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Help Employees Move Up in Their Careers to Drive Down Turnover

Foster internal mobility with career pathing, stay interviews

A man and woman sitting at a desk in an office.

When HR implements a comprehensive internal mobility strategy focused on employees' career growth and development, costly turnover decreases significantly, talent management experts say.

Many employers say they prefer advancing internal candidates, but high turnover and a lack of strategic workforce planning instead have organizations reactively turning to external applicants to fill open positions, according to a 2016 survey commissioned by the ADP Research Institute.

Seventy-five percent of companies surveyed expect to see high turnover over the next three years, and 76 percent say the market for skilled workers will continue to tighten.

"Turnover is a big issue for many companies," said Linda Ginac, CEO of talent management software firm TalentGuard, based in Austin, Texas. "But if employees are engaged in their role and have the opportunity to be exposed to new roles, whether through job sharing or project work, turnover is much [reduced]."

An internal career mobility program helps employees visualize their career growth within the company, develops employees' skills to create a steady source of qualified talent, and sets up a skills assessment and development infrastructure.

"It's important not only for the company and its bottom line but also to show employees that the ability to make upward or lateral career moves exists," said Andee Harris, chief engagement officer at HighGround, an HR cloud platform provider based in Chicago. "People want the option to grow with the company."

Helping Employees Chart Career Paths

Whether employees aspire to a specific role or are targeted by management as high-potentials, effective career pathing impacts talent acquisition, employer brand and the employee value proposition.

Ginac outlined the following steps necessary to build a formal career pathing program:

Define the development culture. Employers will first have to determine what types of career moves they want to support—upward, lateral or both—and whether the existing performance management system will need an overhaul.

HR will also need to survey the perceptions of the development culture early on. Are there opportunities for advancement? Or is the overall perception that the company primarily hires externally?

Employee engagement surveys and platform tools like sift are a great way to gather the inputs of employees.

"Organizations with a strong development culture share two things," Ginac said. "The ability to move between job roles and teams with not a lot of complexity and the availability of extensive training programs. It can't just be lip service. There must be a clear path that is seen by employees."

Assess organization readiness. Ginac explained that career pathing requires an extensive data model in order to be effective. "HR must have standardized data sets so employees can compare themselves in an objective way."

Job families and job roles should be reviewed and integrated with a job competency model "so we know which competencies impact which job family and how those competencies spread across individual roles," she said. "If you have a complete and effective job role profile, it should show specific expectations required for the job, demonstrate what work is required for each level and provide the ability for employees to assess themselves relative to expectations."

Build progression paths. Once data models have been established and roles can be compared using competencies, HR can build out progression paths, with feeder roles offering paths to next roles.

Set guidelines and policies. These are needed to streamline how many internal moves can be made at any one time and to minimize high mobility turnover rates, Ginac explained. For example:

  • How much time must be spent in a current role before an employee can move to a new role?
  • Should all available positions be posted first for internal candidates?
  • Is a manager's approval required for a transfer?
  • Should an employee with a poor performance record be eligible for a career move?
  • How are internal moves communicated?

Bring career pathing to life. HR should work with marketing and communications to communicate the initiative organizationwide, through multiple channels, webinars, town halls and e-mail campaigns. "Employees will also need support in mapping out their journeys," Ginac said. Help employees find potential opportunities, compare their skills to future roles, and identify skills gaps and resources to help close those gaps.

"We can't have a formal program without managers being educated and trained on how to be effective career coaches," she said. "They need to be able to create career pathing plans with employees, understand the concept of a career lattice [for lateral moves instead of only upward moves] to foster growth, be able to understand skills gaps and how to close them through development and learning, and monitor employee development plans and provide feedback."

Institute Stay Interviews

Stay interviews are another underutilized method to gauge and support employees' career growth. Instead of waiting until a quality worker has already accepted another offer elsewhere, managers should conduct regular check-ins to understand how their direct reports feel about their career goals and what obstacles may be in the way.

[SHRM members-only Q&A: Conducting Stay Interviews]

Stay interviews can cut turnover rates by more than 20 percent, according to Dick Finnegan, CEO of C-Suite Analytics and author of The Power of Stay Interviews for Engagement and Retention (SHRM, 2012).

"Managers can help coach employees forward and try to understand where they see themselves longer term with the company," Harris said. "People are constantly changing their priorities and goals, and if you are not having regular conversations with them and getting feedback, there will be a disconnect."

Key questions to ask employees include:

  • What do you aspire to do?
  • What are you passionate about?
  • What is missing from your current role?

Some of the biggest potential problems with conducting stay interviews are managing employee expectations, either party focusing on the past or the negative, and managers not addressing employee feedback.

Employees must understand that the stay interview is not the time to ask for a raise, Harris said.

"Make sure that you separate pay from performance. Focus on the employee's career and what can be done to help them grow, instead of negative things that may have happened in the past."

She recommended structuring stay interviews as quarterly sessions focused on different areas so that they won't get stale or repetitive. For example, the chat could be about career aspirations and goals in the first quarter, professional development in the second quarter, and changes to the role in the third quarter, with the annual performance review wrapping up the process at year-end.

Managers should take action to address what has been said during the sessions. "There is nothing worse than an employee telling you how they feel and then HR and the manager do nothing about it. That will do more to hurt retention than help," Harris said.


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