The Flourishing Culture Podcast Series
“How Career Paths Can Help Reduce Turnover Now “
May 10, 2021
Intro: Are you looking for a tool to help develop, promote, and retain your top talent, a tool that will help your organization be more innovative and flexible to meet today’s and tomorrow’s challenges? If so, today’s podcast episode is for you. To learn more, listen in.
Al Lopus: Welcome to another episode of the Flourishing Culture Podcast, where our goal is to equip and inspire you to build a flourishing workplace. As we all face today’s leadership challenges as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, we believe having a healthy culture is more important now than ever before. We are here to help you eliminate toxicity, improve your employees’ engagement, speed up new innovation, and grow your organization’s impact.
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And now, let’s meet today’s special guest.
In today’s dynamic world, creating pathways to grow and develop people, guide them toward their best, and prepare them for challenges is a huge advantage for organizations. Well, in fact, career paths can become powerful incentives to attract growth and keep highly talented staff. And what’s more, everyone can enjoy a career path, resulting in a learning, agile organization filled with engaged employees. So what might that look like for your organization?
My guest is Giselle Jenkins, the consulting director of BCWI, who has helped organizations create career paths for almost 20 years. She’s the author of Career Paths for Everyone, and insightful, practical guide that’s helped our BCWI ministry partners implement career paths in their organizations. So welcome back to the Flourishing Culture Podcast, Giselle.
Giselle Jenkins: Thank you so much, Al. I’m delighted to be on your podcast again.
Al: Well, Giselle, the topic of career paths is incredibly relevant for organizations right now. So why are you seeing this renewed interest?
Giselle: Well, we are seeing a sharp increase in the demand for career paths, and we think that’s because now that Millennials are the largest part of the workforce, that that’s probably the main reason. At the same time, people are looking for faster advancement, and organizations that take advantage of those two realities are going to find that they’re retaining more of their top talent who want to grow and develop.
Al: You know, Giselle, in the past year alone, BCWI has administered tens of thousands of Employee Surveys in hundreds of different organizations. And in these Surveys, many employees are saying, “Hey, I want more of a career path for my organization.” So how do you see leaders responding to this new trend, and a trend that, as you mentioned, is also brought on because so many Millennials are now in the workplace?
Giselle: Well, we’re really seeing two very different perspectives, and the story looks something like this. So a leader’s talking about career paths, and the leader usually talks about why they won’t work, says things like, “Well, we’re too small. Our structure is too flat. It’s too complicated. It’s too expensive. Well, people are going to leave anyway, aren’t they? We’re too busy. There’s no time to do this.” And then there’s this whole other voice, and we see it in our open-ended comments from the Surveys, and we read things like, “I want to grow and develop, and I need to see a clear path for my career. But I don’t have any idea what my next step is here. I keep hearing that my organization is flat. Does that mean I have to leave to advance? How do people get promoted? It isn’t clear. So if it isn’t clear, I’m not sure it’s fair, either. So what in the world does it take to get ahead here?” And this gap between how management and employees in an organization are seeing career paths is really striking. On top of that, it’s pretty much all the forecasters out there, as we all know, are telling us that voluntary turnover is going to skyrocket in 2021. Therefore, leaders really need to understand what will engage their employees and act, and career paths are a great way to do that.
Al: You know, you’re right about those open-ended comments. We see those all the time.
And Giselle, in your recent work, you’ve talked about how today’s career-path approach can be flexible enough to fit any size of an organization. So let’s start with this question: Would you explain to our listeners what exactly are career paths, so we know what we’re talking about?
Giselle: Of course. Well, career paths steer people in the direction they want to go at a specific point in their life. They help people see how to grow and develop in a successful career, as well as, “What might my next role will be, or assignment, on this chosen path that I have?” Over a lifetime, generally a person’s going to be on multiple different career paths, and these paths can be formal or informal, and the employer can sponsor them, or a person can completely design them for themselves. And let’s just face it: everyone’s on a career path when they’re working, even if it hits a dead end.
Al: Yeah. And those career paths don’t necessarily have to be defined.
But given all this, why should organizations take the time to develop career paths for employees? Do they really pay off?
Giselle: That’s a great question, and leaders certainly face a dilemma. There’s a cost to developing people and a cost to people advancing in their careers. And leaders will sometimes hesitate to implement career pathing because it can be perceived as costly, and there’s no guarantee that an investment in team members will actually keep them at the organization. But we do research, and so we know, in fact, career paths and development plans are shown to be one of the most effective retention tools for saving organizations thousands of dollars, maybe even tens of thousands of dollars, by avoiding turnover costs for departing employees.
