What is career pathing? Technically, it's defined as a process that charts employee development with a given employer – but it's also a valuable tool employers can use to retain more employees and build a loyal, engaged team. Here's a closer look at what career pathing (also sometimes called career mapping) entails, who it benefits, and how to incorporate it into your organization.
What is a career path?
A career path is a type of talent management strategy that charts the long-term career development of a given employee. A thorough career path identifies opportunities for advancement based on an individual's unique skills, interests, and career objectives, and details the steps that the employee needs to take along the way to reach various milestones outlined in the career path.
Career pathing assures the employee that the employer wants to form a long-term, symbiotic partnership.
The benefits of career pathing for employers
Career pathing may require an additional level of involvement in training and development from HR as well as managers, but it can yield several tangible benefits to businesses that invest in it, including:
- Greater return on hiring investment. Much of the time, energy, and financial investment that goes into hiring and training new employees is unavoidable. But the longer an employee stays with a company and effectively contributes to it, the more the return on investment from hiring that person increases.
- Engaged employees. Businesses that communicate career pathing to their employees can encourage overall engagement throughout the lifetime of their employment as well as their willingness to invest in learning the "ins and outs" of the business, beyond the scope of their current role.
- Retention. A career path can serve as a guide to determine what skills or experiences an employee may need to develop to qualify for a new available opportunity within the organization. This can be particularly useful if an employee begins to lose interest in their position. In fact, this is an ideal time to revisit the career path; while there’s no guarantee, it could mitigate the chance that an employee starts looking for a new opportunity outside of the company.
- Loyalty. Employees who have a long-term view about their relationship with an employer are more likely to be invested in helping the company succeed, and career pathing can play a key role in this. For example, a new employer tries to recruit your employee for a position that offers more compensation or prominence. But an employee with a career path may see that, despite short-term gains that may come with switching jobs, long-term opportunities at your business may be more compelling.
The benefits of career pathing for employees
Career pathing requires employees to put thought into what they want from their career, both now and in the future. It also provides these benefits:
- A sense of security. Changing jobs can be emotionally, professionally, and financially stressful for an individual. Employees with a career path may feel more secure working for an employer who wants to keep them interested, challenged, and professionally curious. Career pathing assures the employee that the employer wants to form a long-term, symbiotic partnership.
- Increased trust and transparency. Career pathing acknowledges that employees will form different interests and seek new challenges; there is no need for the employee to feel guilty or anxious about wanting to move into a new role when the time comes. Instead, the path inherently allows the employee to grow, expand, and pursue changing interests in a supportive and encouraging environment.
- A plan for progress. Employees want to know they will gain the experience required to move forward in their career, regardless of how many years they may work for an employer. A career path doesn't require an employee to stay with an employer indefinitely, but it does give them access to the tools necessary in order to remain a valuable asset in their chosen profession.
How to make career pathing a part of your company
Career pathing requires active involvement from both employee and employer. Some approaches to make a career path part of your company's talent management protocol may include:
- Position career pathing as a benefit. Approach and communicate about career pathing as a tool that prepares employees for a "lifetime of employability," not a lifetime commitment to an employer.
- Invite managers to participate. HR professionals should coach managers to view employees as resources for the entire company, not only to a single department or team. This can encourage managers to see how an employee could develop with training that may not be specific to their current role — but could be beneficial to their future goals, and the broader needs of the organization.
- Educate employees to self-assess. Employees must "own" the goals outlined in their career path, and to be accountable for developing the skills needed to make them reality. An effective career path begins with an employee self-assessment about skills, talents, experience, and an inventory on how the employee envisions their career. Some paths may involve vertical moves into management, while others may include a series of lateral moves. There is no "right" or "wrong" career path for an employee, provided it's an honest overview of what the employee wants to accomplish.