Career mapping helps IT employees and employers alike

Specially designed development plans help tech workers navigate the choppy waters of IT employment.

"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.

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 identify other positions at the Dallas-based paper products maker that matched that individual's skills and aspirations. Then she could plan the steps the employee should take to reach a target position -- a more senior IT job within Kimberly-Clark's mergers and acquisitions department.

Career mapping, or pathing, as it's sometimes known, originated in the field of human resources and has since branched out. It's particularly valuable 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 jobs in the organization and the competencies required for each one, plus resumes for individual workers. But up until now, few employers have put together all of the pieces -- the lists of jobs and resumes plus other information, such as new skills employees have acquired or their latest career aspirations -- to create a holistic 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 track, and specific networking goals.

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 values [mapping], then it will trickle down."

Setting Expectations

At Kimberly-Clark, which has 56,000 employees, every department has a process in place to help people 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 previously plotted courses for professional growth for employees but has recently adopted a more disciplined and detailed approach to mapping 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.

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.

Benefits to the company include improved succession planning and a vibrant workplace of challenged, engaged employees, Keefe says.

But there can be downsides to career mapping for employers, he warns. At Mueller Water, a midlevel IT manager realized after he'd completed the mapping process that the company didn't have the position he aspired to. So the 10-year veteran, whom Keefe says he saw as a future IT leader, took a job at another company where he could gain the skills he needed to do what he wanted, which was to run a manufacturing facility.

IT leaders who use career mapping say organizations can't rely on employee input alone if they want such programs to succeed. Company leaders must also go through the exercise, with the goal of understanding and articulating the requirements of different positions and then outlining the skills and experience required to do each job.

That process "helps the organization answer the question 'What kind of talent do we need?' " says Caela Farren, president of MasteryWorks, a career and talent management consulting firm in Falls Church, Va.

Farren's firm works with companies to identify the core competencies required for particular jobs, the positions that will be key for future growth and development, and any new positions that will come into existence -- plus the skills and accomplishments that will qualify people for those jobs.

With all of that information spelled out in one place, managers can easily identify what staff resources they'll need going forward and whether they have that talent in-house or will have to seek it elsewhere.

Pratt is a Computerworld contributing writer in Waltham, Mass. You can contact her at marykpratt@verizon.net.

This version of this story was originally published in Computerworld's print edition. It was adapted from an article that appeared earlier on Computerworld.com.

Checklist

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, president and CEO of Talent Optimization Partners in Chicago.

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

Here are six key components of a thorough career map, according to Clarke:

1. Historical plotting. This is a list of the job functions you've held, with competencies (not just responsibilities) identified for each one.

2. An aspirational look. "This is where you get to play and incorporate what you want," Clarke says, adding that she tells people to start with industries they're interested in, then zero in on functions and then roles.

3. A skills gap analysis. This is a comparison of the competencies you currently have and the ones you'll need to acquire in order to do the things you aspire to do.

4. A plan to add competencies. This is where you identify the projects, classes or experiences that can help you close the gap between the skills you have and the ones you'll need.

5. A target list. Research companies you'd like to work for, or at least want to know more about. If you intend to stay with your current employer, it's still helpful to think about your company's competitors, so you better understand what your own employer will need from its employees in order to remain competitive.

6. Networking goals. Identify the individuals you want to meet or get to know better, and commit to reaching out to them every quarter with a specific goal in mind, Clarke says. Are you seeking a mentor? Hoping for more information about a company in general? Interested in a particular job within a particular division? "I'm suggesting a framework for very strategic networking," says Clarke. "Consider what you want from these people."

- Mary K. Pratt

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