Al: Wow, that’s interesting. So this is what I hear you saying: career paths and development plans are shown to be one of the most successful retention tools, saving organizations thousands of dollars, maybe even tens of thousands, in turnover costs for each departing employee. Is that what I understand?
Giselle: Exactly, exactly. And that’s one of the savings. Additionally, and perhaps this is even more important, career paths are going to allow for internal candidates to fill the next-level specialist or supervisor or leadership positions. And as our listeners know, research shows that internal candidates are usually about 30 to 50 percent more likely to succeed in their new role than outside candidates. And frankly, really, less than 10 percent of the activities on career paths involve any direct financial investment.
Al: Yeah. So promotion from within and making sure people are trained and capable to move into the next level is really important. And, yeah, there’s a huge cost to turnover, hiring the wrong people.
So you’ve seen the results both financially and for the organizations and the success of internal candidates, haven’t you.
Giselle: Yes. Besides the data that’s out there, I personally led HR in an organization that we focused strongly on talent management. And because of that, we really had to fill director-level positions with outside candidates. And this, first of all, ensured cultural consistency in our organization, but it also saved us tens of thousands of dollars in recruiting costs for each person we can hire internally instead of externally.
Al: Yeah, that’s a great example and a great example.
So organizations that survey with us know that there’s a strong link between levels of employee engagement and what we call outstanding talent, including an organization’s ability to promote and retain highly capable employees, which you’ve mentioned. And I know career paths are popular in large organizations, but can they fit into smaller organizations as well?
Giselle: Yes. That’s certainly the most frequent objection to career pathing: my organization is too small, or it’s too flat. And most of this thinking is actually driven from the traditional approach to career paths, the one that we would call the management ladder. However, today there’s at least four core pathways that can fit into basically all structures and sizes. And if you use the strategy of multiple paths, leaders can create growth and development no matter what their current structure is, and employees can envision a future no matter which path that they’re on. So even if your organization is small or just has a few management positions, it’s crucial to develop and strength for succession and possible turnover, and paths are key ways to help every manager answer that question we want them to answer: Who are you preparing to replace you?
Al: Well, I’m sure our listeners are interested in hearing about these four paths, so thanks for that idea, Giselle. But that might sound to get complex. Isn’t complexity one of the reasons organizations don’t want to get started and down this road of career paths?
Giselle: Absolutely. And I certainly know why. I’m thinking back about my time as the VP of people development at Prison Fellowship. And we made a significant investment in career paths for our employees. And in that organization, we were blessed with leadership, who saw the need for it, and they provided resources for it. And we had a really detailed program with a lot of complexity. And organizations like that have set this standard in people’s minds for career pathing that it has to be long, and it has to be deep, and it has to be rich. And that really overwhelms leaders in getting started.
But frankly, in a smaller, more agile organization, those weighty structures are rarely necessary. And your organization can grow and so can your people, and you can improve quality and retention and engagement with much lighter structure. The big, heavy structures are nice, but they’re certainly not essential.
So we just have a couple of simple things that we think that people need to do. You need to have clear paths, and you need to be able to describe their progression and say with the milestones are. And if you combine this with new learning, coaching, and some on-the-job assignments, people will grow, and organizations are supporting career advancement. In a few minutes, I’ll talk about a couple of examples of how that works.
Al: I trust you’re enjoying our podcast today. We’ll be right back after an important word for leaders.
What’s the one thing we all have in common that impacts the success of our relationships as a person, as a team, as a family, and as an organization? And what’s the one thing, if removed, will destroy the most influential leader, fruitful organization, or great relationship? Well, that one thing is trust. And at the core of any flourishing culture or flourishing organization is high trust levels between employees and leaders. So to learn great steps to improve trust in your own organization and relationships, join us for our next webinar, Creating a Culture of Trust Between Leaders and Employees. That’ll be on May 19 at 1:00 Eastern and 10:00 Pacific.
And now, back to today’s special guest.
So, we’ve got organizational leaders who are listening, so how can they take action and design career paths for their own organization? What type of career paths can attract, grow, and retain highly capable staff so we make sure that we’re retaining our best talent as we go into this next phase of ministry?
Giselle: Let’s start with the traditional path, and that’s the one that we all know. It’s the management ladder path. And on that path, people are going to stay in the same field, for example, marketing, and they’ll become more of what’s known as a generalist. They take on more scope, and they start taking on people-management responsibilities. That kind of traditional path is good for people who want to move to staff oversight, and they’re also motivated to build what we know as soft skills, skills that you need to oversee people. The person who wants to be on this path, well, they really enjoy empowering others to succeed, and they’re willing to move into increasingly leadership-type roles. This is a vertical path, so we call it a ladder.
