Developing Career Paths

November 07, 2022
MRA Edge
Strategic Planning
Talent Management
Read time: 5 mins

If you ask any employer what their biggest challenge is the most common response is finding talent. Even pre-pandemic, employers struggled with finding qualified candidates. When the pandemic hit, the need didn’t change, but the circumstances shifted. An aging workforce, combined with more people reevaluating what work should look like for them, forced companies to examine engagement and what influences an employee’s choice to stay or go.

Harshly, this is what has been learned—we have some work to do around career paths, growth opportunities, and people leadership. We are still emerging from an unprecedented change in how we work, when we work, and where we work. Several factors make it complicated to find the perfect solution. One is that we have a multi-generational workforce, and each generation has different expectations. Another is the need to recruit and retain the right people in a tight labor market. We can also debate the Great Resignation and quiet quitting, as most companies have experienced some level of each. Clearly, we need to continue evolving the way we lead.

Feedback is the best source of information, especially when it comes directly from employees or former employees. Two key points are commonly shared:

  • Employees are generally more engaged when they believe their employer is concerned about their growth, provides opportunities to reach individual career goals, and allows them to contribute to the company’s success.
  • Some paradigms have also shifted, making career paths even more important. Workers value job enrichment, flexibility, and career development more than job security and stability.

Many CEOs admit, in total candor, that their HR focus has been on open jobs and looking for new sources of candidates, especially because there has been turnover among key leaders. Training was postponed during the pandemic and there is concern that new frontline leaders do not have the tools they need to be effective or that their leadership style does not reflect the values of the company. In addition, some new leaders need training on how to lead a hybrid workforce. Experienced leaders have come to realize the need to close the gaps in order to improve the organization.

Evaluate the organization’s needs

Before identifying a succession plan, look at the current and future needs of the company. Use these questions to determine the greatest needs:

  • Which roles should we be developing talent for now?
  • What are the biggest gaps in skills and scale?
  • How do we want the organization to look in a year? Three years? Five years or longer?

Identify the best candidates

Identify employees with the potential to be on the leadership team in the next 24 to 36 months. Determine what is necessary to prepare them with a high probability of success. Consider the following:

  • Will candidates be hired or promoted into key roles?
  • Who are the leaders we need to be developing now?
  • What experience do the candidates need?
  • What types of relationships already exist between candidates and peers?

Gallup points out that 70 percent of employee engagement is directly related to an employee’s manager, so choosing good leaders is important to the success of your organization.

Develop the necessary skills

Too often, people leaders are hired or promoted due to their technical, process, or project management skills. Once in the role, they spend their time on what got them promoted rather than focusing on people leadership. This is rational behavior if organizations put more weight on technical excellence, project execution, and putting out fires, which are all easier to measure. However, organizations also need to consistently choose leaders for being good coaches and developers of talent.

Consider these points as you develop future leaders:

  • Who are the other key people (the glue) or integrators across the organization, and how can they mentor emerging leaders?
  • Use the organizational chart as the roadmap, but look at how the work actually gets done and use that as a guide to develop work relationships.
  • Which leaders can help develop leadership and technical skills as well as a business understanding?

Identify opportunities in the organization

Not all career path/job enrichment ideas cost money. Focus on the worker and skills and engage employees in identifying growth and learning opportunities. Examples include:

  • Having a coach or mentor or being a coach or mentor to a new hire.
  • Becoming a member or leader of a cross-business team or project.
  • Providing online resources and books.
  • Leading a recruiting event or community service project.
  • Job shadowing or working in another department for four hours each week.
  • Attending a career development workshop that includes a self-assessment.

Map out the development plan

Frame the career path discussion to include regular development conversations within the performance management cycle. This includes questions like:

  • What are your career goals? Do you feel you are still on track?
  • What should the next role be?
  • What are two or three skills you want to improve this year? What ideas do you have to improve these skills?
  • What help do you need from the organization to build your plan?

The value is in the conversation, not the process. How do you make it meaningful and hold future leaders accountable? This is as much about setting the right climate for meaningful conversations, skill development, and enrichment as it is about creating a path to leadership. In flatter, smaller organizations, there is a greater need for in-role job skill development given fewer promotional opportunities. In those settings, employees are challenged to engage and perform outside their normal comfort zone.

Yes, there is some risk. Some employees may have career goals that do not align with their performance or skill set. Others may elect to leave, and these conversations may accelerate the pace of their exit, but probably not the outcome.

Whether you choose to have a career conversation or elect not to, your employees are thinking about career growth. They likely have been inundated with news stories about the Great Resignation and tight labor market along with LinkedIn posts about people switching jobs and calls from recruiters. Career pathing is about improving skills, engagement, and increasing the probability of retaining talent.

We can do better than nine percent of workers thinking that talking to their current boss would help their careers. Only people leaders are in a position to understand the unique situation of each person, how they work best, their individual career goals, and their contribution to the team and organization. Providing employees with opportunities to learn and grow continually is a key to improving employee engagement and retention.

For additional information on creating successful career path opportunities within your organization, contact Bob Landwehr, Organization Development Director, at 262.696.3668, or [email protected].