How to Create a Career Path for Employees in 5 Easy Steps
Imagine a journey, a roadmap to success paved with milestones, challenges, and victories. Now, transfer that imagery to your workplace. That's your employee's career path. A defined journey that showcases their potential trajectory in your organization, whether that means advancing to a higher role or strengthening their skills by taking on varied responsibilities.
If your people can't see a clear career roadmap, they'll likely leave for greener pastures, as evidenced by the whopping 50 million employees who voluntarily left their jobs in 2022.
In such a climate, it's not so much about encouraging talent through the office door; it's about keeping highly skilled people in the building.
The answer to this conundrum is learning how to create a career path. Structured career path development is critical to improving the employee experience and retaining top talent in today's competitive environment. This article will show you how to do it by:
- Defining different types of career paths.
- Sharing step-by-step instructions to create and structure your own.
🛣️ What are the 4 types of career paths?
Here are four paths an employee can pursue, each with its own set of opportunities.
A linear path is the classic, traditional path in which promotions lead to higher positions within the same field, each a vertical step up from the last.
James Simers, Organizational Development Manager at RKL LLP, explains, "Clear, vertical career paths show what is needed for the next-level role, so team members can build capacity to prepare for future role success."
Example: A software developer may start as a junior developer, then work up to a developer, followed by a lead developer. At the end of their path, they may land a role as a project manager or even a Director of Software Development.
Lateral or horizontal
A lateral or horizontal career path involves movement across various roles or departments without necessarily moving to higher levels. In some organizations, this will resemble a career lattice, as described by Robert Kaskel, Chief People Officer at Checkr:
"A lattice structure gives employees the freedom to explore and grow into roles all around them—including those well outside their current department. It's crucial that employees have a clear view of where they can go and can fully utilize the program!"
Example: A marketing coordinator may decide to shift to a role in product management. They aren't climbing up the organizational hierarchy since the positions are at an equal level within the organization. Instead, they're moving sideways to explore a different domain.
A dual career path is perfect for employees who may excel in specialist or technical roles but don't necessarily want to become managers. It allows specialists to advance in their fields, gaining recognition, depth, and expertise without the shift to management, which may not be their bag.
Example: A research scientist specializing in molecular biology may advance into sub-disciplines like genomics or proteomics without ever managing a team or running a department. They grow in expertise and innovation instead of leadership and administration.
Spiral or cross-functional path
A spiral or cross-functional path allows employees to rotate and experience different roles and functions within your organization. It's perfect for employees who want to gain multifaceted experiences and a holistic view of the organizational ecosystem.
Example: An HR professional may explore a stint in operations, followed by a year working in marketing. They don't just stay in one lane—they move throughout the organization, absorbing varied skills and insights from each department.
🪜 How to create a career path in 5 steps: Your shortcut to career path development
Crafting a career path requires strategic, thoughtful planning that aligns with individual professional aspirations and organizational goals. Follow these five steps to create career paths in your company.
Conduct job role analysis
Start your career path development by pinpointing the key responsibilities and skills required for each job position. This analysis is the foundation for aligning job descriptions with day-to-day tasks and expectations.
To do this effectively, gather input from managers and existing employees in their respective roles. Regularly revisit this step to refine job roles as your organization evolves.
Define the leveling classification
Now, establish a transparent job-level classification system. This comprehensive system defines levels within your organization, providing a structured ladder for career progression by clarifying the pathway from entry-level employee to leader.
➡️ Learn more about how to use a job leveling matrix to create career roadmaps throughout your organization.
Map skills to qualifications
Your next move is to complete competency mapping to detail the hard and soft skills, experience, and qualifications for each level so you can align them with the right roles.
Example: A project manager may require hard, technical skills such as using specialist software or holding a project management certification. They should also possess exceptional communication and interpersonal skills when liaising with multiple stakeholders.
➡️ Learn how to pinpoint and map relevant competencies using our competency template, making creating a career map a cinch.
Collaborate with stakeholders to gain feedback
Collaboration is vital when creating career paths. Engage with department leads and take advantage of their knowledge about their teams' roles. From here, you can understand the nuances of each job position and refine the career path framework to fit the reality of each role.
Employee insights are also valuable, so conduct surveys or hold focus group discussions to gather their perspectives on your organization's career development opportunities. This way, you can create a career path program that meets your employees' needs and aspirations.
Jarir Mallah, Human Resources Manager at Ling App, advises, "Biannually, check-in and review job roles and overall job satisfaction. A great organization is always keen to have employees develop skills and roles, so be sure to encourage open communication to drive careers forward."
Establish clear and accessible career pathing documentation
Finally, create clear and accessible career pathing documentation to guide your team through their professional development within your organization. This documentation should detail:
- each career ladder;
- the associated job description;
- the skills and qualifications needed to progress.
Use straightforward language and make the documentation easily accessible, perhaps through the company intranet or a dedicated third-party platform.
🧩 How do you structure a career ladder?
Creating a coherent career ladder gives employees a transparent framework to visualize their current and future organizational roles.
Consider seven steps to structure this ladder effectively so that each rung is a step toward clear, achievable growth.
Identify specific job families
To identify specific job families, start by grouping roles that share similar functions, skills, or qualifications. This approach provides clarity and allows for more focused development opportunities for employees within each family.
