By: Ber Leary on May 13th, 2022

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Career Pathing: Best Practices to Help You Retain Top Talent

Total Rewards | Business Management & Strategy | Best Practices | Employee Relations | Talent Acquisition

In the past, professionals used to seek out companies that could offer employment for the whole of their career—the so-called “job for life”. Those days are long gone, and the average American will now have 12 jobs in their lifetime.

This regular turnover also means a change in the way that organizations think about their employees. You’re no longer bringing in people on a from-hire-till-retire basis. When you think about career pathing, you have to factor in the possibility that your employees could leave at any moment.

But this doesn’t have to be negative. With a positive, dynamic approach to career pathing, you make plans for the future that benefits both the employee and your organization.

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What is the purpose of career pathing?

Career pathing is a way of helping your people achieve their career goals within your organization. In a career pathing exercise, you talk about the employee’s aspirations, look at the skills you will require in the future, and make a plan that leads to a win-win.

Career pathing offers many advantages, including:

  • Engagement: Studies show a clear correlation between career development and employee engagement
  • Retention: Career stagnation leads to turnover, with the chance of someone quitting increasing by 1% for every ten months that they stay in the same role
  • Flexibility: Career paths can evolve and change over time to reflect any changes in the organization’s needs or the employee’s ambitions
  • Workforce and succession planning: Career paths give a focus to your professional development strategy, which helps you build the team that you’ll need in the future

Career pathing can play a role in your Total Rewards strategy, especially if you support it with training and professional development.

What are the biggest problems with career pathing?

All that said, it’s important to note that career pathing isn’t a cure-all. In fact, a poorly executed career path exercise can cause more problems than it solves.

Some of the common problems we see with career paths include:

  • Inadequate planning: Career paths need to connect to your broader corporate strategy. For example, if you intend to invest heavily in research and development, you’ll need people who specialize in technology and innovation. Your career pathing plans should reflect these future needs.
  • Unrealistic expectations: A career path can sometimes feel like a promise. Employees think, “if I meet my career path criteria, I am guaranteed a senior leadership role.” It’s important to set realistic expectations at the start so you’re your people aren’t disappointed when they move along their career path.
  • Failure to recognize individual strengths: Career paths should take advantage of each person’s strongest abilities. That means that you must have an objective conversation about the employee’s strengths—and their weaknesses. If someone has poor leadership skills, it’s pointless to place them on a management career path.
  • Lack of practical support: Great employers will help people move along their career path by offering training, experience, and mentoring. If employees don’t receive this kind of support, they struggle to achieve their career goals. Ultimately, they may choose to leave and seek out a new employer who will help them develop.

You can avoid these pitfalls by following career pathing best practices. Let’s take a closer look at how you can help your people achieve their ambitions.

Recommended reading: The Compete Guide to Employee Retention Strategy

Retaining top talent through career pathing best practices

Career pathing is a collaborative practice that involves everyone: the employee, their manager, their colleagues, the HR team, and senior leadership. When everyone works together, you’ll develop career pathing best practices that help you attract, engage and retain talented people.

Here are some principles to keep in mind when developing your career pathing best practices:

Focus on organizational needs

Career paths aren’t just about the employee’s future. They’re also about your organization’s future and the type of people you’ll need to achieve your goals.

This means that you should have a clear idea of your HR requirements for the coming years before you talk to employees about career paths. In particular, focus on:

  • Strategy: How is your core business likely to develop in the coming years, and how does that affect staffing needs?
  • Growth: Do you intend to grow, or will you focus on business resilience?
  • Technology and processes: Will you need people with specialist technical knowledge or external certifications?
  • Structure: Will your organization’s structure mean that you will need more managers and department heads?
  • Succession: When will your current leadership team retire, and how does that impact your leadership development plans?
  • Job design: What are the requirements and responsibilities for each role? Will you need to change these requirements at any point in the immediate future?

When you understand your organizational needs, you will be able to talk about the opportunities that are likely to arise in the coming years. These opportunities can then be the focus of individual career paths.

Help employees define their goals

Not every employee has a clear vision of their career. Many people need guidance, advice, and inspiration from career experts.

This is an area where HR can help. You can encourage career path thinking by:

  • Organizing mentorship programs: Mentors can offer valuable insight into senior roles, which helps employees refine their career end-goals.
  • Arrange job shadowing: Job shadowing allows people to see what daily life is like in other roles. Again, this insight helps clarify the employee’s aspirations.
  • Run career information seminars: Seminars are a chance to bring in different specialists who can talk about what they do and answer questions from the team. This is a chance to introduce a variety of experiences and expand the employee’s vision of their own career.
  • Hold career advice sessions: Most employees would appreciate the chance to discuss their future with a career planning expert. This can be someone from HR, or you can offer career coaching as one of your benefits.

Planning your career is tough, and people at all levels would benefit from good advice. If you can provide this guidance, employees will see that you are genuinely interested in their career development.

Invest in training and development

The previous steps were all about clarifying what the employee wants and what the organization needs. Career pathing is about matching these requirements, creating a win-win for all involved.

But a career path document by itself is worthless. Career paths only have value when you support them with meaningful investment in training and development. Here’s what you need to do:

  • Map out skills gaps: Document the skills, certification and experience that each employee will require to reach their career goals.
  • Define a corresponding training plan: Define a training plan for each skills requirement. This might involve education, certification, getting more experience, or networking with other professionals.
  • Set attainable milestones: Achievable targets will help employees feel like their careers are moving forward. It will also make it easier to keep track of individual progress.
  • Arrange regular check-ins: Set up regular one-to-ones where employees can talk about their progress. This is an opportunity to amend the career pathing plan or review your professional development strategy, ensuring everyone stays on track.

Paths are a way of getting from A to B. Make sure that you’re supporting each employee in their journey to career success.

Retaining your best staff through career pathing

We know that people don’t stay with the same company forever. Instead, your company is going to be one chapter in each employee’s broader career story.

The question is: how can you guide that story so that both you and the employee reach a happy ending? Career pathing is one tool that you can use to ensure a mutually beneficial outcome, leading to higher engagement and retention.

Need more advice on retaining and developing your best employees? Arrange a no-obligation consultation call with Helios HR today. Let’s talk about you can build a winning team for a future full of growth.

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