Doreen Coles                         

In Part 1 of this two-part series, ADP’s senior director of career growth and development analyzes the tried-and-true ladder and lattice approaches to career pathing and suggests involving additional dimension — depth. The idea is that when employees can deepen their particular expertise, they can leverage it to grow, develop and advance in new ways.

Read more about how “career leveraging” and expanding talent within a role can prevent losing employees to career transitions in Part 2 of the series.

The direction and shape of career paths have been evolving in the past few decades. A common perspective used to be that employees would aim to move up the corporate ladder as far as they could go and stay there or risk starting again somewhere else on a lower rung.

This vertical-only means of professional growth has since transitioned to moving across the corporate lattice. With this concept, career movement possibilities have expanded to include moving laterally and diagonally as employees zigzag through a company’s matrix of roles and amass a variety of skills, knowledge and experience.

But the lattice, while beneficial in many ways, may not be the last word for how to best approach professional development. We have an opportunity to enter an evolutionary stage that adds another dimension of movement — depth — for conceptualizing a successful career path. This new mindset can be thought of as “career leverage.”

Why we need a leverage career path

During more than eight years working in career growth and development at ADP, I’ve witnessed the ladder expand and the lattice take over. These career progression paradigms have their benefits, but one key problem is that they tend to mean the employee has to leave their role to advance. In most business environments, specialized talent and organizational knowledge are highly valued. It seems worthwhile then to have an option for career progress that’s measured not only by distance and direction but by mass and volume.

The description I find apt for this is leverage. Employees can be empowered to expand or deepen their area of expertise and then leverage this dimensional knowledge for the benefit of the organization without necessarily requiring them to move up, down, around or even out. When an employee’s career growth allows for amassing expertise, an organization can have the potential to gain greater work quality, increased innovation and stronger collaboration around that employee and their team. All of these factors and more can lead to better results and higher productivity across the enterprise.

The art of leverage: Helping employees branch out

To fully embrace leveraging, you have to believe that career growth is more than just directional movement. Current approaches tend to encourage employees to grow mainly by going outside their roles, whether by promoting them or latticing them elsewhere. While those are important choices to continue to maintain as options, we can also encourage an employee to grow within their current role by branching out.

Helping an employee create offshoots of their role might involve giving them:

  • A new task outside their comfort zone focused on boosting a specific skill
  • Short-term collaborations with other parts of the business to solve a common problem together
  • Stretch assignments where they share their strengths with other teams or take on learning about the business from a different perspective
  • Additional responsibilities, assignments or projects designed to incorporate their interests and strengths

Leveraging allows HR teams to enable and reward a variety of growth beyond the linear kinds we’re used to. You get the chance to recognize an employee’s value in the organization before they move on or make a career change.

What could leveraging mean for the future of work?

Career leveraging offers organizations the opportunity to better align an employee’s individual growth with positive, beneficial organizational outcomes. Consider this: Most if not all workers want their work to be meaningful and rewarding, but not all workers want to change jobs.

When you provide opportunities for leveraged career growth, people may become more personally invested in the company and be content to stay with you for a long time. This can mean saving on hiring costs simply by providing development opportunities and rewards through growth-building assignments and projects within the role instead of pushing the employee onward.

How a leveraged career path can resonate with employees

When HR leadership encourages creativity in employee development pathways, it shows that the company isn’t limited in how it supports employee growth. By presenting employees with options for advancement that diverge from merely moving up, over or out, you may find that they’re just as likely to pursue a deep immersion into what they’re doing so they can make a bigger contribution where they already are. Recognizing and rewarding this kind of leverageable growth can empower employees to branch out and discover professional value in evolving or inventing roles that ultimately also benefit the company.

Despite the vast potential of leveraging, however, it’s not a new approach to impose upon every employee. It’s about bringing dimensions to the ladder and lattice constructs by offering options of depth and expansion to an employee, who may build their best professional lives by using any or all of these career growth pathways.

Considerations for adopting the leverage paradigm

Linear ladder and lattice career paths aren’t defunct by any means. But they are showing signs of reaching their limits when it comes to unlocking the full potential of every employee within an organization. Companies would do well to think about making room for leveraged careers and creating systematic practices and processes that enable employees to grow in the way that’s best for them and the organization.

As you think about ways to innovate your approach to employee growth pathways, consider how talent management and activation tools from ADP can help recognize strengths, set goals and track performance.

This article originally appeared on SPARK powered by ADP.

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