Career Models: Architecture for Integrated Talent Management

What is a Career Model?

A career model is a common platform for career development and talent management comprising three components:

1. Career Stage Profiles (CSPs) define career paths and key stages along a career path, performance expectations for each stage, and what it takes to get to the next stage.

2. Competencies define the behaviors that differentiate outstanding from typical performance

3. Experiences describe key roles and situations that enable growth in important competencies and serve as a tool to guide career planning.

There is a growing body of evidence in the last 15 years that correlates consistent approaches to managing talent with greater employee commitment and sustained corporate financial performance. For example, the primary reasons for investing in career models at Microsoft are self evident: Microsoft has changed dramatically since its inception and today faces business realities that require an approach to managing and developing people that was not necessary 20 years ago. Simply put, the way we managed and developed in the '80s and '90s is not a sustainable model given the complexity of our business and the size and scale of our company.
Recent trends within the company in business, technology, organization and people management have come together to make the need for career models paramount, such as:

(1) Increasingly complex and competitive business landscape with products in nearly every software category
(2) Complex business models in a global environment
(3) New business structures
(4) Slower growth in core areas and promising growth from emerging technologies, service-based business models and new markets
(5) New corporate mission, tenets, and values
(6) More complex engineering challenges including:
• Increased interdependencies and platform/solution integration challenges
• Longer support cycles
• Customers demanding higher levels of quality and security
(7) Greater need for software developers to think in terms of alternative business models, such as subscription services and monetization through advertising revenue
(8) Concern about our ability to grow a pipeline of great leaders
(9) Lack of consistency and scalability in the way we identify and grow talent. For example, what is valued in Office is different than in Windows, and there are no shared success measures between engineering and sales.
(10) A changing value proposition for employees, from "come to Microsoft, work hard and get rich quick" to "come to Microsoft, work hard and have a great career"
(11) Concern about our ability to attract and retain key employees, and a need for a new employee value proposition less dependent upon stock as a retention tool
(12) Lack of clarity on roles and work in some functions
(13) Lack of clarity on career paths; traditional belief that management is the only upward career option
(14) Narrow standards of success based on outdated company norms which at times may overlook hidden or less obvious talent

The overarching value proposition of career models:

Career models provide a comprehensive and multi-dimensional approach to the challenges of managing and developing people that is more scalable and reliable than any alternative undertaken on a more limited or localized basis. As a platform that underpins the company’s talent development and management processes, the benefits of career models can grouped under three distinct but complementary value propositions: Alignment, Engagement and Capability.

Career models increase the capability of the company to achieve its business objectives, in three ways:

1. By establishing and publishing the capabilities the company needs and values, today and in the future

2. By focusing manager and individual contributor learning and development on these capabilities and executing on developing these capabilities

3. By assessing and ensuring these capabilities are being developed, leveraged and utilized appropriately

Career models enable integration in two ways:

(1) Standards. They provide a set of common performance and development standards (i.e. language) to reference across people management applications.

(2) Structure. They provide a common data structure or taxonomy to link together otherwise stand-alone talent management processes. Structure in turn,
o Becomes the blueprint for designing optimal talent management processes; and
o Informs the business rules and requirements for a supporting system of tools

This ecosystem is commonly referred to as an integrated talent management system. All people management and development policies, practices, programs and tools – from recruitment and selection to performance management to career development to compensation – function in complementary and sustaining way for the company.

Of course, career models are not a panacea. An ecosystem of effective tools, processes and management practices needs to be linked to them to maximize their value. Managers still have to be skillful in applying the standards expressed within career models in real world practice. Employees still have to be motivated to contribute at their fullest potential. Corporate practices still need to empower, or at least not burden, innovation and value creation.