Why Career Frameworks Are Essential To Employee Engagement

Building a career often means switching jobs — but that’s tough for employers, who have to hire and train a new employee whenever someone goes on to their next role. This is especially difficult when the departing team member was in a management or technical role, which are harder to hire for and onboard than most positions. Rather than scrambling to find suitable candidates, why not have a system in place so you always know who’s most eligible to move up exactly when you need to find someone?

Enter career frameworks, a systemized way of constructing career paths within companies. Career frameworks have exploded in popularity due to the widespread use of HCMs (human capital management systems). Employees like career frameworks for one key reason: it gives an impression that their employers are invested in their career path. If you can clearly picture a future at a company, you’re more motivated to invest in your work there.

Setting up career frameworks for your company may seem daunting. But it has a multitude of benefits, and they’re easier to implement than ever thanks to modern technology.

What Is a Career Framework?

In short, a career framework is an outlined path of progression through a company’s org chart. It’s a direct answer to the question, “If I stayed at this company for five, ten, or fifteen years, how would I move up the ladder?”

For example, at recruiting agency Enquire, a new employee can start as an trainee associate and make their way up to Director. But there are six levels of progression before that point. As well, if someone doesn’t want to get into a strictly leadership position, there is an alternate path after the first promotion that allows employees to pursue becoming a Managing Principal instead.

Within career frameworks, paths can be edited and new options can be added over time. Employees may even propose new career paths based on their own ambitions or skill sets as they pertain to the company.

A career framework should communicate expectations to employees as well as outline possibilities for their path within the company. This is why it’s important for a career framework to feature accurate assessments of job roles based on your position management strategy, accounting for key roles that need to exist even if they’re not due to be filled soon.

When surveyed, employees that receive career development support from their company are 15% more engaged than those who don’t and report a 34% higher retention rate. Career frameworks make it easier for employees to engage with their work because they always have future goals in mind. Ideally, employees should feel empowered to acquire new skills and build up their existing strengths, knowing this could lead to advancement within the company. Employees don’t stay at companies where they don’t believe they’ll have a future. As CEO Richard Branson once said, “Train people well enough that they can leave, treat them well enough so they don’t want to.”

What Do Employees Need From a Career Framework?

Your company’s career framework should be a resource not only to HR professionals, but also to employees. These are some features necessary to make it a helpful tool to employees.

Accurate Job Descriptions

For a successful career framework, it’s important to include accurate information about each position. Before you even start to build a career framework, ensure that you have an understanding of each position’s duties, prerequisites, and approximate salary.

Consider adding contact information for relevant leaders within each department who might be willing to serve as mentors. Be sure to include their outreach information and communication preferences as well, so employees can feel comfortable reaching out.

Department-Specific Information

Beyond salary, ensure that you have accurate information on where each position lies within the department. Communicate with the relevant department and check job availability for the future (i.e. make sure positions are not due to be eliminated). It’s also important to accurately portray the structure of each team so an employee evaluating a given role knows what to expect (and knows how it will differ from their current position).

Qualification-Specific Perks

If a job requires extra qualifications (such as an advanced degree) and your company offers resources for pursuing higher education, it’s imperative that the framework include access to information about that benefit.

Furthermore, if certain internal training modules must be successfully completed before employees can advance into a new role, be sure to note that as well. This can easily be tracked within a talent engagement solution.

Keep in mind that presenting opportunities for advancement without company resources to help employees achieve them can be demotivating. If there is an advanced position that is not accessible to all employees, there should also (ideally) be opportunities to advance that require different qualifications — which employees can learn about using the career framework.

Future Possibilities for Positions

Don’t be afraid to provide paths to advancement that go all the way to the top. It can be motivating to employees to see that a leadership position is more achievable than they thought. But a career framework is also an opportunity to explore possible future positions and see the hypothetical paths to getting there. You want to create a path to ascension that’s clear and equitable, where everyone knows what’s required to be eligible for positions at all levels.

How Career Frameworks Lead to Higher Employee Engagement

Employee engagement is a top priority for companies looking to attract and retain top talent. You want your employees to feel that their effort at their job will open up more opportunities for them. Career frameworks can help by illustrating multiple paths of advancement, which fosters a sense of security. But that’s just one way a career framework is helpful in encouraging employees to engage with their work.

Common Knowledge of Qualifications

Career frameworks make the knowledge of how to move up in a company easily accessible. If employees can be shown how they can grow within their current company, they’re less likely to leave. A well-crafted career framework will lay out options for promotions and the exact steps required to achieve them. They won’t need to head elsewhere for additional challenge and compensation.

Visible Efforts Toward Equity

Internal promotions can be contentious, and responsible managers will want to avoid making biased or prejudiced decisions. If qualifications for a position are directly laid out and made available for all employees, it signals that management seeks to hire the best person for the job and is open to meeting with anyone who may be qualified. It’s a gesture that demonstrates that the company is committed to equity. Expectations are set for what it takes to advance, and qualifications will be prioritized over factors like relationships or identity.

