How to develop a career progression framework

TL;DR: Career progression frameworks, also known as career path frameworks or career development frameworks, are a tool for mapping out the skills and qualities employees must have to advance to the next level of seniority. They can help business leaders improve engagement, lower bias, and increase efficiency by standardizing a key part of the employee experience.

To create an effective career progression framework, first evaluate what you already have in place. Then, map out an organized system for employee growth and align this with your existing teams.

There are many benefits to investing in employee development, for example employees who “stagnate” at a company are much more likely to leave. In fact, a lack of career growth opportunities ranks number one (1) on the list of the top factors leading to employee resignations, surpassing even low pay. The question is, how to effectively retain employees?

Your people want to advance their careers, and if their current position doesn’t offer growth opportunities, they may look elsewhere. And this is a problem for employers, too. Between training costs, lost productivity, and recruiting expenses, replacing a departing employee may cost up to twice their annual salary (2). 

That’s why, in this playbook, we’ll walk you through why you should develop a career progression framework at your company, along with eight steps you can take to implement it successfully.

  1. CareerAddict, 2020
  2. Gallup, 2019

What is a career progression framework?

A career progression framework (or career development framework) defines roles and responsibilities within a company and maps out the positions team members can progress into. The framework also gives employees an overview of the skills and performance required to achieve a promotion and can be used to define employee development programs.

Most employees appreciate opportunities to learn and grow — that’s why career development is the second most important driver of employee engagement. They also provide leaders with a basis to accurately evaluate their team members during career development talks, feedback, and performance reviews. 

🤔 Want to learn more about career progression frameworks and how you can implement one within your organization? Check out our free, downloadable career progression framework template to get started!

Why should we implement career progression frameworks at our company?

Offering employees opportunities to progress will encourage them to stay, motivating them to learn new skills and succeed in their current position. It’s a good idea to manage employee career advancement through a formalized framework; this can help eliminate bias when conducting compensation reviews or discussing promotions, and allows your people to know what they need to do to get to the next level.

Career progression frameworks also let you: 

  • Define competencies, skills, or company values to create transparency about career growth.

  • Set clear expectations and provide your employees with a roadmap toward the next level of seniority.

  • Give employees function and level-specific feedback by integrating competencies into reviews.
  • Provide managers and employees with a solid foundation they can use to deliver effective and targeted feedback.

But creating a solid career progression framework isn’t always easy. There’s a lot to think about: What type of framework should you use? How should you create the framework and present it to your team? From creating job titles to determining compensation, implementing a new career progression framework is a major project, but don’t panic — this playbook will walk you through the process.

Read on to learn more about how to develop a career progression framework that works for your organization — and make sure to download our best-practice career progression framework template. 😉

🚀 Give your employees opportunities to grow

Leapsome has everything you need to improve employee performance — from goals and objectives to learning paths and development frameworks.

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When to update a career progression framework

In general, you need to update your organization’s career progression framework if it’s no longer fair, equitable, or effective. For example, if, after auditing your corporate pipeline, you notice fewer women or BIPOC hold high-level positions within your company, that would be an opportunity to revise your career framework and establish a more unbiased promotion strategy. 

💡 According to Lean In’s 2022 Women in the Workplace survey, for every 100 men promoted from entry-level to managerial positions, only 87 women are promoted, and only 82 women of color are promoted. LGBTQ+ women and women with disabilities are also subjected to repeated “othering” microaggressions in the workplace. 

An inclusive career progression framework can help battle these biases and foster more diverse work experiences.

Additionally, you can conduct employee engagement surveys to evaluate your people’s perspectives on your current progression framework. Here are some questions you could include in your survey:

  • Does the career progression framework feel fair?

  • Does the career progression framework give you guidance on what you need to do to grow within our company?

  • Is the career progression framework flexible enough?

  • Does the career progression framework align with your personal career goals?

  • Do you receive enough actionable feedback from leadership on how to move through the career progression framework?

Consider conducting anonymous surveys to encourage more honest feedback from your employees. 

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Wann Sie dieses Playbook verwenden sollten

When to use
this playbook

This playbook is designed for executives and HR managers looking to create a career progression framework. This may mean building a framework from scratch, or updating your existing framework to better meet your company’s needs.

Many emerging companies start out without a formalized career progression framework and eventually find they’ve reached the stage where this would be necessary. If this sounds like you, consider prioritizing your larger departments first, then moving on to others as your teams grow.

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Was Sie für dieses Playbook benötigen

What you’ll need for
this playbook

A culture of growth and openness

The purpose of a career progression framework is to show employees how they can grow with your company and motivate them to keep improving their skills and performance.

But creating your new career progression framework is only half the challenge. You’ll also have to present it to your people. And this may involve changes in job titles or compensation.

