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How to build from scratch a Career Framework for your company (a step-by-step tutorial)

A simple step-by-step tutorial to create your first Career Framework for your company to increase employee engagement and retention.

Written by

Published On

Jan 5, 2023

Written by

Published On

Jan 5, 2023

Written by

Published On

Jan 5, 2023

In these times of crisis, silence quitting, and massive layoffs, the priority is no longer recruiting new talents but retaining the ones you already have. One of the biggest retention and engagement factors that make an employee stay is the certainty of career progression, and a career framework will help your organization do just that.

This tool or document will allow your employees to know exactly where they stand in your company (level), give a vision of the future (progression), and keys on how to take the next step (development plan).

In addition to all this, you will be able to use this tool to navigate your performance reviews, determine the missing skills (for training or recruitment) and better visualize the development plan of each of your employees.

In this article, I will share my vision and guide you step by step in creating your career framework.

The exact step-by-step to build your career framework in the fastest way possible

Before you start, pause for a second.

Which problems are you trying to solve with your career framework? Are you jumping both legs into this project, or did you take the time to build the foundations of such a project?

Here are some questions that will help you clarify your needs and help you make better and faster decisions on how to build your new career framework:

  • What's the purpose of this framework?

  • Is it meant to be used by managers as part of their performance management process, by employees, or both?

  • In which situation will this tool be used?

  • What should be included in the career framework?

  • How detailed does it need to be?

  • Who's in charge of this project?

  • What time do I wish to dedicate to this? When should it be finished?

1. Decide which tool to use

Depending on your budget, you'll have three possibilities:

  • Google Sheets / Microsoft Excel

  • Any specialized tool in Career Path/Framework (e.g., Progression)

  • A global Performance Management (e.g., Lattice)

My recommendation: build the baseline of your career framework first on a tool such as Google Sheets. It will allow you to build a tool that will help your employees. Further down the line, you can always upgrade to a specific tool. If so, you would've just needed to copy past the content.

2. Define levels and job names for every department

Create a leveling system that is common to all departments.

A leveling system example

  1. Decide a nomination for every level. It doesn't matter what you pick. Ensure it's organized enough to link it to any other database, such as the salary grid.

  2. Write all the job names per seniority (ex: Senior PM) and assign them a level (ex: IC4). Note that every job name is unique, but the leveling is common to every department.

I recommend creating two paths, one for the Individual Contributor (IC), and the other for the Manager (M). Then, to make the leveling, put a number next to the letters such as IC1, IC2, IC3, etc. Take your time thinking about it, decide what works best for your company, and stick with it.

3. Assign these levels and job names to your existing Organizational Chart

By the time you release the career framework, every employee should know their place in this matrice to understand how to move from there.

Therefore, now that you have defined a unique leveling system and every job name for your departments, it is time to assign these levels to everyone within your company, including the Executive team.

An organization chart example combined with the leveling system

4. Pick a career framework structure

You will need to choose a specific career framework depending on your needs and timeframe.

Overall, you'll have three types of career frameworks, ranging from the simplest to the most detailed and complex.

Option A - One ladder per level for the entire company

A ladder structure example (option A)

This is the simplest option you can do for your company.

If you already have a detailed salary grid, there is a high chance that you already have this type of information around.

Although this structure may seem too simple, it has some serious advantages:

  • Less time-consuming to create

  • Better than no career framework at all

  • Easy to understand

  • A great way to highlight your underline values within your expectations

Option B - One ladder per level, per department

A ladder structure example (option B)

Overall, very similar to the first one except now every department can add their specification to what is expected for every level:

  • The perfect first step towards a more detailed one in the future

  • Every department can add its specification

  • Still quick to create

Option C - One ladder per level, per department, and per job

A ladder structure example (option C)

You take the same principles of the previous structure, except now you add details to each step of the ladder for clarity:

  • A powerful tool for employee Career Development and Skill mapping

  • Detailed skills leveling

  • Infinite details per level are possible

  • Very time-consuming to create

5. Add the content

The most accessible temptation would be to copy-paste any existing template and call it a day.

