How can business leaders retain staff at the top of the career ladder?

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The recruitment crisis is one of the greatest challenges facing companies nationwide at the moment.


Competition is fierce, and small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), in particular, have been struggling to attract new talent. With so many choices available for applicants, SME business leaders instead need to focus on staff retention strategies and step up their game to ensure their current team feels looked after and can see a future at their company.


Plus, hiring new staff is not a cheap venture. On average, replacing an employee can cost anywhere between six to nine months’ salary — meaning promoting from within can save your business time and money in the long run.


So, what’s the best way to empower your team members and prevent top performers from walking out the door towards a better offer? A robust career ladder…


5 steps to building your career development framework


Employees look for opportunities to learn and grow — that’s why career development is so crucial for employee engagement and staff retention.


A career development framework defines the roles and responsibilities within a company, mapping out the positions your team members can progress into. Through the framework, employees gain a detailed overview of the steps required to reach the next level (and earn that coveted promotion), motivating them to learn new skills and encouraging them to stay within your company to grow and succeed in their roles.


But where to start?


1. Map out your team


First things first: create an internal organigram (think of it a bit like a business family tree) that cements your company’s overall employee structure and details each department’s hierarchy and roles.


Consider how new roles or merging teams could work effectively for your business and staff. Will it streamline your existing processes? Can you cut costs in some areas whilst boosting productivity and creating new job opportunities in others?


Every staff member should also have access to the organigram — allowing them to see the different areas of the business and where they want to move. After all, keeping your current staff is always better than filling new roles, even if it means moving to a different department within the business.


Show your staff they have room to grow by highlighting the two progression paths they can take: the expert or leadership path. A common misconception is that you must manage a team to progress — but this isn’t the case. Some roles will progress by taking on leadership responsibilities, whereas others will advance by becoming an expert in that area, so let your team know they have options.


2. Define the advancement of each role


Staff in any role should know what they can achieve at your company down the line…


So, having internal job specifications available for each role is vital to clearly define the expectations, responsibilities and requirements for every position at your company. These job specs can then be used as a benchmark and shared with staff during reviews and one-to-one sessions to show where they’re at currently and how to reach the next level.


It’s also a good idea to share the salary band across each level, department and location of your business to demonstrate pay transparency — one of the hottest topics in business today. Creating a culture of openness not only helps build trust with employees and boosts productivity, but it can be a great way to benchmark salaries against other companies in your industry and keep wages market competitive.


3. Create a culture of learning


Now that you’ve laid out what each role requires, it’s time to support your team with relevant training and mentoring to help them reach their goals and progress in their career.


If you have in-house training, make it available to every employee. If not, use online training platforms, such as LinkedIn Learning, Coursera and SharePoint, which allow employees to advance in their careers with various courses.


It’s important to actively encourage staff to seize these opportunities, allowing them to block out time in their workday to do the training rather than expecting them to take additional courses outside their working hours.


Advocating for them to attend virtual conferences during the week or participate in internal workshops can also expand their skills, enhance their talent and prevent skill gaps as staff move up the ranks or between departments.


4. Develop a career plan


It might seem like hefty work, but many frameworks are available to use as a template (from platforms like Learnerbly, Wondershare EdrawMax and Creately) that cover multiple perspectives of optimal career pathways.


Using these resources, ensure your development plan is set up to remain consistent across every department and team within the business. This means every employee at each level knows what’s expected of them — from experience, knowledge and skills to behaviour and values — without any contradictions.


Remember to account for staff who may want to move around the company internally, too. Not every employee will be after a promotion in their current role, so provide fresh opportunities for employees to grow and move horizontally across the company.


As career development frameworks are all about fairness, always make sure your team members have an opportunity to provide feedback before the plan is finalised as well. But don’t build your framework around individual members. Using standardised levels means matching your current employees to the framework — not vice versa.


5. Keep your communications open


Even change for the good can be tricky for teams to navigate. So, when you’re ready to roll out your career development plan, make sure you’re communicating with your staff, answering their questions and letting them know they’re valued at your organisation.


Let everyone know the main reasons for introducing a career development framework, how it will benefit them and how they’ll be encouraged to progress their careers within your business.


Retaining your staff and creating an environment for development is a key step to maintaining a happy, successful workplace — and it all starts with a comprehensive career development framework.


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