Labor shortages are real: 7 tips to build employee success career paths and your leadership pipeline

Labor shortages are real: 7 tips to build employee success career paths and your leadership pipeline

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The need to create a transparent and democratic employee success career path that builds your leadership pipeline and helps develop and retain top talent has never been more important than it is today.

  • Data shows that as of August 2022, the U.S. had over 10 million job openings, but only 6 million   unemployed workers.
  • Replacing an employee can cost between 50% to 60% of that employee’s salary, while overall costs range between 90% to 200% plus. For a leader earning $200,000, that’s anywhere from $180,000 to $400,000.
  • Research indicates the 2nd top reason people quit their job is because of low or no opportunities for advancement.

Have you ever wondered how to create an effective employee success career path model at your company? One that inspires growth, builds your leadership pipeline, reduces attrition costs, and creates the kind of diverse, equitable and inclusive employee experience that gives you a leg up on your competition?

A Fortune 100 company with over 200,000 employees did just that. The telecommunications giant was having challenges filling leadership roles within their HR community while also fielding lots of questions from employees about how to navigate their HR career in the company. The task to build a career and development model fell to Deborah Thomas, an influential HR voice who has since moved to Somos Inc., where she serves as their Chief People Officer.

Today her model is known as the HyperCube, a term Thomas coined. It supports the belief that the democratization of employee success starts with a solid and transparent foundation of knowledge.

Thomas shared insights on how to create your own HyperCube in a Work Culture webinar hosted by WorkTango.


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Here’s how to build a multi-pronged employee success career path that delivers positive results for both your people and your business. For the purposes of this article, we’ll use what that looks like within the HR community.

1.      Capture insights from leaders 

To kick off your employee success career path design, interview the top HR executives across your organization. Ask each exec the same questions, among them: What were your past work experiences? Which experiences best prepared you for the role you’ve most recently assumed? What skill or capability did you not anticipate you’d need to be effective in your role today?

 2.      Solicit employee feedback 

The next step in employee success career path design is to ask employees: What do you need? What do you want? What questions do you want answered? 

Expect burning employee success questions like:

  • What is the career path?
  • What are the skills or experiences needed to advance?
  • What rewards come with advancement?What are the available resources to support progress within our HR community?

3.      Build a feedback loop to keep career path design headed in the right  direction

Continuous dialogue and the ability to test ideas ensures what you’re building actually supports and provides equal access and knowledge for all team members about how to progress in their careers.  

4.      Look for common themes to guide employee career models

Expect results like those that surfaced in Thomas’s conversations with HR leaders. Three common themes you’re likely to encounter are:

  • Learning agility is a critical but often overlooked skill.
  • Progressive competency development is essential.
  • Experiences need to be broad and varied.

Agility’s Role in Employee Success Career Paths

HR leaders point to the ability to continuously learn in order to grow their skill sets in response to what’s happening in the business. According to Thomas, they also reference people agility—the interpersonal capabilities required to lead people through change.

Then there’s also change agility—adapting to changing environments in changing situations. Being sure to see and focus not on the change itself, but on the opportunity change represents.

The last agility factor relates to the drive for results. That means understanding what those outcomes need to be, and knowing they can change in response to evolving situations.  

5.  Build learning agility into employee career paths

Learning agility is a key competency and highly relevant skill needed to move forward. It’s a core element of the HyperCube. But how does one get there? 

Develop an agility scale others can follow

An agility scale offers an opportunity for employees to assess where they are today, as opposed to where they need to be in the future. Individuals can focus their developmental activities in areas that represent the greatest opportunity for them. An agility scale helps the team member understand what low and high agility proficiency looks like. They can then focus on development to close any gaps.

Employee Success Career Paths in Relation to Competencies

Figuring out how to support the development of HR leaders, and building a leadership pipeline in the process, involves a deep look at both functional competencies (i.e. WHAT the work is) as well as behavioral competencies (i.e. HOW the work is done).

Like the agility scale, functional and behavioral competencies need to be developed around specific disciplines within HR and identified on a scale of low to high competency proficiencies. 

6.      Build competencies into career paths

Both individuals and their managers should use competency information to have conversations around where the employee is on the competency scale, and identify next steps to improve.

