Architecting Careers That Power Up The Workforce Experience (Wx)


Nearly two out of every three people who leave their jobs do so because of a lack of career advancement. As a people leader, it is tempting to shrug off that number and point toward unrealistic expectations that people have from their workplaces and leaders.

After all, if your company is growing at 10%, you cannot possibly promote 60% of your people.

So, what is the solution? Should you wait for your people to lose motivation, watch their shoulders sag, and then bid goodbye as they step out of the door?

That is where career architecture can help reinvigorate your talent practices and help attract and retain employees.

What is career architecture?

Like an architectural drawing of a building, career architecture is simply a visual representation of jobs and careers in your organization. It does not limit itself to the traditional idea of vertical growth and allows people to explore horizontal or diagonal roles.

For example, an employee in HR who works in Employer Branding may want to explore a role in Marketing. Or someone who works in Financial Analysis may wish to move to the Analytics function.

Careers that branch out into different directions can strengthen your organization once you adopt the philosophy that ‘Up’ is not the only direction to grow.

What are the challenges of traditional careers?

Vertical hierarchies where employees progress through a ‘ladder’ of positions and roles have been a longstanding tradition in many organizations. The ‘up or out’ model popularized by professional services firms has found its way to other companies too.

But forcing people up a hierarchical ladder has major disadvantages:

  1. Rigidity: Companies struggle to adapt to changing industry paradigms due to rigid and inflexible hierarchies. Decision-making happens in siloes and cross-functional collaboration is tougher, particularly in difficult times.
  2. Mistrust: Traditional hierarchies foster unhealthy competition and a mindset of everyone watching out for their own best interests. The fear of having limited opportunities to grow makes people reluctant to share knowledge or resources.
  3. Limited opportunities: People may not be able to explore diverse roles or skillsets, leading to disillusionment, demotivation, and disengagement. Eventually, this results in lower productivity and a poor Wx.
  4. Talent pipeline challenges: In particular, Gen Z employees prioritize purpose, development, and ongoing learning. Companies that do not provide careers at all levels will likely struggle to attract and retain top talent.

Companies are increasingly adopting career frameworks based on ‘lattice’ or ‘matrix’ structures to build flexibility and choice in career development. These structures provide the proper guidance to people to grow their careers and create joint responsibility between people and their managers for development.

What are the building blocks of career architecture?

A mindset to change and be more open is fundamental to implementing career architecture. But beyond that, you must create a few other systems and processes to build a career architecture that energizes and elevates your people.

  1. Define your core competencies: To align your career architecture to the behaviors and skills you value, start by defining your core competencies. Identify your unique strengths as a company and how individuals can stay aligned with them. List all the resources and developmental opportunities available to people to acquire the right competencies. In addition, list all the additional support that may be required to enable competency development.
  2. Understand the competencies and motivations of your people: Invest time and effort in decoding what your people want. Ask them what motivates them and analyze the skills and competencies they bring. Research indicates that people thrive on variety and new responsibilities, which can be enabled through career architecture.
  3. Evaluate jobs: Develop a deep understanding of the skills, education, and experience needed to perform each job across the organization. Before enabling a career architecture and interlinkages between jobs, you will need to understand how different jobs compare with each other – internally and externally. For example, how does an IT Manager role compare with an Operations Associate? Understanding the relative position of jobs in the matrix and their pay ranges will make the career architecture easier to deploy.
  4. Design functional leveling guides: Interact with leaders from each function to understand how careers currently exist and the skills and behaviors needed for each role. Create intra-function pathways to decide on non-vertical career growth opportunities that exist. 
  5. Bring it all together: Convert the functional leveling structures into a consolidated company-wide career architecture. Identify the clear roadmaps that act as potential growth routes for people across the company. Train HR teams and people managers on implementing the career architecture.

But the infrastructure for career architecture is just one of the components to make it successful. The additional aspect that is needed is a thorough look at your talent management process.

