Smaller companies are not usually able to offer the highly visible, varied, and extensive career pathways enjoyed by the employees of larger organizations. In small organizations of 10-20 people, which employ nearly 20 percent of the U.S.’s working population, it’s likely that there are only one or two management positions available and few (if any) opportunities to move sideways into another career path.
Small organizations can seem like career dead ends to employees and candidates, and that’s a problem for small businesses. It’s hard to engage and retain employees when 78 percent of workers say they would be willing to stay with their current employers if they knew what their career paths would be.
The good news is that there are many ways that small employers can and should build attractive career pathways for workers, and I have outlined some of them here:
1. Create an Entrepreneurial Pathway
This is perhaps the best kind of career pathway you can build in a small company, although it can’t be the only one you build. Not everyone is suited to this career approach.
However, if you have lots of creative, itchy-feet types in your business, you may want to create an entrepreneur policy which enables staff members to pitch ideas for new products, duties, tasks, etc., which they themselves can take forward. Why not schedule an “Ideas Day” on your calendar every quarter when staff can book time with decision makers to pitch their new business ideas?
2. Outline a Vision for Growth
Not all of your workers will respond to the entrepreneurial career pathway; some will simply want some kind of pathway set out for them.
You can’t set out career ladders that don’t exist, but you can set out realistic future growth plans which include increases in headcount and the creation of new and exciting roles that will present opportunities for career progression and growth within your business.
Of course, you’ll need to deliver on these plans. Don’t just string employees along with promises of development: set out a clear vision, and then make it a concrete reality.
3. Implement a Job Rotation Program
It may not always be possible for an employee to move upward, but there may be opportunities for them to move sideways to widen their skill sets and revitalize themselves. “Job rotation” can simply mean rotating between jobs within a particular function to broaden experience, or it could even mean moving across functions.
Job rotation is considered beneficial by early-career workers; they see it as a great way to enhance their skills. Additionally, rotating staff members between jobs will not only make them more skilled and engaged, but it will also make them more “promotable” by preparing them to be flexible and adaptable.
4. Advertise Your Business as a Stepping Stone
As a small business, you have to be realistic about your career pathways. You simply may not be able to offer the kind of career progression that is going to satisfy a more ambitious worker for four or five years.
That being said, you may be able to offer an ambitious worker the next best thing: a stepping stone to their next upward career move. As a small business, you can offer highly talented employees the ability to gain experience and develop their skills so that they can move on to another employer in a few years’ time.
This can be a win-win strategy for employees and employers: employees receive support and development opportunities, and employers find a way to engage high-flying talent for a period of time.
Small business owners need not feel as if major corporations have all the advantages. Even with limited space, a limited budget, and a tiny staff, a company can build and offer the kinds of career paths that attract the best and the brightest. All it takes is a little ingenuity.