Helpful Feedback

When it comes time to provide feedback, such as during a performance evaluation, a career framework is extremely helpful. Feedback can be more specific and actionable if given with a specific path or objective in mind. Management will have a framework in place for giving constructive suggestions, especially for those looking to move beyond their current level. You’re setting clear expectations at every step.

How To Implement Career Frameworks

For a career framework to be impactful, it must be designed to serve the needs of a company’s employees.

Survey Employees About Their Needs

Sending out anonymous surveys can provide much-needed details about what information would be most helpful to include in your career frameworks. You can also take the opportunity to ask them about their career aspirations so you can draw up career paths based on their actual preferences. You can also present paths for special groups (i.e. “these are the paths front end engineers typically take within our organization”) so employees know what’s possible.

Make A Structured Org Chart

This may be the most intensive part of the process, but it will define the entire career framework. Proper position management is essential for this step, and it’s important to include positions in the org chart that need to be filled even if no one is currently filling them. Define all positions as much as possible, as well as the KPIs for success in each position and their function within the team.

Outline Potential Paths Between Each Position

From here, commission employees or HR consultants to brainstorm career paths within the company. This is where survey data from your workforce will come in handy, as well as insight from employees in management positions. If at all possible, offer different paths to attain a given position. Be explicit about non-negotiable and preferred qualifications in terms of education, certifications, etc.

Leverage the Right Software

Once the frameworks for each role are complete, you can then use an HCM to ensure they are easily accessible for all employees. The best HCM and workforce management platforms are designed to help HR departments nurture the careers of their employees. Criterion has customizable systems built in to serve all your HR needs, including the ability to create individual career frameworks for employees.

Potential Obstacles to Establishing Career Frameworks

As helpful as career frameworks can be, there are potential objections that employees and managers may raise when they’re first introduced.

Problems with Job Hierarchies

Career frameworks tend to reinforce hierarchies, which may not be desirable for every company. You may find holes or dead-ends in the hierarchy when it’s all laid out, which can cause problems if one team or department offers room for advancement while others do not.

The solution to this varies by company, but it’s usually a matter of creativity and information gathering. When brainstorming the framework, take time to learn about the real-life career paths employees are already creating for themselves within the company. Be sure to include information on lateral moves and positions wherein people can take on more responsibility (e.g. becoming responsible for a portion of the codebase or key system) without gaining direct reports. If appropriate in your work environment, include information on compensation and other perks so employees can weigh their options when considering a new position.

Career Paths May be Perceived as Too Rigid

Some employees may feel that no path within the company is ideal for them. Otherwise, they may be discouraged if they are presented with paths they do not have the qualifications or resources to pursue. Emphasize to employees that the paths outlined by the framework are not meant to be one-size-fits all. A career framework is a resource to help them plan out possibilities and enable their managers to help them. This is another important reason to include advancement opportunities that are lateral moves or optional branches.

Problems With Advancement May Be Revealed

Over time (or against the expectations of employees), the career framework you propose may become outdated. Set a check-in schedule for the framework, and be willing to propose adjustments if actual employee data suggests that team members are advancing outside the paths.

If you find that employees aren’t advancing according to the path laid out in the framework, ask them why. You may find that paths of advancement aren’t as equitable or as achievable as you thought.

For example, you may come across a situation where employees of a certain team aren’t advancing to management positions within their department. When asked why, they may point out that, according to the career framework, managers are encouraged to have a master’s degree. If these employees don’t have this degree (and it doesn’t seem viable to pursue one), they will select a different path of advancement.

Career frameworks can open the door to discussions about equity that may not have come up otherwise. In this example, this may inspire discussions on whether an advanced degree (which employees may not have the time or money to pursue) is truly necessary to perform a manager’s duties. If a candidate has tech-specific certifications or multiple years of experience with the company, are they still a candidate worth considering?

Careful evaluation of your career framework against real-world data and experience can be extremely helpful in discovering bottlenecks and inequitable patterns of advancement. This will help you pinpoint the origin of these problems and work toward making the company more equitable for everyone.

Final Thoughts

Career frameworks not only help employees work out their career path — they also foster an atmosphere of trust. This strategy helps employees feel like the company has their back and wants them to succeed.

A career framework might help in anti-discrimination efforts throughout the company at large, because expectations for advancement will be clearly outlined. Building your own career frameworks should be a serious consideration for inclusion efforts when the company begins to scale. Employees will know what’s expected of them to move up, and the path to advancement can become transparent.

Criterion is designed to help your HR department optimize your workforce. Our multiple data-gathering tools will help you construct a clear picture of your organization and everyone’s roles within it. Customizable career frameworks allow you to design paths that take advantage of individual employees’ talents and ambitions. No one will be just a number on a screen — we’ve designed our HCM platform to be flexible enough to meet the needs of your company all in one place, so you can better serve your employees.

Set up your employees for success. Book a Criterion demo today.

Amos Frajnd
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