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GuidesEmployee experienceA complete guide to career pathing

A complete guide to career pathing

Last updated

31 January 2024


Claire Bonneau

Reviewed by

Warren Jonas ACC

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Your employees want (and deserve) access to professional development opportunities and growth within your organization. But what are you doing to offer them a clear path to career success?

Retaining high-quality talent requires effort and planning. One of the best ways to incentivize employee loyalty and enhance your employees’ skills is to invest time and resources into career pathing.

Keep your employees happy and engaged by setting out a clear path of skill development, career advancement, and networking opportunities. You’ll find all the guidance you need in this article.

What is career pathing?

Career pathing is the process of intentionally setting a clear path for your employees to follow to achieve success. It involves the following:

  • Professional development

  • Lateral or vertical movement within the company

  • Networking opportunities

When used correctly, a well-organized career path not only encourages your employees to reach their professional potential; it also helps retain high-quality talent within your organization as they progress through the set plan.

Career pathing vs. career mapping

It’s important to note that career pathing is a separate (though closely connected) concept to career mapping.

  • Career pathing is the process of laying out a clear direction for professional development and opportunities for your staff. It takes a more systemic approach to encouraging employee engagement, retention, and long-term development.

  • Career mapping is the process of identifying personal career goals and directions that will help an employee climb the corporate ladder. This process is more personalized based on each employee’s unique needs and career aspirations.

Why career pathing is important

A well-facilitated career path is essential for helping your employees enhance their professional competencies, advance in their careers, and learn valuable skills that they can bring to upcoming projects.

Many well-known companies are choosing to invest in comprehensive career pathing due to the following benefits:

Reducing employee attrition

Losing high-quality talent is a serious problem across all industries. In September 2023 alone, 3.7 million Americans quit their jobs.

The outcomes of employee attrition are declining company morale, productivity, and annual income.

To avoid having members of your team look for and find employment elsewhere, your company should offer a clearly defined and articulated career path within your organization. Happy and fulfilled staff are less likely to want to leave—a win-win for all levels of your company.

Improving team productivity

An efficient team is an engaged team. According to a recent Gallup study, companies with highly engaged and present employees are 21% more profitable than their competitors.

You need to invest in employee experience and future career growth to engage your workforce.

Attracting high-quality talent

Finding talented and motivated employees who are a great fit for your team is essential for long-term success—but this can be a complex and slow process.

In a recent LinkedIn poll, over 61% of business leaders reported difficulties attracting and locking in high-quality talent for their teams. This situation can cost valuable time and money. Avoid this fate—and protect your company culture—by attracting quality talent to your organization with clearly defined career pathing opportunities.

Saving money and time

Hiring new staff after losing valuable team members to competitor companies is an expensive and lengthy process. With the average time to hire in 2023 reaching an all-time high of 44 days, investing in career pathing that keeps your employees motivated and engaged is a strategic move to save costs and resources.

Comprehensive career pathing: how-to guide

Your company needs to invest in comprehensive career pathing if you want to improve employee engagement and professional development. Use our helpful step-by-step guide to get started:

Assess your organization’s needs

To start the career pathing process, you first need to understand where your company currently stands and what you want to achieve in the future.

Hold brainstorming meetings with team leads and upper management to collect important information about your overarching goals and aspirations as a company. This will enable you to better understand how to create clear and accessible career development paths for your employees.

To start this process, here are a few examples of questions to consider during your collaborative meetings:

  • What are your company’s short and long-term growth objectives?

  • What roles are you struggling to fill right now, and why?

  • How well would your company be able to handle an employee quitting?

  • Are there any areas of growth your company is looking to explore in the coming years?

  • What is your attrition rate, and are there teams that are more likely to experience turnover?

  • Have your staff voiced interest in professional development opportunities?

Discuss and highlight coworker goals

Next, get an understanding of what type of professional development goals your team members have. This way, you can best accommodate their aspirations as part of your plan.

When speaking with long-term and new employees, ask about the type of support they would like as they progress through their careers. This is a great conversation to have annually during employee check-in meetings.

Here are a few topics to explore to create the best career path for an employee’s needs:

  • What are your short-term career goals, and what steps are you currently taking to achieve them?

  • Are you interested in long-term growth opportunities within the company?

  • Do you have any professional development opportunities you want to explore?

  • In a perfect world, what would your career trajectory look like over the next one, three, or five years?

Personalize the path

Next, after collecting insightful data about your teammate’s career goals, start building career paths based on their desired outcomes. 

During this process, it’s essential that you highlight the key learning opportunities, expectations, and experiences the employee will need to have to successfully achieve their career goals.

As you begin to build these patterns, remember that not every employee will take a linear path toward their goals. Factoring lateral growth opportunities into your plan to create a more accurate and achievable path is essential.

Remember, the path is just a guide. Your employees can (and will) take different paths along the core route to meet their career aspirations. Not everyone knows what direction they want to take right away, so hosting regular conversations about their options will help them dream and plan for the future. It will also align them with the qualifications needed to meet their goals. 

Build a development plan

With the outline of the possible paths in place, you now need to consider what type of professional development opportunities your employees need to succeed.

Whenever possible, creating tailored career growth plans for each employee is the best way to make them feel valued, appreciated, and motivated to produce their best work.

Consider using learning tools like online courses, networking events, conferences, and career shadowing opportunities to support your employees in meeting their career development goals and progressing along the pathway.

Not every employee will choose to commit to your plan, but the more you can support and encourage them to participate, the more they will feel fulfilled and appreciated at work.

Monitor employee growth metrics

No plan is complete without a detailed assessment of its impact. This also rings true for career pathing.

Once you have put your career path plan in place, regularly check in to see how engaged your team members are with the career development opportunities. Annual performance reviews are a great opportunity to review these metrics while also exploring other areas in which you can better support your team.

If you notice that employees aren’t making the most out of certain opportunities, you can adjust your process for the following year. Fine-tuning your process can help enhance your employees’ growth.

Reward those who commit to professional development

A career path plan is only successful if you reward employees who put in the effort to capitalize on professional development opportunities. Promotions, raises, and prestigious perks are all examples of ways you can reward your hard-working team members. They also have the added benefit of incentivizing other employees to remain engaged and committed to your company for their chance to reap the benefits.

Besides tangible rewards, you should regularly shower your team with encouragement and praise to keep everyone motivated and happy. At the end of the day, career pathing is just a tool to improve employee morale and commitment to your mission. It’s most effective when paired with kind and empathetic leadership.

Invest in employee professional growth with career pathing

Great employees deserve a clear path forward to advance in their careers, and it’s your company’s responsibility to facilitate this growth by investing in professional development and career progression.

Career pathing is one of the best ways to reward your employees for their hard work by providing opportunities to expand their networks and enhance their existing skills.

Help brand your organization as a leader in your industry by committing to employee career development and creating a career path your teammates can follow to achieve their professional aspirations.

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