Did you know 94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their career development? That’s why creating a well-defined career development framework is crucial for your long-term business success - and it’s never too early to start considering one!
Through this comprehensive guide, you’ll learn what a career development framework is, how to build one that works, and the best practices you should adopt to make it a lasting success for your business.
Why Does Your Company Need a Career Development Framework?
Career growth frameworks require a substantial investment of time and resources at the beginning, but the ongoing benefits far outweigh the initial work.
Here are the main advantages of building a robust career development framework for your growing business:
- Boost employee engagement, productivity, and retention by offering a clear, structured path to career progression.
- Eliminate biases and enhance fairness by defining roles and salaries, as well as outlining what employees need to do to progress.
- Help streamline salaries by collecting market data and using that to build salary bands per level, department, and location.
- Create a culture of learning by encouraging team members to work on their professional development.
- Communicate company expectations and values clearly and effectively through official documentation.
While these benefits are true for all companies, they’re especially important for hybrid and globally distributed teams.
Documentation is crucial in an environment where many conversations happen virtually as it makes information clear and accessible to all. Creating universal documentation also ensures all your employees are treated fairly, whether they’re based in an office or work remotely from around the world.
What Is Career Development?
Career development is about continuous personal and professional growth; it helps your team members reach their career goal(s). There’s no one way to approach career development and it’ll look different for every person within your team.
For example, some may wish to climb the career ladder, while others want to switch careers entirely. Some are happy simply growing in their current role.
Career development can be shaped and influenced by both the employee and the employer. To help your team members understand exactly how they can progress and grow at your company, you need to create a detailed career development framework. Using this framework, your colleagues will be able to visualize their next steps and take practical actions to progress.
These actions may include taking courses or training sessions, reading books or listening to podcasts, providing or participating in mentorship programs, and much more.
Creating your career development framework, along with providing plenty of opportunities for learning, is one of the best ways to support your team members in their growth.
What Is a Career Development Framework?
A career development framework, also known as a “career growth framework” or “career progression framework,” maps out how employees can progress in their careers while working at your company. It’s a structured document that outlines roles, responsibilities, and considerations for progression.
Your career growth framework should:
- Define the current and possible roles and titles that exist within your business.
- Organize roles into clear and progressive career paths, from most junior to most senior (e.g., Junior Sales Executive to VP of Sales).
- Map each employee to the role they’re currently performing, depending on how much knowledge they have, what they’re expected to deliver, how much guidance they need, how they align with company values, etc.
- Explain what each employee must do or achieve to move into a new role.
In addition to the different levels of progression, career development frameworks may also split into two different paths: an expert/individual contributor path and a leadership path. This option helps your business move away from a rigid career growth mindset and towards a more flexible and people-centered approach.
Traditionally, the only way to move up the career ladder, earn more, and obtain a senior title was to become a people leader. But this approach isn’t inclusive of everyone’s skills and ambitions.
The individual contributor path offers an alternative route, enabling an employee to enjoy the same monetary and influential benefits without managing people. An individual contributor’s goal is to become an expert in their field.
5 Steps to Create Your Career Development Framework
Now that you understand the importance of career development frameworks, it’s time to lay the groundwork for building your own.
1. Define Your “Why”
Ask yourself why you’re building this framework; what problem(s) are you trying to solve? For example, you might need to clearly define role expectations, clarify career paths, or create fair promotion and commission structures. As you start planning your framework, continually ask yourself: will this solve the problem we’re currently facing?
2. Set a Realistic Timeframe
Building a career growth framework takes time; it’s not something you should rush.
First, determine the right time to start the project based on your company growth, goals, senior management buy-in, and available resources. You’ll need an experienced HR professional to lead the initiative, whether they’re in-house or someone you bring in to help.
Next, set a realistic timeline with clear deadlines for each stage. As you go, regularly check in on the project’s progression and adapt the timeline as necessary.
3. Pick Your Technology
There are plenty of tools available that make building career frameworks simpler.
Whether it’s purpose-built software like Progression, a centralized Google Sheet, or your existing knowledge hub (like Notion), cloud-based software is the ideal home for your framework. It’s easy to update, secure, and shareable.
The tool you choose will largely depend on budget, the specific problems you need to solve, and how it will integrate with your existing technology.
4. Draw from Existing Frameworks to Build Your Own
Creating a career growth framework from scratch can be daunting - the good news is, you don’t have to! There’s already a wealth of information available to help you out, both free and paid-for.
This open-source collection of frameworks from progression.fyi collates frameworks from some of the world’s most popular employers, while Radford offers comprehensive salary and job leveling data at a premium.
Use and adapt these resources to help build a company-wide framework that clearly defines levels based on skills, experience, and values required.
Once you’ve created your broader framework, the next step is to adapt the career tracks for each department. You may not need to do this for all departments, just the larger ones.
These department-specific frameworks should be largely the same as the company-wide framework in terms of levels, soft skills, and years of experience. However, it may be useful for certain departments to include relevant examples to contextualize the different levels. For example, the HR department framework may include examples about knowledge of labor law or HRIS systems, and the engineering framework may include programming language requirements.
Each team will likely approach this exercise differently. Some may choose to run a workshop so that everyone can collaborate equally, while others may opt for a more top-down approach with the head of department drafting the framework and seeking feedback from the rest of the team afterward.
