Updated: Nov 28
When I was an HR Manager for a Fortune 100 spirits company, we had about 40 employees in our plant.
For each employee, I kept a “journey map” which outlined their current role, their desired role, and their individual performance ratings.
For each key role in the organization, we had a pre-determined successor, which meant that there was a backup should anything go wrong with current management.
Knowing that there was a backup on-hand served three important purposes: it inspired employees, it helped management to sleep better at night, and it fostered open communication about the desire to perform at new levels.
What is an employee career map?
According to a survey reported SHRM, the number one thing that would cause employees to look for new work was a lack of career progress, and number five was lack of challenge.
Career mapping is the perfect way to:
Clarify employee goals
Exchange genuine feedback
Motivate employees to take on new challenges
Show ongoing support
Just like long-term romantic relationships, healthy professional relationships need regular attention and work. And when you show employees that you genuinely care about their future, they’re more likely to not only stick around, but make a greater day-to-day effort.
Consistency and transparent conversations are the foundation of effective career mapping.
Four Critical Aspects of Effective Career Mapping
1. Ask: Where are we now?
Managers and employees must be on the same page on where they are currently, both within their role and on the organizational map.
Employees should be given transparent and detailed feedback on how they currently stack against their peers. This means that leaders must be clear and up front with their feedback: beating around the bush won't help anybody. (That being said, try to be as constructive as possible at all times.)
Another key point here is to pick your timing and make sure they are prepared. Try to not give a performance review when they’re least expecting it, or they won't be able to come prepared with their own valuable feedback and talking points.
The purpose of this process, especially during early conversations, is to help them understand clearly where they have high or low potential.
2. Ask: Where are we going?
Drawing up a career map keeps a key open question on the table...a question that we tend to reserve more for romantic relationships:
Where is this relationship headed?
For regular maintenance, we can ask lots of questions and listen. And listen deeply. Reading “between the lines” can be key here, as employees may not feel comfortable being up front if they are unhappy.
These conversations might surprise you, too; not everyone is interested in the "fast-track" to the top. Some may want to remain where they are with a healthy work-life balance, and others might see their dream career in a lateral move to an entirely new department.
Others will have creative ideas on new roles that will launch your business to the next level.
3. Start Mapping.
When you both agree on a future path, The next question you want to be asking is “how do I get there”?
In this phase, it's important to address skills gaps that need filling in in order for them to progress. You will also want to compare current and future roles with regards to leadership skills, experience, education and even emotional intelligence.
Here, the question of agency is important: how feasible is it to move into the dream position at a given time when it is currently occupied?
Once you have all of this data, the top leaders should determine who is going to be groomed for each critical role in the organization.
4. Keep tracking.
According to a study cited in SHRM, 73 percent of employers wanted to prioritize employee development, but only 39 percent were doing it.
But regular, constructive feedback is imperative to helping people on their journey. Employees need to know where they fit in and how they can contribute, and this can shift and change over time. That's why helping them track their own performance is so important.
At the plant, I found that creating employee maps for staff helped them to visualize their future goals and that sharing this with managers also helped with the feedback process.
It was exciting to see the magic that transpired between employees and managers when they had discussions: gone were the days of stagnant, overly-formal job reviews.
I have no doubt that effective career mapping can lead to...
Better employee engagement
Higher job satisfaction
Enriched employee-employer relationships
It is only when employees and employers are truly on the same page that relationships and individuals can flourish.
But long-term implementation can be difficult without a solid plan in place.
I’ve helped many forward-thinking organizations improve employee engagement and retention. If you need help with this or any HR issue, just reach out — I’d love to chat!