To align the framework with your staff and their competencies, you’ll need to enlist the help of your managers. You can draw on their existing relationships and understanding of employee performance to help shape your strategy.

Hinweise & Tipps
  • Use Leapsome to create a clear, interactive roadmap for your career development and progression framework that your people can access anytime.

  • Involve your team leads closely in creating and implementing your career progression framework — they know your people best.

  • If you don’t know where to start with your career progression framework, don’t be afraid to look for outside help and consider what other companies are doing.

  • If you’re going to offer separate manager and individual contributor career paths, ensure these two paths are balanced.
  • Each should carry job titles/compensation that reflect an equivalent value to the company (a manager shouldn’t be more valued than a senior IC in the same department, for example).
  • The new framework should be presented to employees as a chance for further promotion and success within the company.
  • Never lower employees’ current compensation to align with your new framework (it might not even be legal depending on your region).

How to run this People Ops Playbook:

Wie Sie dieses People Ops Playbook durchführen:

Follow these eight steps to develop your own career progression framework, enabling employee development and growth at your organization.

A graphic illustration of 8 steps to develop your own career progression framework.
Establishing a career progression framework motivates your people and increases employee retention

1. Evaluate your current career progression framework

The first step is to evaluate your current career progression framework, if you have one. Perhaps you have a formalized series of levels that isn’t quite working for you. Or maybe you have an informal system where promotions are given out subjectively.

Ask yourself:

  • Why do we feel we need a new career progression framework?
  • What’s working and what isn’t with our current framework?
  • Do our employees know what it takes to advance in their careers within the company?
  • What needs to change?

2. Set goals for your new career progression framework

Next, it’s time to set goals for your new framework. You can benchmark against these goals to measure your success during the process.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the most important things we hope to achieve with our new career progression framework?

    (these can be employee enablement; greater objectivity; lower turnover; fairer compensation leveling)
  • How can we measure these metrics to ensure we’re achieving our goals?
  • What type of framework would best help us achieve these goals?

3. Put aside time and assign project ownership

After finishing up with the first two steps, it’s time to formally commit to the project. This means putting aside time, setting clear deadlines, and assigning one or more project owners.

By planning for the project this way, you’ll raise your odds of lasting success. This is key, since creating a career progression framework is time-consuming. Ideally, you’ll want to come out with a solid vision that will last.

4. Decide if you’ll have general or team-specific frameworks

You’ll need to decide whether to use the same general career progression framework for all your teams or create a separate framework for each team.

Of course, each team has specific job requirements, so some companies may prefer to use several different frameworks. However, there are advantages to using a standardized framework across the board: You’ll streamline the process, save time, and align expectations for everyone.

Even if using one central framework as a template, you can adjust each team’s framework slightly to reflect how their role works.

5. Choose how your “levels” will work

The next step is to decide how many levels your framework should have. Will you stick closely to a standard structure for non-IC teams (Junior > Mid-Level >  Senior > Team Lead > Director > VP)? Or will you have more or fewer levels in your hierarchy?

There are several factors to take into account here. Adding more levels offers employees room to grow and develop. But this only applies if each level truly feels meaningful. If moving from one job title to another seems purely symbolic, employees will be less motivated to advance. Try to balance the number of levels with the expectations for each role.

Along the same lines, you should create motivating job titles that accurately reflect the position they describe. When developing your job titles, consider your internal culture and industry standards. Remember that job titles must be clearly understood by external parties (clients, external partners, etc.) and internal stakeholders.

You may consider offering separate tracks for people managers and individual contributors in your company. This means, for example, that an “Associate Consultant” in sales could choose whether they wanted to advance to “Consultant” or “Sales Team Lead.”

This is because you may have high-performing employees who want to develop and perfect their skills but don’t necessarily thrive in a people management position. These employees are just as crucial to your success as managers, and they should have the opportunity to advance without being placed in a position they’re ill-suited for.

6. Decide on the competencies people need to reach to move to the next level

Once you’ve sketched out a set of levels for your career progression framework, you’ll need to determine the competencies employees must meet to move on to the next level.

We recommend following the MECE principle (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive) when developing your competencies. This means the competencies you choose should cover all possible skills needed for the job, without overlapping or being too similar.

If you’re creating a standardized framework for all your teams, you’ll want to focus less on job-specific competencies, and more on overarching expectations for achievement and skills. Although you can flesh this out with some job-related competencies later on, don’t add too many hyper-specific ones. Ensure the competencies you select are truly relevant to the role.

During this process, you may want to decide on an average amount of time that should be expected to pass before moving to the next level. This doesn’t have to be the same for every employee, as some may advance early and others may need more time to develop. However, to avoid employee stagnation, you should have a ballpark timeline in mind.

