Everything you need to know about career frameworks

March 16, 2022

Do a quick google search for “how to get a promotion,” and you’ll see a list of suggestions like “be nice” or “make your boss’s job easier.” The absurd nature of this search result indicates how inaccessible career advancement is for many of us. In the following sections, I’m going to talk about how we can turn this around:

What is a career framework? 

I have shifted gears a couple of times in my career journey. When I look back, I see a constant pattern: the absence of career frameworks. A framework is a set of ideas, conditions, or assumptions that determine how something will be approached, perceived, or understood. A career framework is a roadmap for employee progression that outlines the competencies, skills, behaviors, and proficiency requirements to advance in each job level. Without a career framework, career progression is often shrouded by confusion. 

Who is impacted by career progression opacity?

At a previous role, quarterly surveys consistently showed that career progression rate and clarity were impacting employee engagement. 

The employees felt they didn’t understand why some people got promoted, and others didn’t and the criteria for performance evaluation. 

The managers complained that they didn’t have the correct answers for their team members who wanted to go to the next level and didn’t have enough tools to coach them through their options. 

The HR team worked hard to use all their levers to improve employee engagement, including coming up with rudimentary frameworks in spreadsheets or implementing manager training but was overwhelmed by turnover and the deteriorating employer brand. 

So, in a nutshell, the lack of transparency and structure for career progression impacted everyone at the company. 

Why are career frameworks important?

If people aren’t growing with you, they look for opportunities elsewhere. 

I’ve left companies because they lacked any structure or career growth planning, and I know I’m not alone in this. Research shows workers who stay longer in the same job without a title change are significantly more likely to leave for another company. Low retention comes with a hefty price tag: US businesses spent $1 trillion a year on employee turnover even before the pandemic. 

Without a career framework, individual contributors (ICs) can’t see a clear, achievable path that doesn’t always require managing others; and managers don’t have the right tools to recruit, develop, retain, and reward their people.

Career frameworks force transparency and keep biases in check. 

Every time I hear “meeting expectations” in a performance appraisal setting, I ask, “what the heck does that really mean?” Without career frameworks, performance review becomes a painful and often biased process that checks the box but doesn’t help employees grow. Career frameworks transform vague “meeting expectations” comments into a set of relevant competencies and actionable criteria to improve them.

Regularly used career frameworks build trust. 

I used to be on edge when it was time for the “big review” and getting “feedback” — the bomb was about to be dropped, and there was just too much at stake. Waiting 6 months for performance calibration to a non-existent career framework undermined trust between my managers and peers. I want my team and I to regularly refer to and align our performance to a company-wide career framework. This way, me, my manager and my team don’t get surprised or anxious because we know what to expect.

When should you create career frameworks?

Sometimes startups wait too long before putting some structure around their career levels. It’s mostly because HR is busy with short-term goals or assumes that a list of job titles and pay grades is enough. Barbra Gago, our Founder, and CEO says that “Companies feel the pain when they are near the 50- employee threshold since there have been folks at the company for more than two years. But we can argue that companies should launch their career frameworks even sooner to avoid inequities that come when they don’t have the structure but scale fast. Starting sooner would help them be proactive instead of waiting to deal with the situation in a crisis mode”. 

How do you create a career framework?

Many companies don’t have career frameworks because it takes a lot of time and effort to define job levels and a competency library that includes role- and department-specific competencies, example behaviors, and tasks. Even after creating this, companies need to spend more time and effort to launch the initiative, develop guidance for managers, and incorporate the framework into other programs and rituals like performance reviews, 1:1s, and learning and development. 

It looks like an uphill battle, and it’s no wonder that many companies put it off for too long.  

This is why I’m so excited to lead Pando’s engineering team, where we have created the first platform that offers built-in leveling, role-based career frameworks, real-time performance tracking, and more to ensure all employees are engaged and thriving. Pando turns the uphill battle of building and implementing career frameworks into an opportunity to level the playing field for employee growth while ushering in a new paradigm for employee performance management. 

Want to see Pando in action?