Creating employee career paths is crucial to attracting and retaining the best talent.
By Shalon Travis
When it comes to defining employee experience, there are perhaps as many definitions as there are stars in the sky. But the one thing nearly all HR leaders can agree on is that the goal of a positive employee experience is to reduce unwanted attrition, improve engagement, and build strong teams.
Creating an optimal employee experience includes everything from attracting, hiring, and onboarding to keeping staff engaged and excited in their work and ensuring employees remain motivated through a variety of support mechanisms, including ongoing professional development. That is where career pathing comes in.
Career pathing separates the top workplaces from the companies that don’t invest in their employees and their growth. It empowers employees to outline their personal journey for career development, including both vertical and lateral opportunities. It also helps ensure equitable support for all employees, not just those identified as high potentials.
The Benefits of Structured Career Paths
Investing in a career path program is one of the best ways to develop and retain a high-performing workforce. When employers focus not only on the customer experience, but also the employee experience, they have a much better chance of retaining great talent and growing their careers while also helping their companies grow. In fact, according to Gartner, career pathing reduces the likelihood of an internal skill shortage by 20% and increases employee career engagement by 30%. Also, this approach can improve employees’ employability because investing in their development increases their intent to stay by 21%, reports CEB.
An effective career path program makes it easy for employees to grow within a company. Factors to consider include evaluating career goals, employees’ current experience, personal characteristics, and the skills needed to achieve an employee’s goals.
Additionally, it is vital to make sure managers and individual employees are aware of and can easily apply for opportunities to move up within the company. This goes beyond placing an opening on an internal job board, increasing awareness involves encouraging management and executives to invest in employee development and to create a sustainable growth and succession plan for the organization.
The Proof is in the Pudding
Lendmark spells out a career path for all employees, including entry-level positions. For instance, a new branch hire knows they can move from loan consultant I (the entry-level branch position) to senior loan consultant, to branch manager trainee (BMT), and then to branch manager—all within a few years. And the career path does not end there. Combined with mentoring from managers, sponsorship from executives, and continued personal and professional development opportunities, employees can climb to executive ranks if that’s their goal.
One Lendmark employee named Bret is a great example. He started as a BMT and has since risen to executive vice president of branch operations, second in command to the chief operating officer. He was initially attracted to Lendmark by the authenticity he experienced in his interview with one of the company’s vice presidents, Dan. Through that connection, Bret entered Lendmark’s BMT program and completed it eight months early. After being promoted to branch manager, Bret met Lendmark’s chief operating officer, Joe Burgamy.
With both Joe and Dan as supporters, Bret went on to grow and lead larger teams and geographies and was named “Branch Manager of the Year” from 2006 to 2010. Joe, Dan, and others played an integral part in Bret’s career acceleration over the course of the next several years, providing mentoring and special project assignments to broaden his business and culture knowledge and understanding of organizational strategy.
In December 2015, in preparation for a large acquisition, Bret was promoted to senior vice president, reporting directly to Joe and responsible for Lendmark’s new locations in California, Washington, Arizona, and Idaho. Joe was with Bret shoulder-to-shoulder through this new experience while he visited each new branch. Also, through a third-party partnership, Lendmark paid for several executive leadership courses that provided Bret with additional skills to help him evolve as a leader.
Through reorganizations, Bret has had responsibilities across 15 different states. These experiences prepared him for increased responsibilities in 2021 when he was promoted to executive vice president of branch operations.
Bret has benefited from a well-organized career path, with the constant encouragement and support of his managers and executives.
Master Communication and Storytelling
It’s one thing to have these paths and professional development opportunities in place; it’s quite another to keep employees informed about their options. This means going beyond simply placing job openings on the portal. For example, Lendmark’s HR business partners and the talent acquisition team do well in partnering with internal communications and, in some cases, marketing teams to provide regular updates to all employees.
Part of managing an effective career path program is making sure that success stories are widely and often communicated to employees, both to serve as inspirational reminders of the available opportunities as well as to reinforce a company’s commitment to developing and promoting from within. It’s not unusual for companies to do a stellar job profiling career pathing success stories on their external recruiting sites but neglect sharing those same profiles via internal channels. It’s an easy-to-miss oversight, but the fact of the matter is that most employees spend little if any time on their employers’ external website.
Managers play a key role in communicating, too. Managers should be regularly “encouraged to encourage” and remind their teams about opportunities and career paths.
Support Continuous Performance Management and Professional Development
Career path programs can serve to support ongoing learning and development, which not only serves as a retention strategy, but also helps hone a company’s competitive edge. As the saying goes, organizations are only as strong as their weakest link.
To help employees level up, it is critical to invest in professional development, even in everyday technologies like the Microsoft Office suite. Although it is easy to assume everyone knows how to navigate these highly adopted platforms, that isn’t always the case, especially with up to five generations in the workplace and, in Lendmark’s situation, a highly regulated, fairly traditional industry.
Other ideas to ramp up a company’s professional development game include:
- discuss development goals and career aspirations as part of regular check-ins with employees;
- set time aside during the workday for employees to participate in webinars, off-site training, and online classes;
- encourage a culture with a balanced approach to promoting from within and hiring from the outside;
- ensure all employees, especially entry-level ones, work with managers to identify areas of growth; and
- enlist the help of partners like Pathbuilders, which Lendmark uses to develop top talent and encourage women to move forward in their careers.
While some companies instruct their employees to take charge of their own careers, it’s best to facilitate the process by providing clarity and opportunity. For instance, does a company have a tuition reimbursement program? Will it pay to send employees to a seminar, other learning opportunities, or networking events? If so, has the company let employees know about these initiatives and encouraged them to take part? When employees take the time to hone their skills, it’s a win-win for all.
Empowerment Drives Engagement and Retention
Empowering employees to take charge of their career journey in an easy and accessible way enhances engagement and retention and helps foster a culture that attracts top talent. Companies taking a passive approach to cultivating talent are much more likely to lose rather than retain high-performing employees. For best results, consider treating employees like customers and aim for creating optimal employee experiences.
Shalon Travis is vice president of talent acquisition for Lendmark Financial Services.