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Career Management
Making It Work for Employees and Employers
Stuck in neutral. That’s how many employees around the world would describe their career. In fact, according to the 2014
Global Workforce Study, 41% of employees say they must join another firm in order to advance. Even more troublesome, almost
the same percentage (40%) of employees who have been formally identified as high potentials by their organization say they
would need to leave their organization to advance their career. Overall, employees tell us career advancement opportunities
rank among the top reasons why they’d join or leave an organization.
Rising talent mobility complicates this picture even
further. Globally, nearly half of employers (48%)
participating in the 2014 Talent Management and
Rewards Study say hiring activity has increased
compared with last year, and more than one-third
(35%) indicate that turnover is rising. At the same
time, nearly two in three respondents are experiencing
problems attracting top performers (65%) and highpotential employees (64%), an increase from two
years ago. Additionally, more than half report difficulty
retaining high-potential employees (56%) and top
performers (54%).
In the face of these challenges, employers need to
understand what employees value if they are to attract
and retain the right talent. Our research shows that
employers do in fact agree with employees on the
critical importance of providing career advancement
opportunities to get and keep employees (Figure 1).
But this understanding is not translating into effective
career development and management programs. A
mere 46% of employees say their organization provides
useful career planning tools, and only 42% report that
their organization provides opportunities to advance.
46%
of employees
say their
organization
provides useful
career planning
tools.
Figure 1. Career management is valued by both employees and employers, but many
organizations fall short in delivery
Employee view
Employer view
3rd
Organizations are clearly missing the mark when it
comes to career management — the process that
helps employees understand career opportunities and
chart a career path within their organization (Figure 2).
#1
Advancement in career is the
reason employees join an organization.
Lack of career advancement is the 2nd
most cited reason they would leave.
Advancement in career is the
most cited reason they joined their
organization. Lack of career advancement
is the 2nd most cited reason to leave.
Source: 2014 Global Workforce Study
“Employers

need to understand
what employees value if they
are to attract and retain the
right talent.”
Employers for their part recognize they are falling
short. Less than half (49%) report being effective at
providing traditional career advancement opportunities
to employees, while an even lower percentage (38%)
report being effective at providing career development
opportunities beyond traditional concepts. Moreover,
only 41% of employers agree their employees are
often able to achieve career advancement by moving
across organizational boundaries. And a disturbingly
low 35% say their employees understand how they can
influence their careers.
42%
report that
their organization provides
opportunities to advance.
Source: 2014 Talent Management and Rewards Study
Only
41%
agree their employees are often able
to achieve career advancement.
Only
say their employees understand how
they can influence their careers.
35%
Figure 2. What is career management?
Career management is a process to help employees understand career opportunities and chart
a career path within their organization.
Career
management
Overarching
career
management
strategy
Established
career
framework
Visible
and viable
career path
alternatives
Enabling
experiences
and
opportunities
Integrated
development
planning
process
Aligned
competency
framework
Career management encompasses the strategy, tools, processes and technology that enable
talent development, agility and mobility.
towerswatson.com
Career Management: Making It Work for Employees and Employers 2
While it might seem simple enough to organize jobs,
define competencies, provide career planning tools
and communicate opportunities, the reality is more
complicated. Our research reveals several key pain
points that employers face in developing and delivering
career management programs:
•• Career architecture and career paths are poorly
defined. Fewer than half of employers (48%) report
that their organizations have career architectures
and levels in place.
•• Managers are ill equipped to handle key aspects of
career management and development. Only 33% of
employers say managers are effective at conducting
career development discussions as part of the
performance management process.
•• Technology is not effectively leveraged for career
management. Less than half (45%) of employers
say their companies make effective use of
technology to deliver programs to help employees
advance their careers.
•• Most organizations don’t know if their career
management programs are working. A low 27%
of employers say their organizations monitor the
effectiveness of their career management programs.
In addition, we know from our experience that there
are other factors contributing to this challenge.
Information related to career management is often
communicated in a disjointed manner. In some
organizations, different parts of HR own different
elements of career management without clear
accountability or partnership. Finally, organizations
may lack the business buy-in for career management
programs, which can make career management the
sole domain of HR.
Given this situation, it’s critical for employers to step
back and think through the components of an effective
career management program.
Start by Defining Your Strategy
An overarching strategy is needed to anchor and guide
the development of a career management program.
This strategy should capture an organization’s highlevel perspective on career management, and reflect
its talent priorities and strategic business objectives.
Begin by defining the why and the how of your program
through:
•• An overall statement (why) of what the company
believes and wants to communicate about the value
and importance of career management. For example,
an organization pursuing a business strategy focused
on innovation might state that the goal of its career
towerswatson.com
48%
of employees report
that they have to
take ownership of
their own careers.
57%
of employers indicate
that employees and
managers should have
joint ownership of the
career management process.
“It’s
“ critical for employers to step back and think
through the components of an effective career
management program.”
management program is to provide employees with
the ongoing skill building and development needed
to enable breakthrough thinking and career success
while ensuring the talent pipeline to support the
company’s long-term growth.
