As HR leaders face a growing and persistent talent shortage over the next several years, keeping and developing high-quality employees will become critical to long-term organizational growth. One way to improve retention is to engage those employees with intentional, focused career planning and development.
Throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, “climbing the corporate ladder” was the standard career model for anyone hoping to achieve a certain level of success. The ladder followed a predictable, linear path; entry-level to middle management to the C-suite, with all the typical stops along the way. Career planning doesn’t look quite the way it used to, though.
This old way of thinking about linear career progression doesn’t match the realities of a modern workforce. In today’s world, where people take time off for family obligations, return to college in their 20s, 30s, or 40s, and switch careers for various reasons, few career pathways are linear. A more integrated approach to career development looks like a lattice, not a ladder. In a lattice model, people integrate experiences, opportunities, and learnings from different levels and move less predictably.
As HR leaders look at ways to help employees plan a career lattice, here are four steps to support the process:
1. Empower employees
Employees need to know that their careers are important to company leaders. Post open positions internally before going outside the company, and actively invite people to apply for those positions. Encourage employees to expand their internal networks by scheduling informational interviews with people in different departments. Offer company-led opportunities, such as an internal company career fair, "externships," and cross-functional projects. Finally, be sure that managers across the organization know that they should support their people to learn and explore other areas.
2. Evaluate transferable skills and core abilities
A valuable tool to evaluate job qualifications is a gap analysis. To support employees as they work on career development, offer instruction on conducting a competency gap analysis. This instruction could be in a workshop, a one-on-one meeting, or even in a short video.
To conduct a gap analysis:
- Create three columns.
- In the first column, list the core skills necessary for a targeted job. This column should consist of ten to twelve skills.
- In the second column, note the employee's level of knowledge relevant to each skill in the first column. Is the employee proficient in the skill, or does the skill represent a gap in knowledge or ability? Perhaps the employee is “in progress”--undergoing training or pursuing an education in the skill.
- In the third column, jot down ideas for addressing the gaps. These ideas could include additional training outside of work, school, or on-the-job experience.
Be sure to communicate to employees that a gap is good. Gaps show opportunities for growth and development and help people gain a solid understanding of experiences that are useful toward their long-term goals. This gap analysis can help clarify what process to undertake to close the skills gap.
3. Tell the story
Once people have a good idea of what they want to work toward, encourage them to start talking about their skills and backgrounds with a storytelling tool. Look at the qualifications they already have and choose three key points that align toward the ultimate goal. For example, an employee in an admin position may want to move into marketing. The employee’s core qualifications might include “graphic design proficiency,” “enjoy working on a multi-disciplinary team,” and “detail-oriented and able to manage multiple ongoing projects.” Those three qualifications are key to succeeding as a Social Media Manager or an in-house designer on the marketing team. Grow that story from there. Is this person excited about sharing the company vision and interested in learning more about the full scope of marketing? Develop a story to discuss how the employee’s skills and interests complement the position.
4. Support and Sponsor
Encourage employees to use the internal company network for support and sponsorship. Employees should have conversations with their managers, peers, people in other departments, internal recruiters, and so forth. Support this endeavor and assist where necessary. Make sure that employees feel like they can ask for introductions or connections.
For HR leaders who want to help employees develop their careers, re-imagining the old corporate ladder into a more holistic career lattice could be the key to improving internal career pathways and retention at the same time. By making an organizational investment in the long-term career pathways of employees across the company and communicating those efforts clearly and effectively, engagement and retention will improve, and the company will benefit from employees who energetically pursue their career pathways from within.