The Impact of Diverse Work Experience on Employee Success Career Paths

Diverse work experience is a must in order to be effective in the most senior levels of an organization. Diverse work experience can include transitional work experience, structural experience, and environmental experience. 

What is transitional work experience? 

As part of our employment journey, folks typically start as individual contributors. We are responsible for our own performance, and we receive feedback on that performance.

People Leadership

As we progress in organizations, there are sometimes opportunities where we’re supervising others. 

The next transition after that is becoming a manager who manages managers. You’re no longer necessarily directly touching and coaching each person. Instead, you’re leading through others. That’s a skill that needs to be developed in order to be effective, and ultimately progress to a more senior level role.


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A Manager’s Role in the Employee Experience


Functional Leadership 

There are also opportunities where leaders oversee a specific discipline as a “functional” manager. In some cases when you’re the functional manager, you’re leading team members who have greater capabilities or more depth of experience within that function than you yourself do. You have to learn to balance leading but also following, because you’re not necessarily the expert in the room. 

Strategic Leadership

Eventually, an employee may become a leader for a business. You may find yourself in the role of HR business partner or HR leader for instance, and you’re managing multiple functions across the business (i.e. compensation and talent acquisition). In that case, you may not have had direct experience in each of the specialties of the people that report to you. Your leadership becomes much more strategic. You’re trusting and managing functions through very knowledgeable, specialized people.

Each of these transitions in one’s career requires a very different level of management capability and acumen to be successful. 

Virtually all of the HR leaders whose insights helped shape Thomas’s HyperCube had worked in more than one discipline within HR. But they didn’t all work in all of them. Working in more than one area however helped expand their depth and understanding of the HR function overall. 

Transitional experiences give leaders more tools for their toolkit and position them to be even more effective as their leadership broadens. 

What is structural work experience?

In contrast to a transitional work experience, a structural work experience is about gaining experience by working in various parts of a business. This could include holding a role in corporate, working in a field office, a subsidiary, a division office; or perhaps stepping out of the HR function altogether as part of a special projects team; supporting an international business, or working internationally. 

Gaining exposure to different branches of a business makes for a more well-rounded leader.

What is environmental work experience?

Environmental work experience is another area in which leaders can develop skills and expertise. An environmental work experience refers to different businesses and where a business is within the business life cycle.

Is the company you work for a mature organization? Are you part of a startup? Are you working in a rapidly growing organization? 

As the environment changes and the scope or stage of a business evolves, different tools are necessary to lead that business and drive growth. 

 7.      Build work experience into an employee career path

Most professionals can likely understand how each of these experiences create unique business acumen. So what can organizations do to broaden the employee experience?

Encourage people to look at their own experiences. Have they worked as part of a closure? Have they been part of a merger and acquisition? What HR functional areas or disciplines have they worked in?

A successful employee career path involves looking at and identifying work experiences that have already been completed. It also includes being thoughtful about what gaps still need to be filled within the HyperCube model so as to better prepare oneself for a role as a senior leader in the future.

A Well Designed Employee Success Career Path is Thorough, Transparent and Democratic

In order to foster an environment of democratic employee advancement and success, your objective should be to provide transparency about the roadmap from individual contributor to senior leadership. You should aim to give each employee the opportunity to determine what they want to do next, given the range of paths available to them.

The HyperCube model can be easily customized for other company functions outside of HR to help every team member understand their options and how they might progress in their career. 

Thought Leadership

However, progression isn’t always to a senior leadership role. Not everyone wants to lead other people. People management may not be the way a person can make their most important contribution. Another viable option is to design a HyperCube that supports the development of thought leadership, where a person ascends to a fellow or principal thought leader designation, as opposed to a people leader. This might be particularly relevant for engineers, for example, or other technical roles.

In summary, the most important step in building a HyperCube relevant for and unique to your organization is to complete interviews with senior leadership and organizational thought leaders. This ensures the relevancy and customization of your HyperCube addresses the unique needs of your organization. If you spend the right amount of time on this step, your HyperCube will help your org develop a pipeline of top talent that is more than ready to assume leadership roles in the future.