Up Isn't the Only Way to Advance: Creating a Career Path That Rewards Your Employees

How to Create a Career Path

Not everyone wants to be a leader. Here's how business owners can help employees advance when people management isn't their chosen path.

It's a dilemma many business owners face when trying to decide how to create a career path for an employee. You've got a breakout performer on your staff and you can't wait to start grooming them for a leadership post in the company. A turn at a management role seems like the natural next step up the career ladder.

But what if that employee's vision of their career development doesn't match yours? You don't want talented employees to leave or become disengaged because they're forced into roles that don't fit.

The solution is to help staffers who don't aspire to leadership positions figure out how to create a career path that rewards and makes the most of their contributions.

Honest Dialogue

The first step in helping your employees with their career development is to talk to them about their interests. In these conversations, it's important to encourage honest dialog about their career aspirations.

While it may surprise you to discover that not all of your stellar employees see themselves as managers and C-suite occupants in the making, research shows that the nonmanagement career vision is the most prevalent. A CareerBuilder survey of more than 3,600 full-time U.S. employees in government and the private sector found that just 34 percent aspired to leadership posts, and only 7 percent wanted to be in the C-suite.

Of those who said they didn't want to move up, 52 percent said the reason was that they liked their current job, 34 percent said they didn't want to give up their work-life balance and 17 percent said they lacked the necessary education to fill a management post.

Professional Development and Training

If you have employees who don't feel prepared to take on a management role but nevertheless might excel at it if given additional education and guidance, you certainly want to assist them in any way you can.

But it's also important to remember that employee education isn't just for those who are prepping to become top executives. Offering professional development and training opportunities to all workers is essential to promoting fairness and enhancing skills and experience to help your company succeed.

Human resources analyst Josh Bersin suggests that employers look for opportunities to assess and prepare employees for nonmanagement roles like technical specialists and project leaders. Another smart tactic — particularly at small businesses where even those who do aspire to move up may find limited slots available — is to offer tools to help employees grow and stay engaged in their current jobs.

Your company's professional development program might include paying for job-specific certification courses, training in new technology or travel to professional and industry association conferences.

Job Exploration

As you and your employees work together to discover how to create a career path that maximizes their potential, consider giving them a chance to try on different roles. Cross-training and job rotation are two strategies many employers have implemented to do just that.

Cross-training lets employees learn and experience some of the tasks their coworkers do and helps expand their knowledge of overall business operations. Job rotation can involve more extensive experiences with different business functions. Both can be opportunities for employees to test their aptitude for various jobs and gain new skills.

You believe the most talented and hardworking employees deserve to be promoted. But the best way to reward them isn't to force them into a leadership position they don't want. Instead, help them discover where they want their careers to go and build a path to get there.