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