Building a Strong Career Structure: Tips for Success

Staff progress is a big part of keeping a happy and motivated workforce. While some employees are satisfied with the day-to-day of doing their job, the vast majority want a sense of where their career is going – a roadmap for their personal work progression.

In practical terms, this gives entrepreneurs an opportunity to shape staff progression plans and guide employees in the direction you need them to go in, whether through training or by clearly defining routes to promotion.

Get it right and it’s a win-win: your staff get the motivation and satisfaction they need to feel fulfilled in their role, while your business benefits from a workforce that is continually upskilling and naturally generating internal talent to fill more senior roles.

Why work progression is so important

Work progression is an essential part of a long-term career structure – and by allowing your employees to see where they’re going over the long term, you can improve retention rates and reduce distractions.

If people can’t look up, they’ll start to look out. Give your workforce clear progression opportunities and you can combat this before it has a chance to take hold and become toxic. This in turn gives you some breathing space to recruit the right team for your business.

The benefits of giving your team progression opportunities

Clear ways of progressing in your career are important to boost morale, especially in difficult times when the chance of future promotion can serve as a light at the end of the tunnel. My team at Stada Media work hard, but by giving them a career roadmap I try to make sure they feel appreciated, now and in the future.

They can see their roadmap plan

A career roadmap plan is an outline of where the individual is heading. This can include any training required, the schedule for future staff progress reports and the salary review process. Make it clear to your employees that you see their progress and will reward it in appropriate ways.

They are more likely to stay at your business

The prospect of a pay rise or promotion has always been one of the best ways to retain staff, and that really hasn’t changed, although some employees now have more general ambitions about their professional development. Just make sure that you don’t make empty promises – don’t kick the can down the road when it comes to delivering on a promised promotion.

It can give a sense of purpose

With or without an official promotion, personal development gives people a sense of purpose and a feeling of growing their skill set. When this is aligned with growth of the business as a whole, it can also help to make employees feel closer to the core of the company.

Engagement and productivity will increase

Promotions and pay increases are the carrot on the end of the stick and can help to build some forward momentum. Again it’s not just about giving employees more money; the chance to train, to shadow a senior manager or to gain a completely new set of skills can all make individuals feel more engaged and motivated.

The disadvantages of your staff not having progression

Without a staff progression plan, you leave yourself at risk of many disadvantages. Some of the biggest that your business might encounter are:

Your staff turnover will be high

A lack of engagement leads employees to look elsewhere, where they might feel more valued. Talk to your workers, listen to their personal goals and ambitions, and write a career roadmap that helps them to move in the right direction.

Lower morale

Low morale can lead to poor performance, more mistakes, increased absenteeism and other problems in individuals. Essentially, a lack of employee morale is a lack of pride in their work. If work doesn’t feel ‘worth it’, employees will only put in as much effort as they think it IS worth.

There will be a toxic culture

When poor morale spreads through your workforce, you’re at risk of developing a toxic workplace culture. This can include junior employees cutting corners and hiding mistakes, an increased risk of bullying and harassment by managers, and a ‘race to the bottom’ as everybody tries to do less than their nearest colleague.

Work won’t be at its best

If you only offer adequate options for career progress, you’ll only get adequate effort from your employees. Engage with them on a staff progression plan that meets their needs, and your workers will pay you back with their best output.

How to properly outline a career structure

As an entrepreneur, it’s your job to outline your company’s career structure, rather than focus on individual staff progress plans (your MD and middle managers can do that).

Outline your existing company hierarchy and your plans for growth. Think about how many employees you can afford to have – and how many makes sense – at each level of management.

Think about the additional skills needed to move from one level to the next, as well as any lateral shifts that might make sense for employees in need of new challenges.

Engage with your managers at all levels to find out what they and their teams want, and if their personal goals align with those of your business, you can structure your career progression roadmap around them.

Should salary reviews be included in staff progression plans?

Promotions often (although not always) include a salary review or fixed pay rise, and it makes sense to define pay brackets for each level of management. But it can be useful to keep the salary review process separate from staff progression plans, to give you the flexibility to use pay rises as a completely separate incentive from training or promotion.

I talk about how to decide how much to pay staff in The Diary of an Entrepreneur S3 E16, part of my behind-the-scenes video and podcast series for entrepreneurs.

How investing in your staff can transform your business

When it comes down to it, investing in your staff is investing in your business. Human capital is an asset and you should treat it as such, while remembering that it is, uniquely, an asset that can walk out and work for one of your competitors with very little warning.

By supporting staff in their personal career ambitions, you can prevent a toxic culture and build a productive, optimistic workplace where people support one another. Hold regular progress reviews and make sure everybody has ambition, and your company will thrive.

Closing thoughts

I care a lot about finding the right people to work for my company, and about giving my team the support they need to exceed expectations. We hold regular group meetings so everybody’s on the same page and to hear any concerns. As I target record-breaking revenues in 2023, I know that it’s my workforce who will help me to deliver MY goals.

To talk about anything I’ve raised in this article, please contact me and I’ll be happy to discuss the themes in more detail.