Employee Development

Everything You Need to Know About Career Pathways

Looking to use employee career pathways to boost retention? With frequently-asked questions, our guide to career pathway planning is the perfect place to start!

We've seen some really interesting research on the potential benefits of employee career pathways this year, but how big of an impact does an employee's career pathway actually have on their performance and their likelihood to stay? This is precisely what we're exploring today, with our easy guide to career pathways.

We’ve written a useful overview of this relatively new career development tool, which is set to become a huge hit among high-performing teams in 2023. We'll illustrate the benefits of career pathways and discuss some best practices for leaders who are interested in reaping the benefits.

So let’s dive in!

What is a Career Pathway?

Simply put, a career pathway is a roadmap for an employee’s career progression within their company. It shows their roles in the organisation so far, their current role, and the roles they hope to hold in the future.

Career pathways can also show milestones that the employee should hit on the path to their next role, for example, earning a qualification or completing a series of coaching sessions.

The goal of career pathways is to give everyone in the organisation visibility of employee career journeys. For employees, this provides clear direction on where their career is going and how they’ll get there. For managers and leaders, this helps with strategic planning by allowing them to forecast which employees will fill which roles in the future.

What are Some Examples of Career Pathways?

In its simplest form, a career pathway may look something like this:

Business development representative > Sales development representative > Sales team lead > Head of new business development > VP Sales > Head of Partnerships

UX Designer > UX Lead Researcher > Fullstack Developer > Windows Phone Developer > Engineering Manager

Content Writer > Community Manager > Marketing Analyst > VP of Marketing

What are the Benefits of Career Pathways?

1. They can significantly reduce turnover.

All the latest research shows that lack of career development is the no.1 reason why employees are leaving their jobs (1, 2).

Career pathways, particularly digitised, employee-led pathways are a great way to show your people that you’re invested in their career progression and can offer them a bright future at your company.

This is a relatively new area for researchers, but one report showed that career pathways have significantly reduced turnover in some healthcare organisations (3).

2. They help you retain employees who are likely to leave.

A report from The Josh Bersin Company shows that 45% of employees who changed jobs during the pandemic moved industries (4), suggesting that some of the people on your teams are probably looking for a different kind of challenge at work.

Of course, it’s not always possible to meet the career goals of an employee like this, but facilitating non-linear moves via career pathways, for example a move from Sales to Marketing, has huge potential - it could mean the difference between keeping or losing that key team member.

3. They help you get the best from employees who are likely to leave.

Sometimes, our people have to leave us. Maybe they’re planning a major career change, or hoping to leave the workforce entirely. Career pathways can help you get the best outcomes from these employees while they’re still working with you.

Say, for example, your Sales Team Lead hopes to eventually leave the tech industry altogether and open a coffee shop. If you can help them build transferable skills and lead them towards roles that are relevant to these skills (in this case, leadership, accounting, communications and time management,) they’re likely to be more engaged and better prepared to excel while they’re still on your team.

4. They help leadership teams with strategic planning.

When a leadership team sits down to write a business plan for the following couple of years, there’s often some uncertainty around how they’ll scale their teams.

Career pathways can help answer questions like, “Who is going to lead this team?” and “Will we have the right people to execute this plan?”

5. They’re a low-cost career development tool.

The costs associated with career development can be quite substantial if you’re looking to fund education, and bring in external career coaches.

These are great initiatives to include in a wide-ranging career development program, but if you’re just getting started, career pathways are a relatively low-cost way to invest in your people. The costs largely relate to employee time, which career pathways software can help you minimise.

6. They support the development of new skills.

Career development conversations between employees and managers are certainly important, but they don’t always result in concrete plans with clear action points and deadlines.

Employee career pathways force employees and managers to set down clear steps that will help the employee reach their next career milestone. This means they do a great job of encouraging skill development, be it through on-the-job experience, external training or coaching and mentoring.

7. They give employees ownership of their career progression

When career pathways are managed correctly, with employees and managers working together to design employee-led pathways, they give people a really valuable level of autonomy.

Autonomous employees are good for business, too - research shows that autonomous employees are more highly engaged at work (5).

8. Digital career pathways can reduce biases associated with hybrid and remote work

Research shows that remote employees struggle more with career development, with many leaders exhibiting proximity bias, valuing the contributions of in-office employees over remote team members. In one survey, 21% of employees said they felt remote working negatively impacted their career development (6).

With career pathways software like Frankli’s Careers tool, employees get equal opportunities to build inspiring career pathways, regardless of where they work.

career pathways, career pathway

Frankli's digital tools help you build people-centric career pathways and internal coaching and mentoring programs.

How do you Implement Career Pathways? 

There are two main ways to manage career pathways across your organisation:

Spreadsheets can work well when you’re just starting out or you’ve got a really small team, but for organisations with more than 50 employees, we highly recommend investing in a dedicated career pathways tool like the one you’ll find in Frankli.

Alongside performance tools like Goals, 1:1 Meetings and Surveys, Frankli’s Careers space aligns employees and managers to create individual career paths with clear steps.

This helps employees understand exactly where they’re going and how to get there, and prompts managers to provide them with sufficient support. You can even manage role applications and promotions through the system.

What are the Best Practices for Career Pathways? 

  • Ensure career pathways are employee-led. Nobody wants to have a career move forced upon them. In order for pathways to have a positive impact on retention, engagement and performance, you need to give employees ownership of their own career progression and make creating pathways a collaborative effort.

  • Invest in career pathways software. This will not only save your people time in career planning, but provide optimum visibility for employees, managers and leaders.

  • Streamline the application process. Using software like Frankli to create an internal talent marketplace and manage promotions can be a huge time-saver, particularly for larger organisations, and encourages employees to take charge of their career progression.

  • Facilitate non-linear pathways, if possible. This is more realistic for larger organisations, but if you can support employees to move to roles in other departments or areas of expertise, this can yield huge benefits in terms of employee retention.

  • Ensure career development conversations are happening regularly. Designing and setting a pathway is just one part of the puzzle. It’s also important that managers hold a couple of dedicated career-focused conversations with their direct reports each year, so they can flesh out employee career goals and support them in their next steps.

  • Support managers to become career coaches. Career pathways require managers to be invested in their team members’ career development and help them do whatever it takes to qualify for their next role. This can involve direct coaching but it can also mean liaising with HR and leadership to secure the right external supports. Consider providing manager training and be sure to communicate clearly and often with your managers.

  • Set up an internal coaching and mentoring program. A program that connects teammates for coaching and mentoring is a low-cost career development initiative that intersects really well with pathways. As well as helping with employee skill development and knowledge sharing, these programs offer a whole host of benefits for coaches and mentors too.


1. McKinsey, The Great Attrition is making hiring harder. Are you searching the right talent pools? 2. Robert Walters, Lack of career progression is the main reason professionals leave a role. 3. The Josh Bersin Company, The Future of Careers in Healthcare. 4. The Josh Bersin Company, Career Pathways: Building Tomorrow’s Workforce Today. 5. HR Analytics: Autonomy data infographic & fact sheet. 6. Bamboo HR, Covid-19 & Careers: The Effect of the Pandemic on Career Progression.

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