How to create 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.

What is a career progression framework? Why should we implement career progression frameworks at our company?

Career progression is extremely important to both companies and their staff. Most employees appreciate being given opportunities to learn and grow — that’s why career development is the second most important driver of employee engagement.

On the other hand, if employees are allowed to “stagnate” at a company, they’re much more likely to leave. In fact, career growth opportunities rank number one (61%) on the list of most important factors when looking for a new job, surpassing even compensation (57%).

Your people want to advance their career, and if their current position doesn’t offer opportunities to do so, they may look elsewhere. This is a problem for employers, since replacing employees is expensive. Between training costs, lost productivity, and recruiting expenses, some estimate that replacing a departing employee may cost up to twice the employee’s annual salary! 

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, since this can help eliminate bias in promotions and allow your people to know what they need to do to get to the next level. Keep in mind that, once a company has grown beyond a certain point, promoting people informally or at random can easily lead to confusion and resentment.

However, creating an effective 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. 😉

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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 the needs of your company.

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 at any time.

  • Involve your team leads closely in the process of 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:

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’re hoping to achieve with our new career progression framework?

    (these can be employee motivation; 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 in this way, you’ll raise your odds of lasting success. This is key, since creating a career progression framework is a time-consuming endeavor. 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

Next, 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 its own 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 the way their role works.

5. Decide 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 > head >  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 and significant. 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 job titles that are motivating and accurately reflect the position they describe. When developing your job titles, consider both your internal culture and industry standards. Remember that job titles must be clearly understood by both external parties (clients, external partners, etc.) and internal stakeholders.

You may want to 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.”

The reason for this is that you may have high-performing employees who want to develop and perfect their individual 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 competencies to move from one level to the next

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. When developing your competencies, we recommend following the MECE principle (mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive). 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 exactly the same for every employee, as some may advance early and others may need more time to develop. However, you should have a ballpark timeline in mind to avoid employee stagnation.

“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. Decide on compensation bands for each role

Next, 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 take market rates into account 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

Finally, 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 to make sure 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, 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, 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 and share it with my team?

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. You can also integrate the career progression framework with other processes in your company, such as feedback, performance reviews, and goals/OKRs. This will help you stay organized, and ensure your career progression framework is being applied consistently.

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