How to develop a career progression framework

TL;DR: Development frameworks are essential tools for employees’ career progression, mapping out the skills and qualities employees must have to advance to the next level of seniority. They can also help business leaders improve engagement, reduce unconscious bias, and increase efficiency by standardizing a key part of the employee experience.

To create an effective career progression framework, evaluate what career paths you already have in place. Then, map out an organized system for employee growth and align this with your existing teams.

Today’s professionals tend to prioritize career progression opportunities when they’re choosing a new role, yet many don’t feel supported by their organization when it comes to development. A recent survey shows that 54% of team members feel entirely alone when moving forward professionally, and 47% of Gen Z employees say they get better career advice from Chat GPT than their managers. (1)

It’s a problem many HR leaders are trying to tackle, with 66% acknowledging that their companies’ current career paths aren’t exciting to employees. (2)

Modern professionals want to move forward in their careers, and if their current position doesn’t offer growth opportunities, they may look elsewhere. Creating a clear framework for career progression can help by allowing organizations to foster more alignment between larger business objectives and team members’ goals, interests, and skills. 

That’s why, in this playbook, we’ll walk you through why you should develop a career progression framework at your company, along with eight steps you can take to implement it successfully.

  1. INTOO and Workplace Intelligence, 2024
  2. Gartner, 2024
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Career progression: What is a development framework?

To provide employees with more clarity on their career progression, organizations use development frameworks to define company roles and responsibilities and map out the positions team members can progress into. This framework also gives employees an overview of the skills and performance required to achieve a promotion and can be used to design employee development programs.

Put simply, people appreciate opportunities to learn and grow — that’s why 21% of team members cite a lack of development opportunities as a reason they’d leave their companies. Career development frameworks can help proactive organizations hold on to top talent while providing leaders with a basis to accurately evaluate their team members during career development talks and performance reviews.

Career progression examples

Let’s look at some ways that career progression can take shape within your company, depending on your industry:

1. Software Development:

  • Junior Software Developer
  • Software Engineer
  • Senior Software Engineer
  • Software Architect
  • Chief Technology Officer

2. Marketing:

  • Marketing Coordinator
  • Marketing Manager
  • Marketing Director
  • Vice President of Marketing
  • Chief Marketing Officer

3. Human Resources:

  • HR Assistant
  • HR Generalist
  • HR Manager
  • HR Director
  • Chief Human Resources Office

4. Sales:

  • Sales Associate
  • Sales Representative
  • Sales Manager
  • Director of Sales
  • Vice President of Sales
🤔 Want to learn more about career progression frameworks and how you can implement one within your organization? Check out our free, downloadable career progression framework template to get started!

Why should we implement frameworks for career progression at our company?

Offering employees opportunities to progress will encourage them to stay, motivating them to learn new skills and succeed in their current positions. A formalized framework also helps create more clarity and eliminate bias when conducting compensation reviews or discussing promotions, giving people a better idea of how they can move to the next level.

Career progression frameworks also let you: 

  • Define competencies, skills, or company values to create transparency about career growth.

  • Set clear expectations and provide your employees with a roadmap toward the next level of seniority.

  • Give employees function and level-specific feedback by integrating competencies into reviews.
  • Provide managers and employees with a solid foundation they can use to deliver effective and targeted feedback.

Still, deciding how to approach career progression raises questions: What type of framework should you use? How should you create the framework and present it to your team? From creating job titles to determining compensation, implementing a new career progression framework is a major project, but don’t panic — this playbook will walk you through the process.

When to update your framework for career progression

In general, you need to update your organization’s career framework for job progression if it’s no longer fair, equitable, or effective. For example, if, after auditing your promotion pipeline, you notice fewer women or BIPOC hold high-level positions within your company, you may decide it’s time to revise your career framework and establish a more unbiased career progression strategy. 

💡 According to Lean In’s 2022 Women in the Workplace survey, for every 100 men promoted from entry-level to managerial positions, only 87 women are promoted, and only 54 Black women are promoted, showing a downward trend from previous years.