Al: So, sometimes I hear objections about career paths, because the only way to progress for an individual is to become a manager. And not everyone is cut out to be a manager. Not everybody has those soft skills you’re talking about, Giselle. And if you only offer a management path, oftentimes what you’re doing is you’re setting up your best contributors, individual contributors, for failure because learning these soft skills can really be unrealistic. So what about the exceptional individual contributor that’s making a huge contribution to your organization? What do you say, and how do you design a path for them?
Giselle: Yeah, well, that’s the second path. And we call that path the specialist ladder path, and it’s also a promotional path. So it’s a ladder, and people stay, in this case, in the same type of role. And in that role they become more and more specialized, and they’re more of an expert, and they end up making a broader impact, they become more efficient and more effective.
And I’ll just give you an example. So, for example, think of a college intern, and the college intern is the first to intern at the organization. Then they come in after that as a research assistant. Basically, they’re doing the same kind of duties, but they’re doing them a lot better. They then move on to be an actual writer, then they’re a senior writer, then they’re a writer editor, they’re a senior writer editor, and they might even become the resident expert in their organization. So that’s called the specialist ladder, that allows them to be promoted and have growth, but they don’t have to manage, and they don’t have to oversee people.
For the sake of time, there are two other ones, but I’ll just summarize those two paths. One is called the lattice path, and it’s a horizontal path, and it supports and encourages people to move across the organization. Why would you want to do that? Well, you really want to broaden your knowledge about the organization, but they could also think that ladders are dangerous.
Al: So, dangerous ladders. You mean, like, falling off the ladder. You don’t want to fall off the ladder, right?
Giselle: You don’t want to fall off the ladder, that’s right. That’s right.
So, there’s another horizontal path, and that’s called the expertise path, and that allows people who are starting a new job or maybe they’re transitioning to a new job or maybe they’re at the top of their field and they are as expert as they can get, but they also want to build skills, and they want to be rewarded. So they can be on the expertise path.
So an organization can build a strong program by really focusing on these four types of paths. They have a variety of paths here, and they have the flexibility to support all kinds of desires, the stage of life that you’re in, different styles. But they can encourage one common theme, which is that everyone who works here is growing and learning and moving forward.
So if you provide these paths, it really shows that there’s value and reward in every path. When you design your program, you’re going to want to include a narrative that describes the main characteristics so people can enjoy this kind of path. Describe the experience they’ll have on the path and what kind of effort they need to exert, how titles work on the path. I gave you an example of the intern, research-associated writers. So that’s an example of how the titles work. How their responsibilities change, and then what pay progression looks like, because people do want to be rewarded for moving along their paths.
Al: So, to recap, Giselle, there are two ladder paths, the management and the specialist path, where people are promoted. And then there’s two horizontal paths, where people can move across, the lattice path you mentioned, or in order to build more skills, the expertise path.
Haven’t I heard you also mention, Giselle, that there’s a way to turbocharge their career path, sort of a gaming approach. You know, everybody’s into gaming these days. Is there a gaming approach that we can also include in this?
Giselle: Yes. Al, though I didn’t coin this phrase, I suggest that organizations who have staff who love a gaming approach consider adding the element of expert badges. This is a way to create a self-motivated direction for people that they’ll want to build their skills and competencies. And badges can be designed as promotional milestones, as well as used as part of a traditional training motivation tool. So instead of saying, “You’re required to take this class,” “You earn this badge if you take this class.” Their benefits include helping the organization come up to speed more quickly with needed changes, innovations, and technology.
Al: Badges, oh. That kind of causes me to think about some of my friends’ kids that are now trying to be Eagle Scouts. So that kind of idea where you earn badges for specific milestones.
Giselle: Yes, exactly, exactly.
Al: So, how do you suggest leaders bring career paths into their organization?
Giselle: Well, first off, I’d say let’s acknowledge that implementing career paths is most effective when it’s part of the organization’s strategic plan. It’s a strategic decision. Well, why is that? Because career paths support critical elements of a leadership strategy. They’re strengthening the roles that are needed to successfully implement the annual plan by building key skills that are needed to create innovation, anything from new products to the delivery of current products and services. And this is going to be surfaced in your SWOT analysis, your strategy. They’re also attract from, then retain competent staff, which is needed for your strategy. And finally, career paths are part of building the bench strength for key positions and allows you to plan for succession, fill positions internally when that’s the best option. So in order to make this succeed, you have to think of it as part of your key strategy.
