Creating a Career Path to Drive Innovation

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Mary Ann Bopp

Because of the economic downturn over the past two years, organizations have seen unprecedented change. Some businesses retrenched, experiencing sizable layoffs or restructuring. Other businesses have blossomed by introducing new or expanding product lines or services that would cater to a more mindful consumer. There were also businesses that simply continued without much interruption to their operations. Employees may already be wondering what their career opportunities are going to be in the future, whether they’re job searching or currently holding a job. Whatever the situation, new skills may be required and new job roles may emerge in organizations as the economic situation improves.

Leaders need a "game plan" on how they determine what expertise their employees need to be innovative, and to satisfy customer demands. These customers may have different demands in a new economy. This will impact the entire talent chain, e.g., recruitment, emerging job roles and skills, employee career development, succession planning for leaders and overall retention of the workforce.

A career path can enable an organization to move forward in meeting the new challenges it faces in the future. A career framework defines the capabilities employees require in order to provide value in defining customer needs and satisfy customer demands. Capabilities are areas of expertise that require a combination of applied knowledge, skills or other abilities. Employees develop capabilities through experience in one or more job roles over the course of their career. A career framework provides a clear career path for employees. It also provides a view of the capabilities that a manager needs in order to accomplish their business goals and provides guidance on how to support their employees’ career growth.

An example of a capability for a manufacturing company might be "managing projects." A manufacturer may require "project manager" as a job role, e.g., employees who manage small and large product development projects. The project manager obviously needs deep levels of capability in managing projects as it’s their major focus and responsibility. However, other employees in the organization may also need some level of capability in managing projects, from the trainer who needs to develop a class for the manufacturing team to the financial analyst that has been assigned a special project that requires a plan with the various tasks required, who will perform the tasks, and when the tasks need to be completed.

A project manager more junior in the organization may begin at a very foundational level of capability in managing projects, but over time, as the project manager get more experience and manages various projects, the employee builds higher levels of expertise. At some point, they may even be considered an "expert" or "thought leader" in the subject. Structured properly, a career framework can help identify the capabilities an employee needs, the learning required to grow those capabilities and the experiences needed to attain higher levels of expertise. It can also create an opportunity for career advancement whereby different "levels" of capability are defined from entry level for new employees to more advanced levels for experienced employees. These levels create a career path for advancement. Employees can then be assessed against a set of criteria at different stages during their career needed to move along this career path defined within the career framework. This type of career movement could even be a pre-requisite for promotion or other form of recognition.

Various components should be considered as an organization creates a career framework; there is not necessarily a single formula. The type and size of organization may play a factor. The following are key components that should be considered as an organization creates a career framework:
  • The job roles the career framework will target, whether it’s across the enterprise or only for targeted job roles
  • The capabilities needed to provide value in defining customer needs and satisfy customer demands
  • The levels of capability along the career path within the framework
  • A validation process that enables an employee to know what criteria is required to move to the next level of capability and possibly satisfy criteria for promotion
  • IT applications and/or internal Web sites that may be required in order to support the career framework
  • Learning activities and other experiences needed for employees to grow their capabilities over time
  • Training and written guidance for employees and their managers on the career framework
The career framework should be supported by a formal career development process that helps the employee set an appropriate career path with their manager so they can achieve their development goals. If applied properly, the career framework provides the foundation for talent management. It becomes a lever for recruitment by providing a clear career path for how prospective employees can move within the company, it enables employees to progress in their career, it provides managers a view of how they can support their employees as well as enable their teams to be high performers while meeting career goals, and it can be retention tool.