•• A set of principles (how) that will guide the
direction and execution of career management
communications and tools. For example, one of
the guiding principles of the innovation-focused
organization cited above might include the importance
of building a culture of continuous learning and
professional development, which in turn leads to new
ways of addressing business challenges. Details on
the types of learning and professional development
opportunities that the organization invests in would
be showcased in the strategy.
A basic question to consider when developing a career
management strategy is who is responsible for the
career management process. According to our latest
research, almost half (48%) of employees report that
they have to take ownership of their own careers,
while 57% of employers indicate that employees
and managers should have joint ownership of the
career management process. An effective career
management strategy will help reduce employees’
feeling they are on their own when it comes to career
development and advancement opportunities.
Career Management: Making It Work for Employees and Employers 3
Building the Foundation
With its career management strategy in place, an
organization can begin to build the foundation of its
program, which should include three elements: a
career framework, scaled competencies and enabling
experiences.
•• Career framework. An organization’s career
framework consists of a series of career bands,
which represent how jobs contribute to the
organization, and levels, which show the relative
contribution of a role within a career band (Figure 3).
The framework is supported by the job architecture
(e.g., how jobs are organized by titles, functions
and families) and job leveling (i.e., the process for
determining the relative ranking of jobs). Given that
only 40% of employers globally have defined job
architectures, and a mere 39% have defined job
levels and a career framework, there is room for
improvement here.
A globally consistent career framework across all
functions and business areas of an organization
serves as a foundation for organizing jobs and
clarifying career paths. Additionally, in many
organizations, such a framework becomes a
platform for describing overall work requirements
and responsibilities. It also makes it easier for
“A
“ globally consistent career framework across all
functions and business areas of an organization
serves as a foundation for organizing jobs and
clarifying career paths.”
managers and supervisors to clearly communicate
career opportunities and have more effective career
development discussions. Many organizations have
some type of career framework in place, often to
assign compensation grades and ranges. Being
transparent about the career framework can help
employees shift out of neutral and into first gear.
•• Scaled competencies and technical skills. While
the career framework describes what employees
at various levels do, competencies define the
how — the knowledge, skills and abilities required
for successful performance. We can think of
competencies as behavioral concepts that may
apply across job families, for example, analytical
thinking, creativity and project management. On the
other hand, technical skills refer to more discrete
knowledge areas that are relevant across fewer
job families, for example, application development,
database administration and requirement analysis.
Figure 3. Foundational element: Career framework*
The career framework sets the stage for clearly communicating careers and discussing career opportunities and development.
Executive
Management
E1
Vice
president
Career band
Represents broadly
how jobs contribute
to the organization
M3
Senior
manager
M4
M5
Group Senior group
manager
manager
Professional
Individual contributor
CEO
Management
M1
M2
Supervisor Manager
P1
P2
P3
P4
P5
P6
Entry Intermediate Career Specialist Master Expert
Technical support
T1
Entry
E2
E3
Senior vice
Executive
president vice president
Career level
Represents the relative
contribution of the role
within the career band
T2
T3
T4
Intermediate Senior Lead
Business support
U1
U2
U3
U4
Entry Intermediate Senior Lead
Production
W1
Entry
W2
W3
W4
Intermediate Senior Lead
*Actual alignment of career bands and levels will vary based on types of jobs within each organization.
towerswatson.com
Career Management: Making It Work for Employees and Employers 4
Figure 4. Foundational element: Enabling experiences
Sample template for defining enabling experience opportunities
Question:
What are the enabling experiences to prepare an employee to move through the job family (i.e., from level to level)?
1
IT developer
I
P1
2
IT developer
II
P2
••Regularly
introduce
new ideas
and process
innovations to
own team
••Coordinate
and assist
department
efforts
3
IT developer
III
P3
••Successfully
manage a
few projects
independently,
under limited
supervision
••Present technical
analysis/results
to a nontechnical
audience
The scaling of competencies enables organizations
to show the changes in expected competencies and
associated behaviors at different career levels. For
instance, creativity at a lower level might involve
demonstrating a willingness to try new processes
and approaches. At a senior level, creativity might
involve creating opportunities for employees to
generate new ideas, products, methods or solutions
that enhance organizational effectiveness.
According to the findings of our 2014 Talent
Management and Rewards Study, 55% of
organizations have already implemented an
organization-wide competency model applicable
to all employees. Yet only 42% of all companies
participating in the study have implemented scaled
competencies, suggesting that many companies have
yet to realize the full benefits of using competencies.