LGBTQ+ women are five times more likely to hide aspects of their personal lives, and women with disabilities are far more likely to feel like they have to perform perfectly without being judged.

An inclusive career progression framework can help battle these biases and foster more diverse work experiences.

Additionally, you can conduct employee engagement surveys to evaluate your people’s perspectives on your current progression framework. Here are some questions you could include in your anonymous survey:

  • Does the career progression framework feel fair?

  • Does the career progression framework give you guidance on what you need to do to grow within our company?

  • Is the career progression framework flexible enough?

  • Does the career progression framework align with your personal career goals?

  • Do you receive enough actionable feedback from leadership on how to move through the career progression framework?

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Wann Sie dieses Playbook verwenden sollten

When to use
this playbook

This playbook is designed for executives and HR managers looking to create a career progression framework. This may mean building a framework from scratch, or updating your existing framework to better meet your company’s needs.

Many emerging companies start out without a formalized career progression framework but realize that they don’t only need roadmaps for new hires who want to know they can make career growth progress in their new role. They also need structured paths for team members who are ready to evolve into managerial positions. If this sounds like you, consider prioritizing your larger departments first, then moving on to others as your teams grow.

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Was Sie für dieses Playbook benötigen

What you’ll need for
this playbook

A method for gathering employee feedback & performance data

A framework for career progression aims to show employees how they can grow with your company and motivate them to keep improving their skills and performance.

Still, creating your new career progression framework is only half the challenge. You’ll also have to get employees' buy-in and update job titles and compensation where appropriate.

To align the framework with your staff members’ competencies, you’ll need to enlist the help of your managers. You can draw on data from previous performance reviews and 1:1 meetings to help shape your strategy.

Hinweise & Tipps
  • Use Leapsome’s Competency Framework module to create a clear, interactive roadmap for your career development and progression framework that your people can access anytime.
  • Involve your team leads closely in creating and implementing your career progression framework — they know your people best.

  • If you don’t know where to start with your framework for career progression, don’t be afraid to look for outside help and consider what other companies are doing.
  • Job titles for equivalent levels should carry the same value within the company. For example, a manager shouldn’t be more valued than a senior IC in the same department.
  • Never lower employees’ current compensation to align with your new framework. It’s likely illegal to do so, depending on your country or region.

How to run this People Ops Playbook:

Wie Sie dieses People Ops Playbook durchführen:

A graphic illustration of 8 steps to develop your own career progression framework.
Establishing a career progression framework motivates your people and increases employee retention

1. Evaluate your current career progression framework

The first step is to evaluate your current career progression framework, if you have one. Perhaps you have a formalized series of levels that no longer align with your company’s growth objectives. Perhaps certain employees report that leaders make promotion decisions based on subjective metrics.

Ask yourself:

  • Why do we feel we need a new career progression framework?
  • What’s working and what isn’t with our current framework?
  • Do our employees know what it takes to advance in their careers within the company?
  • What needs to change?

2. Set goals for your new career progression framework

Next, it’s time to set goals for your new framework, which allows you to monitor progress and evaluate the success of your career progression initiatives.

Ask yourself:

  • What are the most important things we hope to achieve with our new paths for career progression?
    For instance, these can be employee enablement goals like lower turnover or fairer compensation leveling.
  • How can we measure these metrics to ensure we’re achieving our goals?
  • What type of framework would best help us achieve these goals?

3. Set a timeline & assign project ownership

After establishing the right goals, it’s time to commit to the project formally. This means putting aside time, setting clear deadlines, and assigning one or more project owners.

We recommend using Leapsome’s Goals module, which allows all project stakeholders to collaborate and leave notes on shared goals, assign ownership of specific initiatives, exchange feedback, and track objectives in real-time.

A screenshot of team goals within Leapsome's Goals module.
Use Leapsome’s Goals module to create clear objectives within your career progression initiatives

4. Decide if you’ll have general or team-specific frameworks

You’ll need to decide whether to use the same general career progression framework for all your departments or create a separate framework for each team.

