We built a “career map” to help non-managers find ways to advance

Becoming a manager used to be the primary goal in most organizations, but today, many employees want to make a significant impact without managing people. This shift is challenging traditional organizational structures in which gaining direct reports was once the only way for tenured employees to have influence.

From my experience, the best way to create career paths that include visibility, value, influence, and leadership without incorporating management responsibilities is through a strategy called career mapping. This process involves writing job descriptions for every role, organizing those roles into job families, assigning each one of those families preferred competencies, and developing role-based learning plans. In the case of our company, we also identified common transitional and promotional jobs for every job description.

Because we went through this process, employees can now log into a proprietary career map application to see available positions based on job requirements, skills, and competencies. As they move through their careers, they may choose to stay in the same job, advance through two or three levels within the same job family (i.e. sales associate 1, sales associate 2). Or, by exploring the career map, they may see if transitional opportunities, like moving from a sales associate to a project manager or sales account manager, exist in other parts of the company.

This level of transparency encourages employees to master their current roles and continue their development so they can prepare for other roles within the company.

Here are the best practices we learned in the process of creating our career map:

  • Ensure visibility. Provide transparency into available roles within the organization, both inside and outside an employee’s current job and department. By doing so, employees not only gain insight into the skills needed to excel in their current roles, but also see how those skills and competencies can impact other areas of the business.
  • Take the time to outline job descriptions, skills and competencies appropriately. Career maps should include job descriptions with the skills and competencies needed to excel. Outlining specific examples of success in a role and ways to continue to grow helps employees know exactly where they are in their career journey and how to continue to improve.
  • Deliver clear and honest feedback consistently. Managers and employees should meet often and have ongoing conversations regarding an employee’s performance. Managers and employees alike need to become comfortable discussing performance, both good and bad, and what is necessary to achieve success in a current role before considering the next job.
  • Remove the stigma of lateral moves. Instead of only celebrating promotions, celebrate lateral moves as well. Think of a career path as a lattice rather than ladder. Finding transferable skills that can impact other segments of the business can be immensely impactful for employees to gain more responsibility and deliver continued value to the organization.
  • Make compensation a priority, and compensate promotions appropriately. Often, people move to management positions, even when they aren’t best suited for them, because they want to increase their compensation. One way to help make non-managerial roles more attractive is to offer rewards or bonuses that aren’t just for management. All employees share in a company’s success, thus we offer profit-sharing and performance bonuses for employees at all levels.

Although our career mapping journey has been a huge undertaking, of which we’re still only about 85% complete, it was necessary to attract and retain valuable employees. Has there been more career movement between departments? Sure. But we believe that has a positive impact, because employees who understand several segments of the business deliver more value to the company and are faster to adapt to new roles.