As the economy soars and the job market grows, many companies are turning to the practice of career pathing as a long-term employee retention effort. Not only does career pathing ensure that employees see a future at your company, but it can also help you take a strategic slant in developing talent to suit your business needs now and in the future. 

How Does Career Pathing Work?

Career pathing is a practice that empowers employees to chart their growth in a company for the years ahead. Typically, the creation of a career path is first initiated by an employee, who would document their current place in your organization and plan what they’d like their career progression to be within the next several years. 

Once complete, the career path would be pitched to their appropriate manager and members of the leadership team to be evaluated. These company leaders will ultimately decide not only if the employee’s career path is realistic based on their demonstrated abilities and current skill set, but also whether or not what the employee has in mind will create value for the business as a whole. 

While providing employees the opportunity to single-handedly design and pitch their future seems like a progressive move on the part of companies seeking to engage their staff, autonomy in this exercise often proves to be more of a hindrance than a help. That’s because, without the guidance of a senior leader from the start, an employee may spend time and effort investing their hopes into a pitch for a role that doesn’t reflect the needs of your business. That career path they’ve worked on will then be heavily revised at the hands of leadership, or even worse, rejected. In this instance, your attempt at empowering an employee will backfire, leaving them feeling discouraged and disengaged. 

Fortunately, the practice career pathing can be designed to benefit both employees and your business with a very minimal and extremely valuable addition to its process: collaboration. 

A manager meeting with an employee about his career path

7 Steps to Implementing Collaborative Career Pathing

Because your human resources department likely runs employee development and promotion processes, the leaders and appropriate members of that team should lead the charge for collaborative career pathing. Because every company has different needs, there’s no exact formula you need to follow, but consider these steps a guideline to help you get started. 

#1. Train, Observe, and Tweak Through a Pilot Program

Ensuring managers understand the goals and guidelines of collaborative career pathing is the most crucial step to this initiative. 

The goals of collaborative career pathing are:

  • Engage employees through the ability to plan their future at your company.
  • Enable employees to connect their personal goals with business goals.
  • Equip managers to develop personalized professional development plans.
  • Ensure staff needs will meet to serve the future growth of your business.

The guidelines of collaborative career pathing are:

  • Employees are encouraged to own and lead this process. They have the right to state their desires, preferences, and needs concerning their path.
  • Remember, collaboration is key to career-pathing success. Managers act as facilitators and advisors to employees. They should be assisting in the creation of a career path, not authoring it. 
  • Employees along with their managers must follow the career-pathing process set by the company. To ensure consistency, all steps and required documents must be completed before submitting a proposed career path to the leadership team for review. 

As you begin to test career pathing with managers and teams, note any challenges or opportunities so you can make adjustments as you go. 

#2. Determine the Employee’s Career Objectives

This step marks the first conversation between a star employee who wants to move forward in the company and the manager who is tasked with contributing to both their short and long-term success.

Managers should guide the conversation by asking the following questions:

  • Apart from your role at this company today, what are your career goals?
  • Do you see yourself working here in 5 years? If so, what would your job be?
  • In the next week, could you please create or compile the job description that reflects the future role you’d like to serve at our company?

#3. Connect the Employee’s Career Goals Company’s Strategic Objectives 

To prepare for the second time they meet with an employee, a manager should review the employee’s career goals and proposed job description with other stakeholders in the business. Connecting the employee’s desired role to its place in helping the company achieve its strategic goals is critical to gain buy-in from the leadership team, so it’s best to get their take on what the employee has in mind early in the process. 

A manager receiving feedback on an employee's career path

#4. Pinpoint Where These Objectives Can Align

By the time a manager meets with the employee again, they’ll have a much better understanding of their personal career goals and desires, along with whether or not their current career path goals are likely to be supported by the leadership team. This next meeting is designed to talk about how their vision aligns with the company’s overall vision for the future. 

This meeting should include:

  • Feedback on the proposed job description from the manager and stakeholders at the company.
  • A walkthrough of the job description and how it currently aligns or can be modified to align with the company’s strategic goals and business needs.
  • The opportunity for the employee to either accept or further modify the job description they proposed.

#5. Evaluate Their Current Skill Set and Identify Gaps

In this next meeting, the manager and employee will talk about the employee’s current skills and performance record, along with the skills they’ll need to obtain and performance goals they’ll need to achieve to move into in their future role. This pivotal meeting will set the framework for the milestones that will make up their career path. 

Managers are encouraged to invite employees to suggest any professional development opportunities they feel will be helpful to both their career goals and personal growth. For example, if the employee is seeking to move into a management role, classes on effective communication, innovation, and collaboration can greatly boost their chances to stand out as a future leader at your company. 

#6. Map Out a Career Path with Measurable Milestones

Once skill gaps are identified by the employee and the manager, the manager will map out a professional development plan that includes training and experiences that will help the employee grow into the role they desire. Again, because the acceptance and success of the career path depend on its tight alignment, the manager is strongly advised to consult with other stakeholders in leadership to learn what types of training, performance goals, and milestones they feel will best prepare the employee to succeed. 

Once the career path is drafted, the manager will meet with the employee to obtain their feedback and make the appropriate edits before sending to the leadership team for final approval. If modifications are suggested, the manager will reconvene with the employee to discuss them and make the appropriate changes together as a team. 

A manger and employee reviewing career path milestones

#7. Recognize and Reward Employees Along the Way

Career pathing is a promising experience to your employees, but when the road ahead is filled with challenges and the inevitable setbacks, having a pick-me-up in place can help them regain their focus to the end goal they’re willing to continue working toward. Showing employees you notice their drive and appreciate their initiative throughout their journey on their career path is so incredibly important to the success of this process. 

Whether you invite them to celebrate their progress with a night out or acknowledge the value of their experiences through reverse mentoring, the small efforts you make to let employees know they’re seen and heard from step one on their career path will enable them to stay motivated, think positively, and inspire the team members around them to join them in investing in your company’s exciting future.