“Try to move [your career progression framework] from being this horrendous check-box exercise where you’re like, This person must fulfill every skill before they get a promotion, to this point where it’s a foundational document. And it forms the foundation for having great conversations between managers and their teams.”

— Matt Bradburn, co-founder of The People Collective, sharing insights on the People Over Perks podcast

7. Establish compensation bands for each role

It’s time to wrap up your career progression framework by assigning compensation to each role.

Compensation may differ widely between companies in the same industry, depending on organizational structure and size. However, you’ll want to consider market rates when setting compensation.

You may also want to consider factors like employee location and performance. Try to keep compensation brackets standardized to avoid bias, while adding an upper and lower limit within each level for some flexibility.

“There are so many ways to build your broader compensation plans and philosophy. You’re seeing this even more with everyone being remote right now.

‘Do we tie [compensation] to a city? Do we tie it to levels? Do we tie it to skills? What kind of rates do we want to pay within a certain market...’

When you’re working through these problems, it can be really helpful to think about not just the benchmarks themselves, but how you’re actually going to apply them and what this means for your teams.”

— Matt Bradburn, co-founder of The People Collective

8. Roll out your career progression framework

Once you’ve hashed out the details of your career progression framework, it’s time to roll it out to your teams. This process can be complicated, since you’ll need to decide how your current employees fit into the framework. This is where you’ll want to enlist the help of managers to ensure each employee is accurately assessed.

When introducing your employees and managers to the framework, make sure they understand the reasons for developing it, why it’s being rolled out, and how it will work. The initial announcement can happen in an all-hands meeting or via a company-wide memo, which can then be followed up with individual 1:1 meetings to discuss specifics.

The key here is ensuring the framework is explained properly to everyone and changes to compensation or job titles are accurate and fair.

Follow-up best practices for career progression frameworks

Use the career progression framework to streamline your hiring process

Once the framework is rolled out to your existing employees, use it to shape your future hiring and recruitment process. The framework should make it easier for you to create job descriptions that accurately reflect the requirements of each role.

Make the career progression framework part of your culture

You should now start weaving your career progression framework into every part of the employee experience: weekly 1:1s, performance reviews, employee promotion practices, and goals/OKRs. Don’t just create your framework and then forget about it.

After the initial rollout, you’ll want to leave opportunities for both managers and employees to give feedback on the framework. This will help you understand what’s working and what’s not, and follow up accordingly. Consider sending out a one-time survey to gather people’s opinions.

⭐️ Development-focused performance reviews go hand in hand with career progression frameworks and are key for helping your people grow. And we’ve got tons of resources to support you!

Make sure to read our playbooks on running 360° performance reviews and leadership reviews, and download our free template with best-practice questions for performance reviews. 😉

Set up your career progression framework with Leapsome

Leapsome is the only platform that closes the loop between performance management, goal setting, employee engagement, and learning. 

To create a development framework, you need clearly defined roles and skill requirements. Watch this video to learn how to set this up with Leapsome.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How can I visualize a career progression framework?

With Leapsome, creating a custom career progression framework is easy. You can define key competencies and present them on a skills matrix, with unique descriptions for each skill level.

How should my career path framework shape training?

Integrate the career progression framework with other processes in your company, such as performance reviews, goals and OKRs, and promotion management. This will help you stay organized, and ensure your career progression framework is applied consistently. Evaluating employee performance based on the skill requirements in the career progression framework helps you identify strengths and specific areas for improvement.

What is a career pathway example?

A standard career pathway model could look something like this: Junior > Mid-Level >  Senior > Team Lead > Director > VP. However, depending on the culture of your organization, you might want to implement fewer or more levels of hierarchy. 

Download our career progression framework template to help you define your company’s levels and skill requirements.

How do you measure career progression?

You can measure career progression by mapping out professional pathways and associated competencies within a development framework. A formalized career progression framework increases organizational transparency and helps eliminate bias when conducting compensation reviews or discussing promotions.

Leapsome’s skills matrix can help you do that. Once you’ve defined the competencies your employees need to meet to move onto the next level, you can track their progress on the matrix and support them with their development.

How do you use a career progression framework?

The aim of a career progression framework is to encourage transparency and show employees
how they can grow with your organization and improve their skills and performance. To use a development framework effectively: 

  1. Create a culture of growth and openness with the help of your managers.
  2. Dedicate time to evaluate, plan, and make decisions about your current career progression framework.

  3. Set goals for your new progression framework.

  4. Put aside time and assign project leadership.

  5. Decide how many levels your framework should have, such as Junior, Team Lead, and VP.

  6. Make a decision on the competencies people need to reach to move from one level to the next.

  7. Establish compensation bands for each role.

  8. Roll out the framework with the wellness and growth of your current employees in mind. 

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