HR's Role in Employee Career Pathing

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Think about the company for which you work. Can you envision your future with this organization? What might it look like?

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These simple questions make up a talent management strategy called career pathing, and it's something Irena Djordjevic-Behery knows a lot about. She's the Vice President of Talent Management for United Way Worldwide.

"You have to really get creative in terms of what does [career pathing] actually look like," Djordjevic-Behery said. "We have a generational shift in the work place. I think painting a picture of what a career might look like… for however the time frame… it's important to have that vision."

What is career pathing?

Put simply, career pathing is that process by which the employee and, usually, the employer chart a path toward the employee's future development goals. The destination, as well as the steps, experience, and development needed to get there are included.

NOTE: In some instances, where employers do not offer a formal career pathing strategy, employees can develop one individually.

Businesswoman choosing different career paths in business

The challenge for HR professionals is knowing what knowledge, skills, personal characteristics, and experience are needed to reach the intended goal. For the employee, the challenge is about examining whether or not the employee possesses the qualities deemed necessary for the job they wish to pursue.

Employees want to see and understand the opportunities available within their company. They expect to see career development opportunities while being satisfied and motivated. As a result, career pathing is an important factor in other strategies including employee engagement and employee retention. It also provides companies with the opportunity to differentiate itself from competitors.

The Competency Model Clearninghouse is sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, Employment and Training Administration. Below is simple example of a retail career path.


The Career Pathing Compass

The function of HR professionals in the career pathing process is not unlike that of a compass on a journey. Essentially, HR simply points the employee in the right direction and assists in developing the plan used to get to the final destination.

"We have designed a career path model that sort of talks about, in most general terms, can you envision your future in this organization," Djordjevic-Behery said. If the answer is yes, she continued, "This is how you might want to think about your role and where you might want to go."

HR professionals first need to take a look at the jobs within a company. They must then chart a course through jobs or departments meant to lead an employee to a particular position. That in of itself is challenging.

Understand, paths may require:

  • Lateral moves, department transfers, or promotions
  • Must develop skills and offer the employee development opportunities to gain experience
  • Coaching and mentoring will help.

On part of the employee, that person must:

  • Decide on career goals or desired jobs
  • Put their plan in writing
  • Own that plan

Businessman walking towards his career aspirations

So, how does HR support career pathing? The answer is one word: transparency.

"You can't just talk about career pathing. You have to talk about the support system," Djordjevic-Behery said. "No matter where that career can take you… what kind of resources, what kind of support system exists so that we can enable [employees'] success."

This, in itself, is challenging as is a lot of research and formalizing of role-specific details.

Offer the employee:

  • Job descriptions
  • Job specifications
  • Required competencies
  • Responding to inter job application process
  • Access to employees doing job currently
  • Training classes
  • On-the-job developmental opportunities
  • Job shadowing
  • Mentoring
  • Promotions
  • Transfers or lateral moves
  • Coaching
  • Formal succession planning

Going Forward

To ensure success, Djordjevic-Behery designed a career path for being a United Way professional with a focus on leadership and critical function roles.

It's important to note, United Way Worldwide has a decentralized Human Resources Department meaning each of the 1,800 local United Way agencies is self-governed with their own board, CEO, and staff. As such, she has no control over career pathing at that level, but that had never been an obstacle.

The sheer size of United Way Worldwide allowed her to "position ourselves in a much more competitive way in the job market; the employee market," she said.

Through the career pathing model she created, Djordjevic-Behery wanted to drive consistency so that "as people are thinking about moving around or jumping in to another role… at least they have clarity that the knowledge, the skills, the behaviors that are required for them to succeed at different goals or different levels."

As a result, Djordjevic-Behery says United Way Worldwide has been "very successful at developing people and talking to them about careers within the United Way."

Irena Djordjevic-Behery is the Vice President of Talent Management for United Way Worldwide.