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Career Mapping Offers a Clear Path for Both Employees and Employers

Career mapping, or career pathing, is a great way to increase employee retention and grow IT talent organically. Often times employees leave their jobs because there is no clear path for them to advance or they are not sure how to rise to the position they desire. Career mapping provides employees and employers with a clear roadmap that outlines what it takes for workers to get from their current position to where they want to be.

CIO.com interviewed industry professionals to find out how career mapping can add value to your company and keep your employees happy at the same time. It's not easy, warns Mickey Mantle co-author of the new book, "Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams," but it is worth the time and effort.

What Is Career Mapping/Pathing?

From an employer's perspective, career mapping is a way for companies to develop internally the skills needed to achieve future business goals and, along the way, it benefits the company in other ways as well. It shows employees how they can advance in any given organization. It offers clear criteria for advancement. "It's important for tech folks to have a vision of where they are going and what they need to do to get there. That's the essence of career mapping," says Mantle.

Consider it the lattice work of advancement that your company represents. For example, let's say you're new to a company and just starting out in tech support. To advance to shift supervisor, you need one year experience and to have participated successfully on one major project in your group. Things are rarely that cut and-dry in business, but with career mapping they are. It's a way for employees to define the necessary steps to get from job A to job B, and for employers it's a way to grow their own talent in-house. It will also give companies insight into where they have gaps in knowledge and talent.

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Career Map Components

What makes up a career map? According to Steve Hurst, regional manager for IT staffing company Randstad Technologies, "It's a combination of personality profiles, formal education requirements, leadership qualities and capabilities to fit with different positions and levels." Hurst has worked in IT and finance staffing for more than 20 years. Career mapping, he says, includes other items as well such as a skills analysis and a plan to bridge the talent gaps.

Below is an excerpt of some basic career maps from the book, "Managing the Unmanageable: Rules, Tools, and Insights for Managing Software People and Teams."

Organizations need to identify the core roles and levels within their organization and then set the criteria on what it takes to advance to these roles. A skills analysis is also necessary to see where you have gaps in your talent.

Pros and Cons of Career Mapping

Larger organizations tend to benefit the most from this method because there are simply more positions and places for people to move. For start-ups and smaller companies, it can be more of a challenge. "If you start off in an entrepreneurial atmosphere with little or no structure, it can be difficult to accomplish structure after the fact. Most people, however, want definition and structure," says Hurst.

It's not to say it can't be done, but companies then need to walk a fine line between overly processed methods and no structure at all; in both cases you run the risk of losing key personnel.

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That said, career mapping is possible in any size organization, Mantle says. "One of the most important aspects of this [career mapping] is to have clear levels within the organization for which there are objective criteria, so people can understand what to do to go from level to level within the organization. Without this clear set of criteria, it's almost impossible to successfully manage career paths." says Mantle. This, he notes, is key to get the process going within your company.

There are downsides, however. You could potentially lose good people. "It becomes incumbent on managers to help employees understand their career goals and some may not be attainable in your organization," says Mantle. The bottom-line is that sometimes for employees to grow professionally the position needed lies outside the company. Losing personnel isn't easy, but career mapping creates a pipeline of talent within your organization for you to draw upon when this happens.

Where to Start Your Map

There are different schools of thought on how to implement mapping. For example, Hurst says, "The best start for implementation is an overall, top-down mentality where the executive leadership believes in promoting from within." And others like Mantle say it's the role of a manger to take up this cause, although he cautions not to go it alone. Enlist the help of someone in your HR department. "Without a buy-in from HR, you're doomed to failure, "says Mantle.

Each employee should also build his/her own Career Map that includes the following:

Employee profile that list jobs and roles you have fulfilled (be specific).

An idea or goal position that includes positions within and outside of your company.

An analysis of your skills and a plan to bridge any skills gaps.

A network of professionals who you can work with and use for advice when necessary.

Mantle also recommends finding a mentor. "Finding a mentor can accelerate your own job satisfaction and career searches. They provide a sounding board for your career with no agenda but your success," says Mantle.

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For individuals, a new career mapping tool from Monster.com can help. It was still in beta at the time this article was written, but it can provide you with a basic framework.

Final Thoughts for Managers

Successful career mapping is not easy to achieve and living up to the expectations you've set can be difficult. "It takes effort; you've got to have the wherewithal to stand up to the criteria you've set. If someone fulfills it, you are going to promote them and pay them more," says Mantle. The payoff is a happier, more manageable, easier-to-retain workforce. It provides a win-win scenario for both employers and employees.

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