder if you're an HR in a rapidly growing startup or scaleup.
Candace Bajgoric, Head of People & Culture at Dooly, says,
"Rapid growth at startups also comes with high-performance expectations, a lack of time and resources for training and development, and many unique roles that don't easily slot into a one-size-fits-all progression framework."
"New managers still developing their skills need more support with assessing their teams' skill sets and understanding how to help them grow."
So, how can you effectively manage career progression at your company?
Spreadsheets? There's a better way.
Spreadsheets are prone to errors, are productivity-killers, and aren't an engaging way to interact with your employees.
Zavvy lets you create your complete competency model in one central place.
The best part?
You can directly connect your job profiles with
🔄 360 Feedback systems to understand the status quo - assess the right skills automatically thanks to individual competency profiles
🌱Targeted development plans to take the next step - automatically suggested based on opportunities from the feedback assessment
🛠 Internal & external training to fill that development plan with concrete actions - automatically suggested based on roles and competencies
With a click of a button, automate emails and messages to applications like Slack to communicate tasks. Whether scheduling a meeting with a manager or sending reminders about training deadlines, Zavvy comes to your rescue.
In short, it lets you run a complete, engaging development process for everyone - on autopilot.
Ayush is a software engineer turned content writer and likes helping SaaS companies with top-notch content marketing. His four years in tech consulting empower him to quickly understand a company's goals and software products. Ayush likes reading anything that intrigues him - from workplace culture and marketing to personal development.