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Role of HR in Career Pathing and Development

Role of HR in Career Pathing and Development

“If one does not know to which port one is sailing, no wind is favorable.”

– Lucius Annaeus Seneca

It is easy to infer from the above quote that interest is where one’s success lies. The more difficult part albeit is to find that interest. The “mobile first cloud first” era of communication that we live in, is changing the way we do business – you possibly couldn’t have imagined a mobile based messaging app being valued at USD 16 billion. And this is where the traditional borders of job-roles have become hazy. New avenues have opened up for employees to create impact, new branches of value creation are shooting out from the traditional value chains. Defining a manager for e.g. as the traditional task master who delegates responsibility and accounts for productivity of a certain subordinates is already myopic – individual contributors are managers too. It is this change and the pace of that change that makes it difficult to identify where one’s interest lies.

Identifying career interests and enabling shift and growth in those interests is then the goal that career pathing and development seeks to achieve. Recruiting for knowledge has no longer remained sustainable. What is knowledge today would be merely information tomorrow and tomorrow’s knowledge is unknown. Today’s organizations thus recruit based on not only knowledge but skills and attitudes as well – competencies is what we collectively call them. The underlying belief is that an employee with the correct set of competencies would sustainably contribute value to the organization. In such a scenario, providing employee with avenues to create that value for the organization becomes paramount to retaining a high performing workforce. This is where the Human Resources function plays the role of a strategic partner to business. The entire process has two broad divisions – career pathing and career development, the latter following the former.

Let’s begin with career pathing. The process starts with identifying value creating activities for the organization and grouping them into relevant functions. Thus, you create job-roles. These are then impressed upon the organizational hierarchy such that there exist multiple career paths along which an employee may choose to grow based upon his/her interest. This way, you create multiple avenues for value creation in the organization. These avenues then serve as opportunities for employees with varied interests, to grow in the career of their interest. The traditional “Snakes and Ladders” is I think a perfect analogy to describe this phenomenon. There are multitudes of paths to reach the destination – the top of the hierarchy. Find out what interests you and choose your path accordingly.


Such an organization thus provides its workforce with the option of discovering career interests rather than choosing them. It underscores the belief that “you can’t form a true opinion on something unless you’ve tried it.”

Next on the list is career development. Once the career paths are identified and properly defined in your organization, there’s the more herculean task staring at your face. As we already established, knowledge of today is mere information tomorrow. In all probabilities, your workforce identified its interest and chose its career path but needs to hone its skills in order to overcome obstacles and succeed in that path. This is where HR again strategically partners with business.

Enabling the workforce to succeed in their careers of choice is thus the goal that career development seeks to achieve. There are multitudes of interventions that play their part in this endeavor. These range from structured interventions to unstructured ones and from those aimed at a group of audiences to customized individual ones. Few of the examples include role-specific technical training programs, behavioral training programs, development centers, continued education programs, career breaks and sabbaticals, coaching and mentoring interventions and what not. Each of these is directed towards a specific objective. Let’s see how it works.

Earlier, we discussed how multiple career paths are impressed upon the organizational hierarchy in the career pathing exercise. In a similar fashion, career development would look at what are the learning needs of the workforce at different stages of each of these career paths. Based on such a need identification process, certain learning needs are identified. These then lead to development of the said interventions in order to satisfy the learning needs. The choice of an intervention is generally determined by the sheer size of the target audience and the generality/ specificity of the learning need. For e.g. target audience is larger at lower levels of the hierarchy and learning needs are generic while it becomes opposite as one moves up the hierarchy.

Thus, general class-room style training programs would enable generic learning at lower levels of hierarchy while personalized coaching interventions are applied at top of the hierarchy. Another classification is based on the content. Technical trainings are identified for imparting role-specific technical learning. These are aimed at equipping participants with technical skills required for the role. On the other hand, behavioral programs aim at developing those behaviors which are identified as leading to success in the role.

A special mention here is required for the “development centers”. Development centers aim at providing the participant with their scores on particular competencies which are identified as those which are vital to success in the organization. These competencies are referred to as “core competencies”. Development centers stand as a state-of-the-art measurement tool. If properly administered, they go a long way in developing desired competencies in the workforce.

Finally, I would like to say that in the competitive times of today, trade secrets and physical capabilities are no more a competitive advantage. There is nothing that one organization produces today and the other is unable to produce better for a long time – be it a product or a service. Sustainable competitive advantages are going to manifest in the human side of business, in the workforce. And in such a situation, career pathing and development, like other strategic HR contributions, stand as determinants of success.

I would like to conclude saying that there cannot be a monolithic career in the current times. The modern careers are always going to be under construction.

-The following article was published in the magazine “XpressHR” (by XLRI Jamshedpur) and is written by Sahil Tewari, Manager – HR @ Amazon India. 

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