Of course, each team has specific job requirements, so some companies may prefer to use several different frameworks. However, there are advantages to using a standardized framework across the board: You’ll streamline the process, save time, and align expectations for everyone.

Even if using one central framework for job progression as a template, you can adjust each team’s framework slightly to reflect how their role works.

5. Choose how your career progression “levels” will work

The next step is to decide how many levels your framework should have. Will you stick closely to a standard structure for non-IC teams? For example:

  • Junior > Mid-Level >  Senior > Team Lead > Director > VP 

When determining how to connect your company’s career growth progress with job levels, consider these factors: 

  • It’s best to balance the number of levels with expectations for each role — Adding more levels offers employees room to grow and develop, but this only applies if each level truly feels meaningful. If moving from one job title to another seems purely symbolic, employees will be less motivated to advance. 
  • Create motivating job titles that accurately reflect the position they describe Consider your internal culture and industry standards when developing your job titles. Remember that job titles should also make sense to external parties and internal stakeholders.
  • Offer separate tracks for people managers and individual contributors in your company — You may have high-performing employees who want to develop their skills but don’t necessarily thrive in a people management position. This means, for example, that an “Associate Consultant” in sales could choose whether they wanted to advance to “Consultant” or “Sales Team Lead.”
A screenshot of Leapsome's Competency Framework matrix.
Leaspome’s Competency Framework tool allows you to create clear career paths that outline the skills that are necessary for team members to advance

6. Decide on the competencies people need to move to the next level

Once you’ve sketched out a set of levels for your framework for career progression, you’ll need to determine the competencies employees must meet to progress to the next level.

We recommend following the mutually exclusive, collectively exhaustive (MECE) principle when developing your competencies. This means the competencies you choose should cover all possible skills needed for the job without overlapping or being too similar.

If you’re creating a standardized framework for all your teams, you’ll want to focus less on job-specific competencies and more on overarching expectations for achievement and skills, fleshing it out later to encompass more job-specific skills.

During this process, you should decide on an average amount of time you expect to pass before someone can move on to the next level. This doesn’t have to be the same for every employee, as some may advance early, and others may need more time to develop. However, you should have a ballpark timeline in mind to avoid employee stagnation.

“Try to move [your framework for career progression] from being this horrendous check-box exercise where you’re like, This person must fulfill every skill before they get a promotion, to this point where it’s a foundational document. And it forms the foundation for having great conversations between managers and their teams.”

— Matt Bradburn, co-founder of The People Collective, sharing insights on the People Over Perks podcast

7. Establish compensation bands for each role

It’s time to wrap up your career progression framework by assigning compensation to each role.

Compensation packages may differ widely between companies in the same industry, depending on organizational structure and size. However, you’ll want to consider market rates when setting pay at every level.

You may also want to consider factors like employee location and performance. Try to keep compensation brackets standardized to avoid bias, while adding an upper and lower limit within each level for some flexibility.

“There are so many ways to build your broader compensation plans and philosophy. You’re seeing this even more with everyone being remote right now.

‘Do we tie [compensation] to a city? Do we tie it to levels? Do we tie it to skills? What kind of rates do we want to pay within a certain market...’

When you’re working through these problems, it can be really helpful to think about not just the benchmarks themselves, but how you’re actually going to apply them and what this means for your teams.”

— Matt Bradburn, co-founder of The People Collective

8. Roll out your framework for career progression

Once you’ve finalized the details of your career progression framework, it’s time to roll it out to your teams. This process can be complicated since you’ll need to decide how your current employees fit into the framework, so you should enlist the help of managers to ensure each employee is accurately assessed.

When introducing your employees and managers to the framework, make sure they understand why you developed it, why it’s being rolled out, and how it will work. You can make an initial announcement in an all-hands meeting or via a company-wide memo, following up during your team or 1:1 meetings to answer questions and get feedback.

