Contrary to popular belief, the workforce is no less career-focused today than they were 30 years ago. Despite all the news about the gig economy, several recent studies have shown that the current workforce (yes, even the millennials) is looking for a career. They are attracted to organizations that offer purpose and room to grow in their career.
Unfortunately, most companies (especially smaller, growing organizations) are entirely missing the mark when cultivating internal talent for future leadership roles.
Fortunately, the rewards are bountiful for those who put in the effort and create and communicate the opportunities for career growth available within the company. As a result, you will retain top employees, develop a strong performance culture, and boost engagement up and down the org chart.
Here are 5 tips for creating a career path program that pays for itself, and then some.
Focus on the top 5-10%
Andy Stanley says, “Do for one what you wish you could do for all!” And that is certainly the case when it comes to career paths.
If you’re looking to take a first step toward creating real career paths, do yourself a favor and focus specifically on creating career paths for your top 5%. It’s more beneficial to go deep with a few of your top performers rather than to take a shotgun approach and slap together a package for everyone.
I’ll be honest; it’s a lot of work. But if you do it right AND for the right people, you will get an extraordinary return on your investment. Of course, this requires you to handpick who you will start with and solely focus on those few for a time.
You will likely never get to a full career pathing program for every employee. And you shouldn’t. Your time is best used on retaining and promoting your best people.
I will add the caveat that I’m referring to your best people, not just the people you like the best. Career pathing can re-entrench groupthink and Big Rut mindsets when we solely focus on those we “like” or those who are “like us.” Therefore, objectively identifying top talent here is of the utmost importance.
Give opportunity not outcomes
Your top talent wants to earn their way to a promotion. They want to know they have what it takes to succeed and to win. They aren’t looking for handouts, but they are unlikely to be patient when waiting for recognition of a job well done.
Such a mentality is the exact opposite of poor performers who, despite a long legacy of low performance, expect promotions to be given simply by virtue of time or keeping your head down and doing your job.
One group wants the opportunity to prove their merit.
One group wants you to guarantee an outcome. They want you to take on the risk and for you to do the work. A successful career path moves your best people the fastest by giving them the most opportunity to earn advancement in the company.
Market it in the hiring process
You have a significant role in this process, and it starts even before you’ve hired your employees. Don’t promise outcomes. Don’t try to woo an exciting job candidate by saying, “In 6 months, you’ll be in this other role.” You will have inadvertently but effectively created an entitlement mindset.
Instead, tell them what they will need to accomplish to create their opportunity for advancement. Set clear learning goals, behavioral expectations, and performance standards.
And by no means hide it. As I mentioned before, top performers are looking for companies with plenty of growth opportunities. If you take the time to build a career pathing program, it would be vacuous not to use it to win top talent in the labor market.
Starting before you are hiring will help you identify those who want to work for advancement and separate those who want a promotion handed to them. Stay consistent with it, and you’ll build the cultural foundation of individual ownership and self-accountability, which is the foundation of Predictable Success!
Advocate on behalf of your team
I believe in servant leadership, but not the wishy-washy, “I do everyone else’s work for them” fake servant leadership we often see. I love a manager who knows how to hold their team members accountable to their abilities because they know it is in their team members’ best interests to push hard and grow.
The hallmark of a great servant leader is that they consistently meet or exceed expectations WHILE still taking the time to develop their team members over and above the needs and responsibilities for their current role.
However, there’s a temptation for these leaders to sit back and enjoy the benefits of all that hard work. Internally you can think, “I worked really hard to get them to where they’re at. If I lose them, I’m going to have to start all over again.”
You can’t go there. One less obvious feature of a strong career pathing program is managers keeping their eyes and ears open for other promotional opportunities for their team members and then advocating on their behalf. It’s not easy to do. You need to keep your ego in check, but if you can fight through, you, your organization, and your team members will be rewarded for it.
Leverage internal position-bidding
Career paths are empty promises without a well-defined internal position bidding process. And I can all but guarantee that if you have a laissez-faire approach to internal promotions, your top performers have a laissez-faire approach to staying with your company.
The key here is to work proactively with your top performers to identify the set of next possible steps for their career and then let them know about a job opening at least as soon as the position goes public, if not sooner.
For internal position bidding to work, a set of parameters must be in place to ensure internal candidates are applying for jobs that they are both qualified and fit to fill. Be transparent about your hiring process and teach your employees how it works before it is in effect. Doing so will help to limit or altogether avoid the feeling of being overlooked for a position.
Together, these tips will help you focus your energy on the career path activities that will give you the highest possible ROI and put you miles ahead of the competition!