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Posted by on Jul 11, 2014

Building Career Pathing Capabilities: A Federal HR Perspective

The private sector has latched on to Career Pathing like a teenage girl to a Taylor Swift song. McLean & Co defines Career Pathing as “the process of developing an enterprise-wide … competency-based model for possible employee progression within an organization which maps out the requirements for both vertical progression (promotions) as well as lateral moves (transfers)”. American Express’s Career Pathing Program is lauded in its Best Companies to Work For materials on an international scale. A growing number of consultancies offer to build Career Pathing capabilities for clients across the globe (for full disclosure, Management Concepts is one of them). In short, the Career Pathing concept and businesses that provide these services are booming in the commercial sector. The Federal Sector, however, may benefit more than the commercial sector because Career Pathing:

  1. Manages the uncertainty of the Retirement Wave by creating multiple points of entry to key positions and multiple promotion points for the same individual. Feds aren’t retiring as quickly as expected, but they are still retiring and may do so with little notice going forward. Having multiple options to fill the vacancy prevents gaps and reduces complexity.
  2. Retains GenXers when no vacancies exist for promotion. The delayed retirements of the Boomers leaves GenXers with nowhere to go but sideways. Career Pathing keeps GenXers engaged and learning while better preparing them for more senior positions than a straight upward ladder approach.
  3. Leverages the Millennials’ movements. You can’t throw a rock without hitting a study about how often Millennials change jobs. Their need for constant movement, task variation, and learning opportunities could result in high turnover for your organization. You can, however, use their need for change to rotate Millennials throughout your organization to improve mission performance and lower recruiting costs.

The last benefit is that Career Pathing can make HR look like rock stars by simultaneously meeting the needs of the organization, leaders, and employees with few trade-offs for any of those stakeholders. Sounds great, right? There are, however, trade-offs. It’s just on the part of HR.

Implementing Career Pathing programs can be a gargantuan task that easily spins out of control. Think about just a few components of a gold standard:

  • Competency Maps for Each Job: We need to know all the competencies and the levels at which they are performed to know where to move.
  • Individual Competency Assessments: Individuals need to know their level of competency for not only their role, but also the role into which they want to move.
  • Seamless Integration into Individual Development Plans: Individuals need to know how to develop any skills they are lacking to move to a different role.

I could go on, but I won’t because we all know achieving that isn’t realistic in most situations. Frankly, it may not even be desirable. And it certainly isn’t necessary: you can make progress with realistic goals and still be the HR Career Pathing Rock Star without a gazillion dollar budget and team of millions.

Here are the keys to Career Pathing success in Federal organizations:

  1. Only set out to do what you can deliver: Start small and focus on the critical positions and skill sets (your HCAAF reporting is a great place to start). You don’t need a fancy web-based Career Pathing tool (although those are, admittedly, awesome). Identify key roles and some high-potential individuals and develop a plan to help them develop the skills for potential new roles. Remember that individuals have skills and competencies outside of their current roles that they can bring to future roles, so laser focus in on what the organization needs, but think broadly about how to get it and from whom.
  2. Tie it to the HR Lifecycle, especially Succession Planning and Phased Retirement: The “free gifts with purchase” of Career Pathing are engagement and retention, but the core benefit is its role in Succession Planning. Integrate lateral movements and multiple scenarios into your succession planning exercises. These lateral moves for development should be part of your succession planning independent of the need for vertical movement. Try to view the organization as a chessboard in which movement for different players can vary. For high-potentials who require on-the-job development, consider matching them with someone in the Phased Retirement Program. Given OPM’s push to start phased retirement this year, now is the perfect time to take action.
  3. Remember your role as a counselor and trusted advisor: A large driver of the success of these agile Career Pathing programs hinges on your relationship with the stakeholders. This shouldn’t be a hard sell, but you’ll need to be data-driven in your conversation with leaders. To prepare:
  • Know your retirement, turnover, demographic, and other data.
  • Know where Career Pathing and job rotation have worked throughout the Federal Government – and where it hasn’t – and why.
  • Be prepared to influence leaders to release their “teachers’ pets” to another division or department for lateral moves.
  • Also be prepared to “sell” the move to these individuals.
  • Finally, use your stakeholder engagement skills to be sure everyone understands the value of the program from their own perspective.

What Career Pathing initiatives are going on in your organization? What works and what doesn’t?

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