Career Pathing: The Magnificent Seven of Program Development
Developing a career pathing program in Federal agencies is best done as simply as possible. In most cases, that means piloting the program with a few Mission Critical Occupations (MCOs) with overlapping competencies. Even when keeping it simple, however, developing the program requires a rather broad, diverse team. I like to think of these as the “Magnificent Seven of Career Pathing:”
- The Human Resources Executive Sponsor –the senior most HR person associated with the project. They act as the intra-HR champion corralling resources and intervening with the customer as necessary. The HR executive sponsor also ensures the goals of the project are clearly articulated and aligned with the agency’s human capital strategic goals. Without an HR executive sponsor, the development program will likely be perceived as low priority and will never gain traction as team members address higher priority tasks.
- The Client Sponsor – a senior member of the customer team who believes in the value of the program and is willing to act as the executive sponsor. At its core, a career pathing project is a change effort and requires an executive sponsor on the client side like every change effort. The Executive Sponsor must be able to explain the importance of the project and, like the human resources executive sponsor, link it to specific agency goals. Without a Client Sponsor, functional managers are unlikely to make time for the project nor to give their direct reports time to devote to it.
- Functional Managers – frontline or senior managers who manage the people performing the occupations included in the career pathing model. These managers help to select the competencies and to set the leveling. They also provide insight into the future requirements that those performing the work might not yet have visibility to. Without Functional Managers, the status quo will be defined as the desired future state instead of using this opportunity to shape the level of competency required to fully perform the work.
- Position Classification Specialists – who can confirm that the career pathing work does not have any unintended consequences on job classification. Without the position classification review, the career pathing model could create a perception of inconsistent grading of roles with all the resulting consequences for salary and labor agreement compliance.
- Employees in the Selected Occupations – who actually perform the work. Employees provide valuable insight into what they actually do, how frequently, and the downstream consequences if the work is performed poorly. There is frequently a disconnect between what the employee does and what the manager believes they do or should do. This requires diagnosis by the HR project team. Without the employees, the career pathing model would reflect the perception of the managers without any check against the realities of the work.
- Information Technology – who provide support for any systems needs for the project itself as well as for the customer-facing career pathing solution, if needed. Career pathing projects frequently rely on survey tools, knowledge management tools, and other IT solutions. Moreover, career pathing solutions often have a supporting website to interact with employees or with HR. IT should be brought into the process as early and as often as possible. Never assume you know all the technology solutions available to you – IT often has new, innovative ways to help you run the project more efficiently. Without IT, the project will miss opportunities for increased efficacy through technology solutions and often suffer from delays when IT solution development starts far later than would have been necessary if IT were involved early enough in the project to help streamline requirements.
- The HR Project Team – who, last but not least, do the actual work on the project. From setting the project schedule, to defining the competencies and leveling, making connections between occupations, developing and implementing a communications strategy, the HR Project Team leads development of the career pathing solution. Without the project team, there’s no way for the career pathing model to be completed. This final point may seem self-evident. In many cases, however, career pathing projects do not have a dedicated team with the right breadth of experience (e.g., project management, stakeholder management, competency definition) much less time available to work on the project. This, of course, loops us back to the Human Resources Executive Sponsor, who ensures the right project lead has the bandwidth and support to get the job done.
Given the wide variety of functions necessary to develop a career pathing program, how has your agency developed career paths and lattices? What functions were involved? Who else played a critical role?