The path to professional success doesn't happen by accident. It's a journey filled with twists, turns, opportunities, and the need for constant evolution. If organizations want to create a more human-centric workplace, they must look beyond the immediate and plan for the professional success of their employees. That means helping employees build skills for both today and tomorrow — and ensuring that employees have a place to aspire to use them.
Creating employee success is the best path to creating organizational success. Enter career pathing, a transformative tool in the world of HR and organizational growth.
What is career pathing?
For employees, career pathing is simply the process through which workers can chart out their professional journey within an organization. Think of it as a GPS for a career. It not only highlights where you are but also shows where you can go and how you can get there, enumerating the skills and competencies you will need to reach every new role.
So, "what is career pathing”? In an organizational sense, it's a strategic framework that defines the conditions for advancement and empowers employees to align their skills, passions, and career goals with the available (and future) opportunities in an organization.
This may seem like basic stuff — but many employers have yet to work it out. In fact, 2022 Gartner research found that just 25% of employees felt confident about their career opportunities with their current employer.
That’s important because employee career advancement and succession planning directly impacts bottom-line KPIs — including our ability to hang on to the employees we need to thrive. Check out some of the benefits, below.
Benefits of career pathing at the workplace include:
- Improved employee engagement and commitment to the organization: When employees see a clear future and progression for themselves in their organization, they're naturally more engaged. They understand how their roles contribute to the bigger picture and feel motivated to push forward. That study also illustrates how feeling supported in their career growth by the organization helps employees feel more committed to their employer overall.
- Better talent retention: As the talent market remains scalding hot, retention of high performers is an important focus for most companies. Career pathing provides employees with clarity and direction, ensuring that they stick around to realize their professional aspirations. A 2022 McKinsey study noted that a lack of career development and advancement was the most common reason for quitting a previous job. In fact, 2023 research by Betterworks has found that 75% of employees would prefer to stay with their employers, but only 48% see a path for advancement. It’s apparent that by clearly defining potential career paths, companies could reduce their turnover rates significantly.
- Improved productivity: With a clear understanding of their career trajectory and open communication across the org, employees can focus better on their current roles, leading to improved performance and productivity across the organization.
- Reduced hiring cost: Promoting from within not only boosts morale but also reduces recruitment costs and time associated with onboarding new employees. Despite this, according to LinkedIn Learning research, only 15% of employees say their organization encouraged them to move to a new role in the organization.
- Workforce planning: By understanding their own internal career paths, organizations can create better pipelines for leadership and better anticipate future talent needs — which helps them to prepare for tomorrow's challenges and market demands.
Key elements of a career pathing framework
To ensure the most effective career pathing, companies should consider implementing these foundational elements into development efforts.
Clearly defined career goals
Begin by making career trajectories open and transparent. Encourage employees to consider and share their long-term career objectives with managers. This will help set the stage for a path more tailored to their personal aspirations. On the organizational side, publish career paths so that everyone can understand the skills and competencies that are necessary to advance. Research by MIT/Sloan underscores the importance of visible career pathing in growing organizations, noting that “employees can’t explore growth opportunities that they can’t see.”
Skills are the new currency in today’s ever-evolving job market. Leverage tools and platforms to evaluate and share employee skills. This will shed light on both personal and organizational strengths and areas that require development.
Individualized development plans
Every individual’s path will be unique. Based on their career goals and skill assessments, design a tailored plan to help them reach their desired destination. Create and update these plans on the regular, and track employee progress against those goals.
Mentorship and coaching
Connecting people on a human level is central to our philosophy at Enboarder®, so you knew you’d see that here! If you want people to have successful paths to progression, you’ll want to cultivate connections through mentors and coaches within the organization that can help them plan and achieve them. These relationships provide invaluable insights, guidance, and support throughout an employee’s journey.
Training and education opportunities
Learning opportunities are essential to following career paths. Offer resources and avenues for employees to acquire new skills or hone existing ones, reinforcing their commitment to personal and professional growth.
Career ladders and diagrams
A picture paints a thousand words. Map out possible progression routes within the organization, offering clear "career pathing examples" to showcase potential growth trajectories.
Performance monitoring and review
Open up regular lines of communication. Regular check-ins ensure employees are on track, offering opportunities for realignment or course correction as needed.
Create belonging and human connection
According to Cornerstone research, an employee who scores highly on workplace belonging is twice as likely to say they can talk to their manager about career opportunities. For career pathing to work, companies must create an environment that connects people and increases their feelings of inclusion.
Leverage technology to streamline the pathing process. Platforms can facilitate skill assessments, track progress, and offer resources, ensuring a seamless career pathing experience.
Career Pathing and the Employee Journey
The concept of the employee journey and experience is deeply intertwined with career pathing. From onboarding to potential exit, every touchpoint an employee encounters plays a role in their career trajectory. But it's more than just a linear path; it's about the holistic, human experience of growth.
By integrating career pathing into their cultures, organizations are emphasizing their commitment to employee growth, thereby enhancing their overall employee value proposition (EVP) and becoming a more attractive employer. Career pathing sends a clear message that the organization isn’t just invested in what employees can offer today, but in their potential for tomorrow. That is particularly attractive to Gen Z and millennial employees.
Open lines of two-way channels and conversations with employees are pivotal as part of this process. Listening to their aspirations, feedback, and concerns ensures that the pathing process remains dynamic and relevant. Moreover, employee buy-in and involvement with one another as mentors and companions on this journey is crucial. A career path crafted in isolation is unlikely to be effective. It must be a collaborative venture.
In essence, career pathing, when done right, does more than just map a journey. It builds a bond between the employee and the organization, a shared vision of success and growth. And in today's world, where skills are paramount, and jobs are increasingly defined by them, it's an essential tool in an organization’s HR toolkit.
All of this is to say that while career pathing might seem like a HR-centric initiative, it really should involve the entire organization. And in turn, from driving productivity to fostering a deeper sense of belonging, the benefits of a solid career path affect every part of how we work.
As organizations navigate the evolving landscape of work, a commitment to career pathing will help every employee find their place under the organizational sun. Organizations that prioritize career pathing will stand out as employers of choice.
Interested in reading more about how human connection enhances succession planning and career planning? Download our e-book, “The Value of Human Connection in Career and Performance Management.”