Question: How can I provide career paths to my staff?

I manage the sourcing department in a large manufacturing org. My team of analysts are typically in an entry level position.

Since, we do not have a formal mentoring program, I often fill that role. A common concern for them is their long-term career path, and the very next role.

I want to work with the HR manager to put something together to get them excited about their current role and its relevance to their future.

Are there any existing models we can use?

2 Expert Insights

It can be very challenging when no obvious career paths exist and any promotion is a minimum of a step-and-a-half away. I know because twice I dealt with it directly – once, at a company where I supervised a clerical support operation, and, again, at another where I managed a large Operator Services (switchboard) area. In both cases this was precisely the problem (and in neither case, was HR able to offer any advice or assistance).

So I took matters into my own hands by promoting individuals, anyway, into roles in other areas of my departments that had more established career paths. I knew they were under-qualified for these positions, but under the category of walking-my-talk about the respect/regard I said I had for the people I worked with, I felt these leaps-of-faith were risks worth taking.

Admittedly, it did not always work out very well. Sometimes the step-and-a-half jump proved just too much. But other times, they were able to rise to the challenge with only a little extra training and support. And the morale boost was unmistakable – both in the new areas, where the incumbents enjoyed the opportunities to nurture the newbies and show what THEY could do, and in the clerical and switchboard areas, where those still there now saw a bona fide path out if they worked hard enough and readied themselves properly. Even people not directly involved upped their game and started working harder, as a show of support for what we were doing. It became a source of "departmental pride" – and envy for those in other departments! Even when it didn't work out, to a person, they appreciated the opportunity they were given and thanked me on their way out the door.  

I'm not saying that this is what you SHOULD do. I'm just sharing what I did. I can tell you, though, decades later, I still feel proud about how my leaps-of-faith changed people's lives for the better.

I was recently asked to hold an all-day class for young "high-potential" employees who were all hired within the last year. The purpose of the class was to coach them in how to better deal with multi-generational challenges at work so they could successfully pursue their career path. They were having difficulties in bonding with and picking the brains of the older employees they would replace one day.

This company's answer to your question was to put these "hot shots" on a scheduled job rotation to different departments so they get exposed to the big picture of the business. None of them were told specifics of their career path but they were in a special 6-month job-rotation program that was intended to give them rounded skills and hope for a  better future. They were also scheduled to have a one-on one conversation with their COO once a year as another so-called "perk".

I openly asked this group if their official "career path plan" they were on was making them happy and hopeful in their career outlook. None of them answered positively. None of these talented people planned to stay at this company very long, in spite of their elevated and official career path status.

I brainstormed with them what the perfect "career path" should look like, which would motivate them to stay with the company and be happy in their job. Their answer was to have the company pair them officially with one of the soon-to-be retiring people as part of a personal mentoring program so they could learn more about how these seasoned experts think, make decisions and how they really do their job. This was sorely lacking in their current "career path" plan.

If you want to find creative ways to provide career paths for your employees, ask them the same question you posted to us. Let your group of people tell you what it takes to motivate them and stop them from leaving the company. Make sure you create multiple good reasons why your talented people would want to stay.