Career Ladder

Developing career ladders is a fundamental part of planning for the future. It’s essential from both the employer’s and the employee’s perspective, as it saves enormous business resources while making employees feel as though they are making progress. A key element of developing a worker’s confidence in their eventual promotion is through personalized L&D courses. 

What Is Career Ladder?

A career ladder (or corporate ladder), as its name suggests, is a designated path towards certain senior positions within an organization. A typical career ladder follows these upward steps:

> New hire
> Staff
> Senior staff
> Manager
> Senior manager
> Executive/Partner

At each stage, the employee gains responsibilities, is subject to higher expectations, and manages more people. But, as they move up, they also receive better pay, benefits, and prestige. 

Of course, to advance, the employee needs to show competence in their role. And at a minimum – most likely before becoming a manager – an employee must also prove that they are highly effective at their job. 

There are other possible qualifications for climbing the career ladder. Leadership skills help, as do a record of L&D courses and professional certifications. Many companies with DEIB programs will choose to promote people from disadvantaged communities. Taking part in social initiatives and maintaining good relationships throughout the organization can also increase a person’s profile to put them first in line for promotion. 

How to Design a Career Ladder

Designing a corporate ladder for employees is an extensive task. But if your company is already involved in activities like career pathing, skill gap analysis, and continuous development, chances are that a lot of the groundwork has already been done. Here are the basic steps of creating a career ladder:

Define the Career Goal and Related Experience/Skills

Where does your employee want to end up, and what are the senior roles in the company? With such a list in hand, research those positions and interview the people who currently fill them. This process will result in a roadmap which contains:

  • Educational qualifications
  • Path of advancement through the organization
  • Experience outside of the organization (if the employee was an outside hire)
  • Learning and development history
  • Skill requirements (don’t forget soft skills!)

Plan for the Next Step

There is bound to be a period of waiting before the employee is ready to move up. During this time, the worker should:

  • Receive training in areas where identified skills are weak or absent
  • Gain opportunities for job shadowing, cross-functional training, and leadership 
  • Work with a mentor and get advice on best practices for their next role

Establish Accountability

Ensuring that an employee gets the chances they need is often up to HR and/or the employee’s direct manager. If and when these people move to other roles, it is vital for their replacement to take over the development process. It is also extremely useful to check in periodically regarding the employee’s activities, and include their efforts as part of performance reviews, both of which can be a strong motivator. 

Why Are Career Ladders Important?

A career ladder gives employees a goal and a clear way of achieving it. Beyond that advantage, career ladders also help HR to support those goals in an organized manner. Together, these factors boost employee engagement, morale, and retention. 

From the perspective of the company, career ladders are highly valuable. Through internal hiring of qualified employees, companies save the resources that would otherwise be spent on external recruiting. They also receive a supply of replacements for advanced roles who are already known in the organization. It’s similarly easier to fill vacancies, even when temporary, with employees who already have the proper background. 

Making the Most of Corporate Ladders

On their own, career ladders do not always provide all of the benefits listed above, mostly because the employee does not get a chance to move up. At times, the organization is at fault, and at others, the employee does not have the right mindset.


One of the assumptions behind a career ladder is that there are multiple layers of hierarchy and that it takes time to rise to the top. For some employees, the wait might be too long. While waiting to advance, high-performing workers may be presented with outside opportunities and make a jump to another company. In fact, “low pay” and “lack of advancement” are the top two reasons for employees to quit. 

But today’s companies are starting to understand that productivity is often the result of skills. In turn, many are adopting flat hierarchies and role-based promotions. For example, instead of promoting somebody with great communication skills to the position of chief marketing officer, a company will assign them to work on several teams as a specialist. Still, this is a strategic change that requires approval from the highest levels of the company, as well as extensive reorganization.   


Giving an employee a plan that shows how they can advance is only a temporary measure. If a worker takes all the recommended steps and still goes nowhere, poor morale and turnover will probably result. 

This is not always preventable. If a company does not expand and/or if employees at higher levels stay put, there is no opportunity to proceed up the ladder. But hiring practices are also to blame; companies prefer to hire from outside sources about 80% of the time.

However, HR can improve the situation through measures such as:

Building Careers with GrowthSpace

This last option in particular is really valuable. L&D is part of many initiatives that promote the advancement of employees from within. Through careful L&D programming, HR can give their people the abilities they need to outperform, get noticed, and enjoy climbing the corporate ladder. 

But the trick is knowing which skills to develop. Each employee has their own set of strengths and weaknesses, and it’s beyond the ability of most organizations, especially large ones, to track and address personalized L&D requirements. 

Not so with GrowthSpace. Through a platform that’s winning over HR/L&D departments in every industry, GrowthSpace matches skills and experts to employees in the precise areas where they need development. Combined with intelligent course design and intuitive assessment methods, GrowthSpace gives employees a spot-on boost up the career ladder.  

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