Follow-up best practices for career progression frameworks

Use your framework for career progression to streamline your hiring process

Once the framework is rolled out to your existing employees, use it to shape your future hiring and recruitment process. The framework should make it easier for you to create job descriptions that accurately reflect the requirements of each role.

Make the career progression framework part of your culture

Start weaving your career progression framework into every part of the employee experience, such as your weekly 1:1s, performance reviews, employee promotion practices, and goals/OKRs

After the initial rollout, you’ll want to leave opportunities for both managers and employees to give feedback on the framework. This will help you understand what’s working and what’s not and allow you to follow up accordingly. Consider sending out a one-time survey to gather people’s opinions.

⭐️ Development-focused performance reviews go hand in hand with career progression frameworks and are key for helping your people grow.

And we’ve got tons of resources to support you! Make sure to read our playbooks on running 360° performance reviews and leadership reviews, and download our free template with best-practice questions for performance reviews.

Set up your framework for career progression with Leapsome & help employees thrive

A screenshot of the Leapsome's Competency Profile.
Leapsome’s Competency Framework tool connects with our Reviews module so you can easily access unbiased, data-driven competency profiles for every employee

Today’s professionals want more career structure out of their chosen roles, which means companies have to be more deliberate and strategic in their approach to creating career paths. By implementing frameworks for job progression, you can create more clarity for both managers and employees around the skills they need to develop to progress within your organization. You can also reduce the role unconscious bias tends to play in performance reviews and assessments.

Using a platform like Leapsome to simplify the process of connecting career progression frameworks with performance review cycles, goal-setting processes, and compensation management is well worthwhile. 

Leapsome’s Competency Framework tool integrates deeply with the Reviews and Instant Feedback modules, so you can use your frameworks as the basis of performance reviews and feedback. What’s more, our competency frameworks allow you to visualize development requirements and connect with our Learning module so HR teams can create the training courses employees need to grow.

Ultimately, Leapsome is the only platform that closes the loop between performance management, goal setting, employee engagement, and learning, allowing your business to navigate the changing professional landscape with a highly skilled workforce.

🌱 Prevent career stagnation and help employees flourish

Leapsome’s Competency Framework tool integrates with the Reviews, Instant Feedback, and Goals modules so employees can take more ownership over their own development.

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Frequently Asked Questions

How can I visualize a career progression framework?

With Leapsome, creating a custom career progression framework is easy. You can define key competencies and present them on a skills matrix with unique descriptions for each skill level.

How should my career path framework shape training?

Integrate the career progression framework with other processes in your company, such as performance reviews, goals and OKRs, and promotion management. This will help you stay organized and ensure you’re applying your framework for career progression. Evaluating employee performance based on the skill requirements in the career progression framework helps you identify strengths and specific areas for improvement.

What is a career pathway example?

A standard career pathway model could look something like this: Junior > Mid-Level >  Senior > Team Lead > Director > VP. However, depending on the culture of your organization, you might want to implement fewer or more levels of hierarchy. 

Download our career progression framework template to help you define your company’s levels and skill requirements.

How do you measure career progression?

You can measure career progression by mapping out professional pathways and associated competencies within a development framework. A formalized career progression framework increases organizational transparency and helps eliminate bias when conducting compensation reviews or discussing promotions.

Leapsome’s skills matrix can help you do that. Once you’ve defined the competencies your employees need to meet to move onto the next level, you can track their progress on the matrix and support them with their development.

How do you use a career progression framework?

The aim of a career progression framework is to encourage transparency and show employees
how they can grow with your organization and improve their skills and performance. To use a development framework effectively: 

  1. Create a culture of growth and openness with the help of your managers.
  2. Dedicate time to evaluate, plan, and make decisions about your current career progression framework.

  3. Set goals for your new progression framework.

  4. Put aside time and assign project leadership.

  5. Decide how many levels your framework should have, such as Junior, Team Lead, and VP.

  6. Make a decision on the competencies people need to reach to move from one level to the next.

  7. Establish compensation bands for each role.

  8. Roll out the framework with the wellness and growth of your current employees in mind. 

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