How important are internal mobility & career pathing?

I could see the buzz from my window on the 33rd floor. There were multiple ambulances, local news, the works. Moments later I received a call that that one of our employees had attempted suicide. By all accounts after receiving a phone call which left the employee inconsolable, she rose from her desk, took the elevator downstairs, walked across the street and jumped off a nearby bridge into the river beneath. Thankfully, she survived. The reason she provided to her rescuers – “I didn’t get the promotion, again.”

This employee certainly had other issues beyond a stagnating career but it got me thinking… Could a career pathing fail be the last straw for an employee who is on the edge?

What Is Career Pathing?

Career pathing is the process of creating an action plan for an employee to follow that best supports career development within, and sometimes beyond, the organization of their employment. This process is most successful when it involves Human Resources, the employee’s direct supervisor, other potential managers within the organization and, of course, the employee. Career pathing focuses on identifying vertical and lateral opportunities for advancement or progression for an employee, as well as the skills and competencies necessary for success in each new role. When done properly, career pathing significantly improves employee engagement, contributing to a culture of engagement and a stable work environment.

Promoting this process among employees will benefit the organization by identifying skill gap shortages. It also provides detailed insight into various paths for advancement and ensures that opportunities for growth, learning, and personal fulfillment are accessible to each employee in an organization, from entry-level to upper management. With over 40% of the workforce looking for higher compensation, career advancement opportunities, or even work-life balance having a defined career pathing program – and a visible commitment to your employees to promote from within – keeps your high-potential employees committed to the organization.

[Dig deeper into internal mobility & other talent development topics at our May Talent Management Community Meeting

Does internal mobility build a progressive organization?

External hires are certainly made more frequently, however there are multiple benefits to promoting from within an organization. External candidates can indeed bring fresh ideas to the organization yet internal candidates are already steeped in the mission, product knowledge, culture and are likely familiar with or have performed some duties of the position that they seek. There is evidence that promoting from within is not only less costly than external hiring, but internally promoted employees are also better performing, more motivated and more engaged.

Ready to launch your own career pathing initiative or improve your internal mobility processes? Here are three things to help you build your case. 

Improve Employee Productivity

Evidence shows that disengaged employees cost employers 4 to 6 billion dollars in lost productivity each year. According to Gallup, implementation of an internal promotion or career pathing initiative has positively impacted employee engagement well beyond the average of 33% (in some instances, as high as 70%). When employee engagement rises, profitability and productivity will inevitability follow. The more engaged employees are, the fewer leaves are taken, fewer missed days, lower turnover costs – in other words – career pathing can have a profound impact on your employee productivity and your bottom line.

Increase Employee Retention

One of the most common reasons employees leave a job is a lack of career growth opportunities. Gone are the days where employees are content with working an eight-hour shift, receiving a paycheck, major medical, retirement fund and gold plated watch at the end of it all. Today’s workforce is made up of evolved Baby Boomers, Millennials, and overachieving types that would just as soon build a spreadsheet on a mobile phone from a coffee shop than sit behind a desk for an hour. They want personal and professional fulfillment – to learn and grow in a position that enables them to utilize their strengths. According to Gallup’s most recent State of the American Workplace Report, “Growth and Development are still at the top of an employee’s wish list.” If employees feel there are barriers to their progression within their current organization, they are likely to leave.

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Enhance Succession Planning and Longevity

Consider tasking your leaders with identifying and coaching high potential employees across a variety of roles and departments to take over key positions as a part of their standard work. Invest! Evaluate your employees to identify those with the greatest potential to advance within the organization. Once you have identified those with high potential, you can then offer them the appropriate training and development necessary to set them up for success. This enables the organization to move high potential employees into key positions efficiently with as little downtime as possible.

Empowered and engaged employees are essential to the long-term success of an organization. Building an effective career pathing program, if done properly, will prove to be one of your greatest investments of resources.


Picture of William Wiggins

William Wiggins

William has held consulting and strategic HR roles at Mercer Human Resources Consulting, Kaiser Permanente, and Williams-Sonoma. He is an industry leader when it comes to building strong collaborative HR partnerships and leadership teams that focus on staff engagement, retention, career development, and staff recognition programs. William’s training curriculum includes Crucial Conversations, Emotional Intelligence in the Workplace, and EEOC 101.

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