Career Pathing vs Succession Planning: Understanding The Difference

Career pathing and succession planning are common terminologies within talent management but the difference in their application and the separate benefits of each can be misunderstood and overlooked. In the majority of cases, employers prioritize succession planning, assuming that career pathing will somehow ‘fit’ naturally into it.

But high performing organizations require both.

Why it matters

Succession planning on its own, while essential for high performance organizations, is no longer sufficient to completely support an effective talent management strategy. Today’s talent has choices.

As employee confidence is at record levels, HR must go all out to not only attract highly skilled candidates but to hold on to the talent they have. Research from Hays shows that 4 out of 5 employees would leave their current roles if a better job offer comes along – and that isn’t dependent on compensation. Employees will compromise on salary in return for the right benefits, workplace culture and career development opportunities[1].

What’s more, these key strategies are both critical if employers are to respond to the shift from ‘careers’ to ‘experiences’. But just 37% are either ‘ready’ or ‘very ready’ to address such a transition[2].

Developing effective yet distinct strategies around succession planning and career pathing can help to address this transition but HR must get clear on the difference.

Succession planning : Focuses on identifying and nurturing talent to fill anticipated business critical positions. It is employer driven to ensure a highly skilled talent pool is available to replace departing employees.

Career pathing : is the systematic process an employee uses to chart their own career development path within an organization. It gives them autonomy and a sense of control over their career.

Where succession planning is carried out on a ‘top down’ basis in response to organizational needs, career pathing is driven by the employee. The aim is to bridge the gap between the two and in doing so improvement engagement, reduce attrition levels and create a positive culture that attracts more talent to your brand.

Bridging the gap

The differences are subtle, but clear:

Essential steps of career pathing

  1. Your employee carries out a self-assessment of their own individual abilities, interests, career aspirations and goals. This includes evaluating and understanding their current skills and experience that can help them to identify roles which may fulfill their potential.
  2. Multiple career options are mapped out based on that self-evaluation to enable them to develop a career plan focused on both short-term and long term career goals.
  3. Flexibility with career pathing is essential as the focus shifts to the employee experience.
  4. Career counseling may be helpful to ensure goals are realistic and an effective plan is created.
  5. Employees are empowered and enabled by recommending career paths, job enhancement, vacancies and job rotations aligned to skills, goals and aspirations.

Planning for success

In Succession Planning, HR carries out an evaluation of existing talent and future skills requirements, involving the whole organization. Succession planning should not be limited to the C Suite.

  1. Business critical roles are identified which require succession planning.
  2. The competencies and experience needed for each of these roles are evaluated.
  3. Existing employees are evaluated against these requirements and key talent is identified in terms of performance and potential for meeting future skills needs.
  4. For each individual, the development needs and skills gaps required to take them to the next level are identified.
  5. Employees are then enabled to be prepared for future promotions, ideally focusing on experiences.
  6. A development plan is then prepared which is mapped out identifying progress along the way.

Both career pathing and succession planning must be carried out as stand-alone exercises which enable HR to identify the similarities and highlight the disparities between employee expectations and aligning skills with business goals and strategies.

Research from Gallup suggests that listening to what your top performances value most helps to improve retention and improve your company culture[3]. Defining distinct yet aligned strategies around career pathing and succession planning are crucial to achieving that.

Support with dedicated software

Achieving effective career pathing and succession planning requires more than a ‘one size fits all’ approach and should be clearly differentiated within your organization’s overall talent management strategy.

Support your career pathing and succession planning strategies with career pathing software and succession planning software designed to help your business create a more competitive culture.

To learn more about career pathing and succession planning, visit our learning center for webinars and other content.