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How Rethinking Career Progression Can Help With Hiring and Retention

In a rapidly changing jobs market, employees are rethinking what they want from their careers. For employers, this makes hiring and retaining key talent an urgent priority, and spells the end of the one-size-fits-all career model.

In our recent report, The Talent Trap, we found that 83% of business leaders were concerned about talent leakage from their organization. In this new environment, businesses need to rethink the value they provide to their employees in order to stay competitive.

The broken talent journey

The last two years have thrown challenge after challenge at People teams, forcing most to act reactively in order to survive, leaving little time to consider the bigger picture.

Indeed, in our conversations with HR professionals for The Talent Trap, we found that 82% of business leaders felt that day-to-day issues prevented them from taking a long-term strategic approach to talent. As a result, the intensified competition for talent has driven down the quality of hires, with businesses compromising on experience to find new talent instead of helping their best people develop.

The limits of the linear approach to career progression

Businesses have traditionally taken a rigid approach to career progression – complete your goals and move up to the next rung on the ladder. But this approach has hit a wall.

“Over the past 20 years,” says Luke Fletcher, Associate Professor, University of Bath School of Management, on The Talent Blueprint podcast, “careers have fundamentally changed away from long-term careers that follow a linear progression and towards portfolio careers where people mix and match more, and where they may follow less traditional non-linear progression routes.”

But businesses have stuck with a linear approach, creating negative outcomes for both them and their employees.

Employees end up tied into one particular progression pathway, unable to acquire new skills outside of their immediate remit or shift into another department where they could add value. This means that, if they’re unhappy in their role, they often have little choice but to leave, even if it’s not their first choice. This is reflected in our research for our 2022 Talent Index: 54% of respondents admitted to regretting a previous decision to leave a company due to unfulfillment.

Meanwhile, employers don’t generally realize the full value of their employees – people leave before being able to achieve their true potential, lacking the opportunities or resources to learn new skills or move into a more fulfilling, and valuable, role.

The end result is less engaged teams, a less attractive value proposition for new joiners, and higher churn.

Moving from skills to values and mindset

In order to grow and retain talent, businesses need to take a more strategic, holistic view: what we call Talent Lifecycle Management.

To do this, talent teams need to move away from a rigid approach to recruitment based on roles and elaborate job descriptions, towards a more flexible approach based on skills and experience.

However, something can be lost when reducing the idea of talent down to “skills” alone. Our report found that 80% of business leaders are focused on skills more than mindset when hiring, but when asked which is the greater issue in their organization right now, 47% said mindset. So it also means developing a more capacious understanding of skills, incorporating values and mindset too.

By understanding talent at the level of skills and values and mindset, you can begin creating tailored learning and development pathways for each employee, helping individuals find their purpose and ideal roles, while also fulfilling the talent needs of the business in both the short and long term.

Skills-based hiring and training delivers multiple advantages, including:

  • Solving internal skills gaps by upskilling existing team members.
  • Saving budget by increasing, and making more effective use of, your existing talent rather than spending on new hires.
  • Providing more value to people during their time with your business by letting them learn new skills and try new roles.
  • Encouraging a more inclusive approach based on ability rather than time served, opening the door to a wider range of talent.
  • Aligning value with the demands of the next generation of talent looking for a sense of purpose from work.

Achieving this requires a shift in employment mindset, but also a clear, shared understanding of what skills are, which ones matter, and how to manage them across the organization.

The skills-based employee journey

When it comes to driving change, HR leaders have a clear role to play in helping employees to develop new skills and help them progress. Our research found that 53% of business leaders noted ‘identifying and filling skills gaps’ as a strategic necessity for HR.

Learning and development teams will be key in making this a reality. This requires creating career plans based around skills and development rather than set roles and hierarchy.

By getting teams to collaborate to understand internal skills gaps and uncover progression opportunities, you can create flexible progression pathways that allow each individual to grow in a way that benefits both them and your business. This should encompass not just shifts in department and role, but also employment type, such as moving to temporary or gig-based roles – whatever is the best fit for both individual and business.

Turning skills into data

Managing employee journeys at scale across your organization requires a holistic view of both the needs of the business and the skills available in your workforce.

This starts with clear taxonomies and measurement for capabilities. Standardizing definitions between managers, teams and departments enables a clear assessment of the skills available and creates an objective measuring system for individual capabilities.

Once defined, talent platforms such as Talent Insights can help you track and analyze the capabilities of your workforce, centralizing your talent data and measuring the skills that matter to reveal opportunities to help your people progress.

Building a path forward

The talent marketplace has been changing for years, but with the accelerating effect of the global pandemic, these shifts have become impossible to ignore. From career pathways to engagement, “business as usual” is no longer an option.

Our latest whitepaper, The Talent Trap, examines the key challenges that organizations are currently facing as they try to adapt to the new normal. Download the whitepaper to find out how you can plan ahead and build a long-term strategy that both grows your talent pool and retains the best of it.