Although copying external information to your career framework is inevitable (I did it) and valuable (there is some fantastic skill ladder out there), you need to start with your internal reality and build from there.

A career framework should be an accurate picture of the existing skills & outcomes of your company, as well the vision for the ones in the future.

To achieve this, you have no choice but to start from:

  1. what's it's known (your existing internal competencies)

  2. to what is unknown (your vision on skills leveling)

We will use Option 3 as a CF structure and add content for reference.

Map the internal skill set of your company

  1. Sit down with every Department Lead and prepare some questions

  2. For every position within this department, map out all the skills and outcomes, and write them down on your matrix

An example of how you could classify your skills

Once you have written all the internal skills and outcomes down, try to detail every skill throughout all levels.

An example of how you could level the description of your skills

At this stage, your career framework should reflect the internal reality of your company outcomes and skill set.

Use the external resources to fill out the rest of your career framework

Finally, use external resources to avoid speculation while polishing the content of your career framework.

When it comes to external resources, you have two choices:

  • Ask/pay an expert in your industry

  • Templates and inspirations

For the ladder, here is a non-exhaustive list of all the sources we used to build our career framework:

How to make the most out of your career framework

Now that you have a beautiful career framework for your company, here is how you'll rip some benefits out of it.

Onboard every manager first, then the employees

Depending on your chosen tool, a career framework can be very impressive at first. Indeed, at first glance, the document, often composed of a large matrix of several pages, can seem confusing. The manager of your team will be your best ambassador. Make sure you focus on their onboarding.

  1. Onboard the manager on the career framework. Focus on how they'll use this tool for their team

  2. Onboard every employee

  3. Seek continuous feedback and improvement while making everyone aware the career framework will evolve over time

Link your career framework to your existing routines

The best way to benefit from your career framework is to link it to your existing routines and tool.

  • Performance review: by giving the employee a perfect structure to self-assess against job expectations

  • For recruitment: using the tool to find what type of profile/seniority and skills the team lacks

  • Interviewing scorecard: by prioritizing the essential skills of the position and evaluating the skills of the candidate according to

  • Salary grid: by linking the levels of the grid to values, you'll be able to calculate both a salary and a raise

Consider the promotion process

Promotions are a great way to reward those performing well and help them grow their careers. However, it's essential to consider the promotion process before laying out your framework.

The career framework is the perfect tool to visualize an employee's different career development possibilities. Communicating openly on the various conditions for changing positions can be intriguing so as not to give false hopes.

How we built our career framework at Specify

As a small company, we still wanted to give our employees the possibility of a vision of development.

Why we created one in the first place

  • To give our employees a path to follow. Although we are a relatively small team, we wanted to reassure and offer our employees a rather precise vision of their potential career progression at Specify

  • To structure our current team organization and easily plan any changes. Creating a career framework force you to create a precise organizational chart and, most importantly, assign job leveling for all the departments

  • It eases and fastens our reflection on hiring new talents. With our predisposed job leveling and skills mapping, we were able to quickly map which skills and seniority we needed to add to the team

  • To link it to our bi-annual Performance Review. A career framework allows one to combine goal setting with the career path of one individual.

  • To connect update and improve our salary grid. We connected all the leveling to our current salary grid, and it added more precision and depth to our current salary politics

  • To ease and justify career promotion within our team.

How we built it

At first, we tried to do it on Notion, which already had a good part of our HR documentation. We quickly realised the limitations of performing such processes on a tool designed for documentation rather than interaction.

After some research and testing, we decided to use Lattice to create our career framework and host all our HR processes (performance reviews, feedback, and surveys). We've been using Lattice for the last six months, and I can only recommend it to you.

Specify's career framework within the Grow module in Lattice

Note that there are other solutions out there. Test and try the one that our the best for your organization.


There you have it, a step-by-step process for creating your company career framework. A career framework is a proof that your company cares about the development of employees and that it wants to keep them for the long term. If you manage to get this message across, it's already a big win for your retention and engagement.

If you have any questions or wish to share your experience with us, I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!

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