Mapping Career Paths

There’s a major irony in talking about creating career paths in small businesses. The flat organizational structure and the opportunity to step into different roles on the fly are aspects of small businesses that attract employees in the first place. Yet, a company without much of a hierarchy will not have the departmental structure – with ascending job titles and different pay grades – that are the foundation of a corporate career path.

Nontraditional Career Paths for Small Businesses

For example, a person with a college degree could get some additional training and secure an entry-level corporate job as a paralegal. A large company might have several grade levels for paralegals, as well as a program that assists an employee to obtain a law degree. This person could become an intellectual property attorney.
Also, sufficient talent and ambition could  enable them to become general counsel – with a seat on the board and stock options to boot.
The emerging business mindset is quite a bit different. In fact, a serial entrepreneur may already be thinking about the next start-up, even while trying to get the current business on firm footing. The corporate model is a ladder; people at small businesses are roped together on a climbing wall, where the route to the top is more flexible, unpredictable, exciting – and, sometimes, dangerous.

Access to Training Is Key

That said, there’s still plenty that entrepreneurs can learn from the corporate model. In both large and small company environments, people need to feel that their work can help them advance toward the achievement of their goals. For a small business owner, the keys are supporting training and their openness to opportunities.
For example, suppose you hire a smart, enthusiastic person as a receptionist. Why not allow him or her to get training as a bookkeeper and eventually take on those responsibilities as well?
The person who assists your sales force with administrative tasks probably already has some skills creating sales presentations. Why not support additional training in graphic design or marketing? It’s a natural progression.
Restaurants have natural hierarchies – host, waitperson, manager – and better shifts as incentives. The same is true of retail shops.  Most commissioned salespeople simply want the opportunity and tools to help them sell as much as they can.

To Find Out What Motivates Employees – Ask Them

What do you do about the more experienced and skilled people on your team? For example, programmers, product developers, architects or financial experts? The key here is to simply sit down with them and ask them what they dream about. You’ll be surprised at the range of answers. Possibly the majority will want more money or to become a part owner in your business. That’s a relatively straightforward negotiation.
Others may want to start their own business or to develop a unique product line within yours. That could be a distraction or direct competition. Or, it could be a great new product idea handed to you on a silver platter – perhaps even an opportunity to turn a potential competitor into a spin-off business that you are partially funding.
Other employees may have much simpler requests: to work at home or work part time so they can spend more time with their families. Or to go back to school to study ecology or Chinese.
The point is, by understanding your employees’ motivations, you can craft an individualized career path that harnesses their natural energy and turns it into added productivity for your business.

Game Plan

Be sure to consider employees hidden talents in relation to the opportunities at your workforce. Proper identification of this, can lead to employee growth, allowing promotions to more rewarding roles.
Provide employees with a clear career path. Communicate and promote understanding of opportunities for growth within the company.
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