Building Your Department’s Career Ladder

By: First Union


Building Your Department’s Career Ladder

How do I build a career ladder for my department? How can my business benefit from building a career ladder? What should I consider when building my department’s career ladder?

Every type of organization benefits from having a career ladder in each department. This process is formal and raises the bar for staff, allowing them to achieve high levels of salary, responsibility, or authority. A career ladder will help each employee understand how they can grow within their careers, as well as provide guidance on how to get there, whether it be through developing new skills or refining the ones they already have. Creating a career ladder helps equip managers to be objective, maintain consistent decisions regarding job offers, performance reviews, promotions, and raises. It can eliminate confusion and added stress in the workplace because with targeted goals and set guidelines. Everyone in the organization can have a clear understanding of expectations other than what is written out in a job description.

Without career ladders, the department would suffer because it could potentially increase turnover, reduce productivity, reduce staff versatility, and decrease job enrichment. Career ladders promote professional development and growth and portray how each position in the organization is related and the importance of each position. During the hiring process, a career ladder shows potential candidates and employees how they can achieve an increase in pay, get promoted to the next level of the career ladder, and build their professional development skills. Each employee will have different goals and expectations within their career. It’s important to build a career ladder for those who are ambitious, and for those who are content with their current roles.

This process is definitely beneficial to your organization because you will be able to identify the path for employees who should be groomed for growth in a specific role and help them improve their skill set.

What Is a Career Ladder

For each role, a career ladder outlines the job description, skills needed, expectations, impact on the organization, work experience, education, and other requirements. A career ladder provides transparency, so your employees know how to reach their career goals, and managers know when they have achieved those goals. During a busy and stressful time, a career path can contribute to staff retention. Employees that experience a higher level of stress can refer back to the career ladder to see if there is potentially more money, responsibility, or authority available in the future. If they decide to stay because there is room for growth, they know what they need to accomplish going forward in their careers which aligns with your organization's goals and values.

Another thing to consider with your career ladder is being flexible with certain requirements. If you require an employee to have a master’s degree to get to the next level on the career ladder, you may be limiting the potential of other employees. For example, rather than requiring higher education, allow opportunity for someone who has been in the role for a certain period of time to where they can be considered an expert in what they do. If you do require higher education, consider offering employee reimbursement.

By offering your employees direction, they feel a sense of relief and support. You may also want to consider offering on-site educational opportunities. This prevents your employees from spending extra time and money on classes outside of the organization and they can complete the classes during the work hours.

As a department head, make sure you monitor the amount of education each employee engages in, so when their performance review hits. This way, you can acknowledge their continued effort to bettering themselves in their field. Also, continued education doesn’t necessarily have to be a class; consider creating internal monthly meetings within your department to learn new software or collaborate on ideas, so everyone is given the same opportunities if they wish to engage.

Motivate Employees

Having these options creates a stimulating environment and employees feel their organization is investing in them. Staff will stay motivated and will want to go into work each day knowing they can learn something new and move up. This also increases trust among employees because there is room for growth. Career ladders are tools you can access when making a decision on who is a good fit for a project and if that person can handle more tasks. Those who are senior-level in their career will be given more complex and difficult projects than employees at mid-level and entry-level. This is also a good opportunity to have those at a senior-level train those at mid- or entry-level, promoting departmental collaboration and career growth for both employees.

Having a career ladder increases motivation for those at the lower level because they are learning something new outside of their everyday role while seeing the opportunities that could arise in the future based on the senior-level coaching. When you use senior-level employees as mentors, you create a comfortable and open environment where your lower-level employees can ask questions and gain insight on how to move up without the stress of working with their boss. Keep in mind that not every senior-level employee is willing to act as a mentor, so choose wisely.

Encourage Employees to Climb the Ladder

Offering incentives is a great way to encourage your employees. An incentive can be an item, desired action, or event that prompts an employee to do more of what was originally asked by the employer. Some incentives include raises, certifications, or thanking employees for a job well done. Rewards such as gift certifications, and appreciation incentives like planning a staff party, free lunch, or games are a great idea. Other ideas include birthday celebrations, sporting events, or team building activities like a pasta making class or paint class.

Recognizing your employees can be as simple as a handwritten note or announcing an accomplishment across the department - or the organization! Many organizations have staff appreciation day once a year which includes a company-sponsored meal, raffles, and group activities. Hosting these types of events at your organization excites staff and makes them feel they are part of something larger. Also, if your organization has many departments, this is a good networking opportunity and helps employees get to know others outside of their department. Getting to know different departments increases employees knowledge of the organization and makes them feel like they are part of something bigger because they will be able to put a name to a face when grabbing their morning cup of coffee.

Typically, the time period for creating a career ladder is six months. Take your time when creating a career ladder and remember there are many components to this process. Keep in mind the size of your organization, the culture, and goals you want to reach in the coming year. When going through the hiring process you may want to highlight this during an interview. Career ladders help you stay on track as a manager and you will now have an organized and meaningful resource to rely on.

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