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Why the traditional career path is no longer relevant

by Ettie McCormack on 31 Oct 2016

traditional_career_pathCareer development is a core component of "total rewards" – an organisation's value proposition. Having a career framework can help organisations understand where their talent is concentrated; how prepared, or ill-prepared, they are to meet future resource challenges; and how key employees can be developed and retained. It can also improve the functioning of the organisation to support business needs.

Trend surveys consistently show that, after leadership development and employee engagement, employee development is the third highest priority area needing urgent attention. Yet little is done to look at this critical area for an organisation's progress and well-being, outside of the long-standing practices that have been applied over many years.

It's time to look at this afresh, in view of two significant drivers that are forcing business leaders to take a different approach.

The first is the speed at which organisations are evolving today: leaner; constantly driving for agility; needing to ensure that they have the capability to deliver business success today - as well as tomorrow. The second is the evolution of the workforce, which is fast becoming a revolution. This is commonly known as "The War for Talent". Today's (and tomorrow's) talent is shaped by the world they've been born into - and they have very different expectations of what a career is all about for them.

"Generation Z" (those born after 1995) are already vastly different from "Generation Y" (those born between 1981 and 1995). Gen Y grew up in the era of PlayStation, social media, reality TV and Google Earth. Gen Z, on the other hand, are shaped by economic downturn, global focus, mobile devices, cloud computing and energy crises. Their drivers and expectations are different and, if they don't find opportunities where they are currently working, they will move somewhere else, or create opportunities for themselves.

What does today's career path look like?

Traditionally, when people talked about career paths, they were referring to promotions – often referred to as climbing the "career ladder" or the "corporate ladder". Employees either moved up or they stopped moving. Alternatively, they got on a track that took them to their destination.

Today, a career path is less about carefully plotted steps that must be taken in a particular order and more about opportunities for growing knowledge through multiple experiences. These experiences form the basis of a career portfolio and might include:

  • Stretching yourself on a new project where you learn new skills
  • Rotational assignments in different parts of the business
  • Impactful coaching and mentoring from those who have the experience

Creating a new career path framework isn't easy or quick. If it was everyone would be doing it. But it's worth it, to help an organisation and its people see what is available and what is possible with some intelligent discussion about both individuals' aspirations and organisational goals. The two are not mutually exclusive.

For example, the "career lattice" introduces lateral career moves, or non-promotion moves. This framework can be used by managers and employees to plan for upward, lateral, and sometimes downward, movements, in order to reach their long-term development goals, as well as gain greater insight into the wider organisational needs.

In addition to the attraction, engagement, and retention effects, lateral moves give employees more opportunities to explore disparate parts of the business and, consequently, to understand it more fully and increase their contribution.

All of this demands developing new career competencies: knowing why, knowing how and knowing whom.

FTSE 100 case study (2015)

A FTSE 100 global information services group, with operations in 40 countries, recognised the need for a consistent and disciplined approach to career management across the organisation, to address talent planning challenges, low engagement and high turnover of critical talent. Engaged on an interim basis, I was invited to consult and help develop a career path framework for a standardised, common approach across complex business lines, and to support managers in career and performance discussions.

Leading a project team to analyse the current state of the business, I then worked across the business to design, develop and implement a career path framework and technology solution, to drive career progression in line with the organisation's business objectives and workforce planning needs. Time consuming and detailed, but invaluable, was facilitating a number of working sessions with business stakeholders, subject matter experts and HR teams, to build out solutions and pilot in live environments.

Having delivered a comprehensive methodology, processes and value-adding resources for HR, business leaders and employees, I was able to ensure it was supported with a suite of change and communication plans. With key stakeholders, I developed KPIs and metrics to measure both business and human capital outcomes. Finally, it was important for future success and sustainability that I left a handover portfolio with the project documented for continued success.

The successful launch of the technology platform and toolset in EMEA was adopted as the model for global implementation across all global regions.

Insight

Setting measurable goals for developing a career path framework involves taking an innovative approach to an age-old challenges and could include: 

  • Recruiting higher quality candidates
  • Improving engagement of current employees
  • Reducing turnover of high value employees (e.g. "high potentials")
  • Mining information for talent pipeline planning and/or succession planning and/or workforce planning

Dealing with disruption

Topics: Change, business disruption

Ettie McCormack

Written by Ettie McCormack