Saturday 22 August 2020

Thinking About Career Pathing, or How to get There from Here

Stop me if you've heard this one before.

An employee goes to their company's Learning & Development department looking for help setting up a career development plan. On the way in, they're excited because the company makes a big deal of the fact that they promote from within and that they invest in developing internal talent. A little while later, the employee shuffles back to their desk, clutching a crumpled copy of the career pathing process. They feel defeated. In a nutshell, the process could be described as "you figure out what you need, then tell us what it is, and we'll try to find you courses to help".

On the surface, that might make sense. After all, shouldn't each person be responsible for their own development goals? Yes, but it's still a cop-out. I believe we can do more.

While I agree that we can't plan for every possible career path, there are some we can reasonably anticipate. We do our people a disservice by not preparing for them. For example:

  • Aspirational movements: It's not uncommon for people to want to progress from being individual contributors to heading up teams or departments.There may be other high prestige roles in your organization that many people aspire to, such as project managers or software engineers.
  • Common movements: In some organizations, you may see certain movements pop up again and again. For example, maybe a lot of people who start out in customer service move to sales roles or perhaps lots of software testers become software developers.
If we can anticipate that people will want to make these career moves, why not plan for them? Here's what I'm thinking.
  1. Make an inventory of the skills and experiences that would help someone to succeed in the role. For example, a team leader might need project management, time management, and delegation skills, as well as the ability to handle difficulty conversations and manage performance.
  2. Identify resources that people can use to develop the skills or obtain the experiences. For instance, you might have courses on project management and time management and an employee might develop some of the other skills by mentoring a newer colleague.
  3. When someone comes to you looking for advice on how to move to those roles, you can now compare the skills and experience the role requires with those that they have and direct them to resources to shore up the areas where they're weaker.
"But Simon!" I hear you saying "That'll only work for roles we've analyzed in advance." True, but you can apply the same process to other roles... like so:
  1. Employee comes in, looking for career path advice for becoming a nerf herder. We didn't plan for this, but we won't panic.
  2. Find out what skills and experiences a nerf herder needs. Maybe we talk to someone who's already herding nerfs, or the person who heads up the nerf herding department.
  3. Identify resources to build those skills and experiences. Again, people doing the job (or the people they report to) can be valuable resources. Also, don't discount the value of job shadowing as a professional development tool.
  4. Work with our would-be nerf herder to figure out what areas they want to work on, and set them loose.
What do you think? Am I deluding myself with a pipe dream? Have you done something similar, or something better? Let me know in the comments.

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