How can you align your talent management process to your career architecture?

Building a career in architecture is the first step. But to help your people navigate it and create lasting careers, you need to keep the Wx at the center of it all.

  • Listen to your people: Use quantitative and qualitative information to understand what people want. Surveys, questionnaires, and interviews and other data points can help you decipher what people expect from their careers.
  • Assess competencies and gaps: Based on the competency profiles of your people and the competencies required for each role, identify competency gaps and developmental roadmaps that need to be created.
  • Customize development plans: Identify and accommodate individual career aspirations instead of adopting a cookie-cutter model for development. Offer multiple career options and opportunities that account for differences in interests, skills, life stages, and learning styles.
  • Have regular dialog: Career architecture is not an annual activity but an ongoing one. Without regular performance dialog and precise feedback, it will fail within an organization. Enable regular discussions to help people navigate their career options and grow their careers. Allow two-way dialog instead of just a one-way cascade of expectations and roadmaps.
  • Check for effectiveness: Periodically assess and strengthen your career architecture to keep it relevant and aligned with shifting business needs. Your career architecture cannot afford to be static in a dynamic business environment. 
  • Communicate: Maintain a consistent, ongoing dialog with people and equip your managers with rich career conversations. Explain the career architecture to your people and use their input to adapt it to changes. Create a culture of trust that supports a strong Wx.

Using these principles, you can create a career architecture that helps people find careers within your company. In addition, it helps you in unlocking higher engagement and productivity and reducing turnover.

What are some common mistakes in implementing a career architecture?

Like a building’s foundation, career architecture is based on the fundamental principles of trust and psychological safety. If your Wx does not include these, there will be no takers for your career architecture.

Not involving people in the design process can make them feel excluded and lose interest in the process. Also, trying to shoehorn them into roles without their buy-in can be counterproductive.

If the rewards and benefits stay disconnected and do not change as people gain more skills and opt for more complex roles, disillusionment will be just around the corner. People may feel exploited and taken advantage of instead of being valued and respected.


When considering a career architecture, starting with what people want is the first step to building engagement, satisfaction, and retention, while supporting your company’s long-term success.

Leverage internal mobility and do away with vertical career ladders (unless people still want to climb them). Guide people about the dynamicity of their career options and how they can get maximum value from the infrastructure created with them in mind.

It may take time for managers to accept the idea of ‘internal turnover’ i.e., losing a valued team member to a department within the company. But if you can explain to them that through a career matrix, it is also likely that they will find high-quality internal talent, they might adapt to this thought process more quickly.

As people’s tenures in jobs grow shorter, especially for younger employees, investing in career architecture can significantly reduce turnover and help people secure longer careers with your company.

To chat more about how to create a career architecture for your company, reach out to us at [email protected].

About the Author

Sam Reeve
Sam Reeve, CompTeam founder and managing consultant, is a pay and talent performance expert and a certified global compensation professional. His extensive experience with pay programs and competitive compensation analysis, career architecture, and talent management allows him to help clients of rapidly growing firms see accurate, measurable results, including increased productivity and significant pay savings, year-over-year.
As an innovative thinker with practical application, Sam strongly believes that everyone needs to be healthy and happy in their own lives to strive as a high-performing contributor. He is driven to help organizations match their employees with the work they are passionate about and reward their people for outstanding work.
Sumit Single
Sumit has been working in HR & HR consulting roles for 16+ years across sectors and verticals and specializes in organizational design, well-being, storytelling & design thinking, and performance management. In his career with consulting firms such as Aon, Deloitte, and Accenture, he has successfully led programs aimed at total HR transformation for clients.
As Associate Director for India Consulting at Deloitte, he recently worked with clients on cultural transformation, HR processes, and policy design. He also organized and spoke at conferences and events about various topics relevant to HR today.
Now self-employed, he works with clients across the globe on various HR solution areas.
PSF 66 | Workforce Experience
sumit singla
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