IT career mapping done right

"What's my next move?"

At some point in their careers, most IT professionals will ask this question of their managers -- and, unfortunately, many managers will be ill equipped to answer in depth. Either they won't have a good grasp of the employee's talents, interests and goals, or they will lack details on potential career paths within their companies -- or both.

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Linda Tedlie is one IT leader who doesn't have that problem. When an employee recently asked her the "what's next" question, Tedlie, a senior manager in career development at Kimberly-Clark's Information Technology Services (ITS) organization, pulled up a career map for that worker.

She was able to discuss the employee's existing role and capabilities and determine what future positions within the Dallas-based paper products maker matched her skills and aspirations, and then she could plan the steps the employee should take to reach that target position -- a more senior IT job within Kimberly-Clark's mergers and acquisitions department.

Career mapping, or pathing as it's sometimes known, started in HR and has subsequently branched out. It's of particular interest to larger organizations that are seeking to institutionalize their career-management programs, enhance their workforce-development and succession-planning strategies, and cut down on costly employee defections, according to Ginny Clarke, president and CEO of Talent Optimization Partners in Chicago and author of Career Mapping: Charting Your Course in the New World of Work.

Smaller companies, Clarke observes, are less likely to have formal career-mapping programs simply because they have fewer internal opportunities to track.

A career map pulls together different sets of information to give employees and their managers a view of where they are, where they can go and how to get to the jobs they want.

Clarke says that companies generally have compiled some of those pieces -- usually lists of organizational positions and the competencies required for each one, plus resumes for individual workers. But up until now, few organizations have put together all of the pieces -- the lists of jobs and resumes plus other information, such as employees' newly acquired skills or up-to-date career aspirations -- to create a view of potential career progression based on skills, competencies and goals.

A career map can include some or all of these elements: Historical plotting (which matches job titles to competencies), a list of aspirations, a skills-gap analysis, a plan to add competencies, a target list of companies and positions to research and follow, and specific networking goals. (For details, see 6 key components of a career map.)

It's a trend Clarke hopes will catch on. "I'd love to see more IT managers take more ownership of these activities because they are so critical to the performance" of the IT team, she says. "You need to find a CIO -- and a CEO -- who value [mapping], then it will trickle down."

Setting expectations with, and for, employees

At Kimberly-Clark, with a total workforce of 56,000, every department had a process in place to help employees advance their careers, but ITS decided three years ago to further enhance the system for its 900 workers.

Using a new tool called Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIAplus), ITS created a platform that allows IT employees to build detailed individual development plans, explains Gene Bernier, director of the Program Management Office, an 80-employee team within ITS.

The platform "gives individuals a different perspective, one they wouldn't have had otherwise. It opens up lines of communication, and it [gives people] more control over their career development," says Bernier, who spearheaded the career mapping effort in the IT department.

Like Kimberly-Clark, Mueller Water Products had previously plotted courses for professional growth for employees but has recently adopted a more disciplined and detailed approach to outlining possible opportunities -- and expectations -- for employees, says senior vice president, CTO and CIO Robert Keefe, a past chairman of the Society for Information Management.

"If there's a geographic move required, if there's a move out of IT that's expected, career mapping sets [those] expectations with the individual. We lay out what the possibilities are," Keefe says, noting that this helps keep employees, especially the high performers, engaged and challenged, making them even more valuable to the company.

The Atlanta-based water infrastructure company launched its version of career mapping several years ago with UAchieve, a program supported by senior leadership and executed by the HR department. Like many organizations, Keefe says, Mueller Water Products separates this process from annual reviews and merit-pay increases to help keep the focus on long-term visions and not on year-to-year objectives.

The program -- which all IT workers are expected to participate in -- collects information about individual employees and their current positions and skills. Keefe explains that some of the information may have been on employees' resumes but it didn't get incorporated into a system where it would be accessible and transparent. For example, some staffers could speak foreign languages but not many people knew that they had those skills before UAchieve was deployed.

As part of the process, Keefe says, employees are asked to consider certain scenarios, such as whether they're willing to move to another city or take a position in another business division to gain skills required for future positions.

Based on the collected information, Keefe says the company works with individuals at all levels, including management, to determine what opportunities are available for them down the road and what they can do to be ready for them.

6 key components of a career map

At its core, career mapping is about setting long-term professional goals and objectives that go beyond the targets established during annual reviews, says Ginny Clarke, an expert in talent and career management, diversity recruiting and executive coaching.

Though many workers develop career maps in conjunction with their employers, Clarke recommends that professionals maintain separate, personal maps that allow for growth possibilities outside of their current companies. These maps should be updated at least once a year, she adds.

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