Traditional HR think is that companies need to have career pathing. Do you really believe this is true? Have you ever really noticed how potential talent became great talent. It’s not from going to A then B to C but to accelerate that move from A to C to F and then onward. Not from career pathing but from mentoring, coaching or having someone taking them under their wing and helping them accelerate their potential. Take a look at these famous pairings: Warren Beatty & Diane Keaton, Mel Gibson & Heath Ledger, Johnny Carson & Garry Shandling and Jay Leno. These three different pairings were all mentored and provided with opportunities to truly challenge themselves. They all made mega-leaps. Ultimately they became great stars in their own right.

Career pathing creates a bunch of drones. But consumers want to do business with a group of savvy charismatic individuals who believe in what they are doing and can show why they are different from their competitors. Drones are for Star Trek sequels, not for companies. If you focus on career pathing your stars will move on and then take your company to the cleaners. It’s time for companies to wake up and find the talent within and outside their companies and challenge them aggressively because that’s what top performers love; to be challenged. If you want to have great talent in your company let them shine and give them opportunities to try new things. Traditional career pathing is a death sentence a walk along the plank for the candidate and the company. Greatness comes from challenge and opportunity not from some same old boring formula. So what can you do to start mentoring in your company.

Alison Green @AskaManager suggests these 8 things to mentor someone:

  1. Invite them to sit in while you do things—interviews, important meetings, whatever. Talk to them afterward, and point out why you did particular things.
  2. Talk to them about dilemmas you're facing in your own job. Tell them the options you're weighing and the various factors you have to take into consideration—and eventually what you're deciding and why. If you do this enough, over time, they'll start honing their own instincts.
  3. Give these people greater and greater responsibilities. Give them things they're not sure they can handle, and talk them through it. Help them figure out their approach, and talk over how it went afterward.
  4. If you can, give them an intern to manage. Talk regularly about the management challenges that arise and how to handle them—everything from feeling comfortable being in a position of authority to addressing sloppy work to what to say when the intern shows up in flip-flops.
  5. Talk to them directly about their goals. Actively look for ways you can help them move toward them.l Give honest and direct feedback.
  6. Give them the confidence to take on more by making sure you tell them how great they are. Early in their career, outstanding people tend to think they're average. Help them recognize when they're capable of more.
  7. When the time is right, promote them or help them find the next step in their career—even if that means losing them.

Great advice! I will add one more:

8. Replace yourself often.

Give great talent greater and greater mentors. It’s amazing how many people still hire people who are no smarter than they are. Mr. CEO, time to get rid of those dinosaurs if you want your company to thrive. While you're at it get rid of career pathing and put in place an aggressive mentoring program. What do you think? Let me know?

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Views: 843

Comment by Mitch Sullivan on October 27, 2011 at 11:02am

Yeah, you're right.  It is mostly bullshit.

Comment by Valentino Martinez on October 27, 2011 at 12:29pm

Some companies actually do groom future leaders through "Succession Planning".  High performing employees are noticed, engaged and challenged.  It's called the "fast track" when it's orchestrated from the top-side and can include global assignments.. 

Career pathing is essentially the road map HR & Mgmt lays out for employees, new employees in particular, to view as the highway to next-up opportunities if they are top performers and the opportunity exists to be promoted to.  Problem is with all the delayering over the past 20 years organizations are pretty FLAT.  The best you have to look forward to is "Associate" & "Senior Associate" in some places.

Comment by Renee Mangrum on October 28, 2011 at 12:52pm

I love the comment about managers refusing to hire people who are smarter than them. As an athlete, I try to play up as high as I can, and be the least skilled player on the team. Why? Because it makes me play harder and better, and I learn from the more skilled players around me. If you hire someone who is smarter than you, they might just make you and your team look great!


And I'm sorry, but Succession Planning just doesn't work. You can't plan for the unexpected. Life happens.

Comment by Francois Guay on November 2, 2011 at 8:19pm

Great comments everyone. I am a huge believer in building talent pipelines but not succession planning as @r.mangurm states life happens and you have to adapt. a talent pipeline is based on skills a company needs vs a position a company needs to fill at a certain time in the future. Talent pipelines are flexible if you use them that way. A recruiters job is to find the best people for the job at a given time

Comment by Valentino Martinez on November 3, 2011 at 12:55am


Succession Planning actually does work when it's done right.  Smart managers, or coaches (to use your athletic analogy), recognize top performers and underperformers day in and day out.  They then gradually base their promotion, demotion, transfer and termination decisions based on performance and results on the individual and team level.  This is People Management or Coaching 101.  It’s very similar to how youngsters operate in competitive pick-up games on the playground. Performance and results define who gets selected first, next and last in the next pickup game.

You say that, “You can’t plan for the unexpected. Life happens.”  Actually you can plan for the unexpected—in fact you better be planning for the unexpected.  Your idea seems to fly in the face of preparedness training, e.g., fire drills, emergency planning, disaster planning, or having a contingency plan and budget just in case the unexpected happens. 

And hiring “smarter” doesn’t necessarily workout.  Putting very “smart” people in slow moving, conservative operating, micromanaged work environments often frustrates new hires who are smart enough to leave such organizations.

And “Life”, indeed, does happen, but if:  parents, schools, teachers, coaches, managers, experience, history and common sense teach us anything it is that you should hope for the best; prepare to be the best you can be--but prepare for the unexpected and have a contingency plan(s) in case of downsides.  

The Harvard Business Review just featured an article on the subject worth reading:

Be Prepared for What You Don't See Coming

Ron Ashkenas, a managing partner of Schaffer Consulting and a co-author of The GE Work-Out and The Boundaryless Organization. His latest book is Simply Effective.



Most employers, at least the smart ones, don’t hire a candidate for just “the job that is open at a given time.”  They hire them to do that initial job but they expect that new hire to have growth potential—otherwise why hire them and expect them to be happy in the one job? Unless, of course, it’s a dead-end job or the candidate indicates they have no interest in promotional opportunities or leaving the area.

Therefore, employers expect recruiters to find the best qualified and promotable people they can recommend. 


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