5. Roll out Your Framework with Clear Communications
Once you’re happy with the framework, it’s time to roll it out to the rest of the company. Change is never easy, whether it’s positive or negative, so clear and positive communications are essential. This will help ease concerns and help your employees feel valued.
You need to provide reassurance and highlight the main reasons for introducing a career development framework. This will help you gain employee buy-in.
You should also preempt the questions you’ll receive - because there will be many! Write an FAQs document or page about the framework to address common questions and add to it as and when necessary. This will help both current employees and new joiners alike.
As a remote-friendly or remote-first business, communication is especially important. Check out our top tips for asynchronous communication methods here.
Best Practices for Building a Successful Career Framework
Building a career growth framework isn’t easy, but there are some best practices you can follow to ensure it’s effective for your business now and into the future.
Weave It into All Your Processes
After all that hard work, you don’t want your framework to simply fall by the wayside, so make sure it’s woven into all your HR processes from the get-go.
If a people manager wants to promote someone, ask them to look at the framework levels to determine if their team member has the skills and experience to move up. If they want to change a team member’s salary, ask them to consult the relevant salary band. If they want to provide feedback, encourage them to use language from the framework to contextualize praise or concerns.
The more you align all other processes with the framework, the more value your colleagues will get out of it.
Share Success Stories
When someone moves internally, gets a promotion, or has any other significant career change within the company, share their success with the wider team (if they are happy for you to do so). Always be sure to link it back to the framework.
For example, if someone has moved from Sales to Marketing, explain how this aligns with the framework; perhaps they already had many of the skills required or demonstrated excellent behavior in line with the values outlined in the marketing-specific framework.
Talking about encouraging career development is one thing; sharing how it’s happening is another - it’s more impactful. Not only will this create a sense of fairness, but it will also inspire others to work towards their own career development goals.
Reiterate the Framework Regularly
What works for your business now may not work forever, especially if your company is a fast-growing start-up or scale-up. That’s why your framework should be a living, breathing document.
Determine when, how, and how often you should review your framework. This could be at the beginning of every quarter, half-year, or year. For example, you may also choose to review the framework whenever a team member requests it or whenever a new joiner starts.
Keeping your career framework up-to-date ensures continued buy-in from employees and leadership alike.
5 Common Mistakes to Avoid When Creating Your Development Framework
Avoiding the following common mistakes will make the process of building a career development framework run a lot smoother.
1. Having Misaligned Frameworks Across Departments
Career development frameworks are all about fairness, so they must be consistent across all departments and teams. Having multiple frameworks that contradict each other will only lead to issues.
The solution is to work from one overarching framework that all departments agree on and abide by. This framework should outline what is generally expected of employees at each level in terms of experience, knowledge, skills, delivery, guidance, behavior, and values.
Team-specific frameworks should only make additions and alterations as long as it doesn’t contradict the broader framework. For example, the engineering team may add engineering-specific scenarios to contextualize a skill or value outlined in the company-wide framework.
2. Thinking It’s the Solution to All Your Career Growth Problems
While creating a framework is essential, just having one won’t solve all your company’s career-related issues. It’s simply there to provide clarity and transparency while enabling you to deliver fair processes and opportunities for employees.
You must continue to create unbiased policies around salaries, promotions, performance improvement plans, and internal mobility. You must still encourage people managers and team members to have conversations about career growth and career development goals. And you must continue to work on eliminating biases in the workplace.
The framework is there to help you do so, but it certainly can’t solve all your problems overnight.
3. Not Getting Buy-in from Employees
Your career development framework directly affects all of your employees, so not getting their buy-in will hinder its progress and prevent you all from enjoying the many benefits it can bring.
Getting buy-in from employees is especially challenging if you’re building the framework without seeking their input at all. No matter how you approach the process, always make sure that team members have an opportunity to provide feedback before it’s finalized.
For example, if your HR team is in charge of creating the career development framework, you could provide each team leader with a draft copy to share and discuss with their team members before finalizing it. Gather their feedback and address some of the most common concerns.
You can’t please everyone, but you should give the whole team a chance to provide feedback and feel valued.
4. Building the Framework Around Individuals
It may be tempting to build your career growth framework based on the individuals within your team, but often this will only complicate matters.
For example, if you use a current employee as a basis for your levels, you will create expectations based on their experience alone. You may later find that this employee lacks certain skills required for that level of seniority or perhaps exceeds some of them, setting skewed standards for all other employees from then on.
Instead, always build your framework using standardized levels. Then you can level your current employees to the framework - not the other way around. It’s simpler and fairer, especially if you have a growing team.
5. Forgetting About Internal Mobility
Frameworks are really useful for providing evidence that an employee should get a promotion, but remember, horizontal mobility is just as important.
Not everyone wants to climb the career ladder; some may wish to follow a different career track, opting to experience entirely new roles throughout their working life instead. The good news is, your career framework is equally as effective at visualizing if an employee can successfully move into a different role as it is for promotions. Ultimately, it allows for skill-based thinking over role-based thinking.
This type of internal mobility can increase retention rates by giving employees fresh opportunities for growth while helping cross-functional collaboration thrive. Be sure to shout about it and show your colleagues that changing roles isn’t just possible; it’s encouraged!
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