•• Enabling experiences and opportunities. These
are the experiences and opportunities that help
prepare an employee to move from one career
level to the next. While enabling experiences and
opportunities help guide career development,
they are not intended to be used as a checklist
for promotion. For example, Figure 4 illustrates
the enabling experiences and opportunities for
an IT developer, from successfully managing new
projects with limited supervision, to participating
in the development of technical standards for
their organization. With increasing frequency,
organizations are supplementing the career
framework and scaled competencies with enabling
experiences and opportunities.
towerswatson.com
4
IT developer
IV
P4
••Participate
in special
assignments
to gain deeper
knowledge/
expertise in a
particular area
5
6
IT developer
V
P5
••Speak at an
internal or
external industry
conference or
event
••Serve in a
leadership role
for a crossfunctional
project or
activity
IT developer
VI
P6
••Demonstrate
success in
defining,
delivering and
implementing a
strategy
••Participate in
the development
of company
standards or
capabilities
Visualizing the Possibilities
Once the foundational components are set, it’s time
to help employees understand what it all means for
them. Career path visuals will help bring your career
management program to life by illustrating potential
movements between roles (Figure 5, page 6). A career
path is unique to an individual and will vary depending
on business needs, career aspirations and capabilities.
There are typically two types of movement that career
paths are used to illustrate:
•• Progression — Movement to a role at the same/
equivalent level or a lower career level as the current
role; offers an employee breadth of experience
•• Promotion — Movement to a job at a higher career
level than the current role; requires demonstration of
increased competence and additional responsibilities
It’s important to note that the intent of a career path is
to provide a sense of what’s possible — not to chart
every potential course — and to remind employees
of what the organization values. These illustrations
serve as a very effective tool to help differentiate the
organization and illuminate the career management
strategy. Our research shows that only 43% of
companies have defined vertical career paths, and a
mere 27% have defined lateral career paths, which
could help explain why so many employees feel they
are on their own when it comes to career development.
Career Management: Making It Work for Employees and Employers 5
Figure 5. Sample career path
Gain foundational and
advanced
experience
Database
in database
analytics
Analyst
I
and development
Database
Database
analyst and
developer II
Information
Information
Move into systems
security
security
engineer
to
gain
specialist I
specialist II
broader organizational
IT knowledge
Information
security
Senior
database
analyst and
developer
MakeLead
a move
to Database
gain people
management
Project
Manager
experience
Senior
information
security
specialist
Information
security
manager
Enterprise
database
architect
Systems
engineer
Systems
engineer I
Systems
engineer II
Senior
systems
engineer
Gain experience
Systems
in IT security
engineering
project
manager
Systems
engineering
director
Systems
support
IT systems
support I
Senior
IT
Move to more
senior
IT systems
systems
role
with
continued
support ii
support
focus on gaining
IT systems
support
manager
IT systems
support
director
Software
engineer
Start in a
P1 job —
entry into Software
job family Engineer I
Identified as a destination role
due to the high degree of impact
this role has on the organization.
Senior
This is the top individualDirector,
contributor in the IT function,
Data and
Security
with responsibility for designing
major components of the IT
infrastructure. This role requires
a high level of understanding
Director,
Information
of databases, security and
IT
systems. Individuals in Technology
this role
mustSenior
manage large projects and
Director, IT
project teams.
Engineering
technical knowledge
Software
engineer II
Senior
software
engineer
Software
engineering
project
manager
Software
engineering
manager
Software
engineering
director
Professional
P1
P2
P3
P4
M1
M2
P5
P6
Illustrative
alignment
M4
M5
Management
Integrated Development Planning
For a career management program to be effective,
it must be properly supported and linked to other
strategic HR initiatives and existing HR programs.
•• Tools and technology. Two of the most valuable career
management support tools include an employee
reference guide and an employee workbook. The
reference guide describes the career management
process and program fundamentals, while the
workbook enables employees to assess their
strengths and weaknesses, and to develop short- and
long-term career plans with their managers.
A technology platform that provides access to
current career information and tools, thereby
enabling employees to take an active part in
managing their careers, can facilitate effective
career management. Given that such a platform
typically captures performance management
information — e.g., performance objectives, reviews,
competency assessments — as well as career
management data, it shines a spotlight on the
towerswatson.com
M3
aspirations and capabilities of the company’s talent
pool. It is necessary that this type of platform link to
an organization’s HR information system to ensure
seamless access to critical HR data including career
management information.
•• Manager training and support. Unfortunately, less
than half (47%) of organizations say they provide
their managers with career management training
and tools in the form of talking points or discussion
guides. This could help explain why only 41% of
employees rate their manager as effective in holding
career development discussions. It is important for
organizations to ensure that managers are trained to
have effective career conversations with employees.
Regardless of whether these conversations are
formally set at certain intervals or occur informally
at any point in the year, managers need to be
equipped with information on the organization’s
career management strategy and tools. This will
prepare them to ask the right questions as they
guide employees through the process of developing
actionable career plans.
47%
of organizations say
they provide their
managers with career
management training
and tools in the form
of talking points or
discussion guides.
Career Management: Making It Work for Employees and Employers 6
•• Structured mentoring. Even a carefully planned
career management program may not sufficiently
prepare employees for all the challenges that come
with increased responsibility. For this reason, a
growing number of organizations are implementing
structured mentoring programs. The goal of
structured mentoring is to identify the deep and
often undocu …
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