Al: Yeah. And especially as organizations grow, they need to have the key people in place in order to facilitate that growth. So it’s key to have career paths as part of a strategy in order for an organization to grow, innovate, and even have the talent they need. I like that idea.
And I also like to ask questions. Many times I realize that the question is even more important sometimes than the answer. So what questions should leaders be asking as they get started on this path?
Giselle: Here’s three questions that we recommend that leaders ask and then answer before they launch a career-pathing program. So the first question, What will we promise? You need to lay out what you know you can actually support. Think about HR structures, thinking about training supervisors to coach. Think about how big is your budget for advancement? How do people become eligible to be on career paths? And the second question, Who is the executive sponsor? Is it the top person at your organization? If it is, that will go a long way. It says we mean it when we say you can have a career here. And then, finally, the third question, Which paths will we offer? I suggest a basic structure of all four paths that we’ve given you, and if you want to be innovative, you might see a much faster implementation if you use expert badges.
Al: Wow, okay. So, what will we promise? Who is the executive sponsor? And again, that’s important, isn’t it, because without a good, strong, executive sponsor, the project could lag and get off track. And then, which paths to offer?
So, Giselle, you’ve given our listeners a lot to think about. It’s really kind of triggered my mind as well. And there could be quite a few people interested in learning more, and so what’s the best way to do that?
Giselle: You can contact us through email, the best email is email@example.com, and just put “career paths” in the subject line. And we can send you more information about our HR’s essential guide that’s called Career Paths for Everyone. And it’s a primer on getting paths started in your organization. It goes into more depth on the types of paths to offer and how to design them, how to support them, and how to really create an effective system. And as always, if you want help implementing it in your organization, we do also provide consulting services.
Al: Yeah. And that’s a great resource. I’ve appreciated what you’ve developed. I’ve looked at it. It makes perfect sense.
Well, Giselle, I’ve really enjoyed what we’ve learned today. And first, we see career pathing continues to grow in importance as an engagement factor in today’s workforce, and particularly when it comes to outstanding talent, and we need really outstanding talent for our organizations to grow. Secondly, we know that studies show that clear career paths are both a key reason people stay in an organization when they’re there, when present, and a key reason that people leave when their career paths are unclear or missing or they just don’t know what they’re going to be able to do next. So people are more motivated when they see practical steps for them to grow and advance in their career and, also, when they see other people that have kind of gone through these career paths as models. We also notice that career paths help to raise up bench strength to meet the needs of succession planning. And I think of at large organizations I’ve worked with, how they have more rooms with each of the levels and who’s in the levels and who is performing at each level as well. We’re not talking about things that are maybe that complicated, but certainly there is a need for this in succession planning. And transparent pathing builds employee confidence and leadership’s desire to be inclusive, fair, and equitable in promotions, which is also a key issue that’s really come up in this last year as well. And we also see that there’s a key outcome of the focusing on career growth and development and how it creates a more agile learning organization, an organization that’s better prepared to innovate, to change, and really respond to the demands of the organizations in the future. So thanks, Giselle, this has really been great.
And to conclude our interview, I’ll bet you you’ve got one final thought that you’d like to leave with our listeners, kind of a bottom line for our listeners to think about.
Giselle: Yeah. I know that many of you are facing challenges around talent. We know that. We work with you every day. And for some of you, it’s around turnover. It’s really high. It’s concerning. And other people have employees who are directly asking for career paths. And still others may be frustrated with the lack of internal candidates for leadership positions. That’s another dilemma you might be facing. But whatever your story, I encourage you to leverage the power of career paths. They really do attract, retain, and grow highly competent people. If you don’t have a program designed already, I invite you to get a copy of Career Paths for Everyone guide.
Al: Yeah. Right, Giselle. Again, that’s Career Paths for Everyone, a guide that we’ve developed.
And thanks, Giselle Jenkins, consulting director for BCWI, respected and revered, for equipping leaders and their teams for building a healthier, flourishing workplace. Thanks for sharing your valuable insights and effective strategies for career pathing for our leaders today.
Giselle: You’re so welcome, Al. It’s been a pleasure.
Outro: Thank you for joining us on the Flourishing Culture Podcast and for investing this time in your workplace culture. If there’s a specific insight, story, or action step you’ve enjoyed, please share it with others so they can benefit, too. Please share this podcast with friends on social media, and show your support by rating, reviewing, and subscribing wherever you listen.
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Remember, a healthy workplace culture drives greater impact and growth for your organization. We’ll see you again soon on the Flourishing Culture Podcast.