🏆 Best practice: First, focus on one job family to make the process more manageable. It also allows you to fine-tune the process before you roll out the same approach to other families.
The resulting clarity aids in job satisfaction and employee retention by streamlining the process of identifying gaps in skill sets and training opportunities. Want the best results? Keep it simple, clear, and focused.
Determine levels within the job families
Consistency is key when structuring career ladders. However, a one-size-fits-all approach may not bring the results you're after. Using the same structure across different job families can streamline processes and maintain uniformity, but it can also pose challenges.
Example: Some roles may have seven levels, while others may only have three. Similarly, managers and individual contributors may have different paths. Managerial paths often lead to organizational leadership and decision-making roles, while individual contributor paths emphasize deepening technical skills and individual performance.
In both cases, these discrepancies can impact salary bands and lateral moves within the organization. The solution is to structure levels within different job families and balance development opportunities for all paths.
Map responsibilities and competencies for each level
Mapping responsibilities and competencies for each level builds a foundation of stability and clarity. Start by listing the responsibilities for each level within a job family to provide a clear picture of what employees should accomplish at each career ladder rung.
Next, identify the competencies for each level—the skills, knowledge, and behaviors employees must exhibit to perform their roles successfully. A competency model is a powerful tool to help you define the factors required to advance through roles. You can even use a leadership competency model to map out details for company leaders.
For success, you must strike the right balance between three competencies:
- Core competencies: The fundamental skills and knowledge required across all organizational roles and levels, such as teamwork and communication skills.
- Functional competencies: Competencies specific to a particular department or job family.
- Technical competencies: Specialized skills or expertise required for particular roles.
💡 Tip: You don't have to do this step alone. Collaborate with relevant managers to gather insights and specific knowledge for each department.
Consider creating a managers' working group consisting of representatives from every department. Choose those passionate about their work who can contribute meaningful insights to the competency mapping process.
Link levels to compensation and benefits
Compensation is a huge part of an employee's career path, so HR must be transparent about how much individuals can expect to earn in each role. Determining levels and mapping out competencies for each level ensures that salary bands and benefits packages are aligned with each level's responsibilities and competencies.
In addition, regular performance appraisals are a critical method to assess whether employees meet the established criteria and are eligible for compensation adjustments.
➡️ Check out our guide to linking compensation to performance appraisals.
💡 Tip: Consult with a compensation professional or benchmarking company to provide valuable insights into market trends. They can also create a salary structure that aligns with your levels and titles. The result? You'll provide compensation packages that are competitive and equitable and alleviate the burden on HR.
Define the conditions for moving ahead
HR teams must meticulously outline the promotion and internal career mobility criteria to ensure clarity and transparency in career progression pathways. One practical approach is to outline the specific skills, competencies, and achievements required to advance to the next level.
Additionally, define how long employees should spend at a particular level before being considered for promotion. Consider the role's complexity and learning curve, the individual's performance, and your organizational needs to determine the appropriate time spent at each level.
The traditional linear career trajectory has been replaced by more fluid and adaptable employee career paths, accommodating employees who may wish to explore different job families or take on hybrid roles. In these cases, a suitable alternative is a flexible career lattice that allows for lateral and diagonal moves.
This model allows employees to move through various roles and departments while gaining a multifaceted skill set.
Create a review process
Finally, create a robust review process to assess employees' current roles and discuss their potential career growth. Start by establishing and evaluating them based on several criteria, including:
- career goals;
- areas for employee development.
Have regular, structured conversations to facilitate feedback, goal setting, and career planning.
Additionally, incorporate employee development programs and training into your review process to support employees in climbing the career ladder. This could include offering:
- learning resources;
- training programs;
- mentorship partnerships;
- opportunities for skill and competence development.
Encourage employees to voice their career aspirations, feedback, and concerns through one-on-one meetings or anonymous surveys. Finally, ensure the review process is transparent, fair, and consistent across the organization.
➡️ Define clear career paths in a few clicks with Zavvy
Defining clear, structured, and transparent career paths is crucial for employee engagement retention, engagement, and development. It allows you to create a positive, growth-oriented culture where employees can visualize and achieve progression in their careers.
With the right tools and approach, creating a solid career pathway doesn't have to be a difficult task.
Zavvy provides a comprehensive suite of tools to define exceptional career paths in just a few clicks:
- 🧭 Career pathing software: An all-in-one career path development solution enabling you to create a framework for continuous development. Plus, with Zavvy AI, you can quickly generate the expectations for each career path, role, and level.
- 🌱 Employee development software: A development solution that connects the dots between skills, development plans, and training measures, helping your people define the path toward career growth.
- 📚 Learning experience platform: A knowledge-packed library of resources from hundreds of reputable providers.
- 🧑🎓 Learning management system: An AI-powered system that allows you to create, manage, run, and automate engaging training courses.
- 📊 Performance review software: An innovative solution that collects insights on employee performance and assesses competency mastery and readiness for new roles.
- 🌟 Competency management software: A comprehensive competency management solution that allows you to manage, map, measure, and improve your people's competencies.
📅 Ready to launch career path development in your organization? Book a free Zavvy demo today.