A modern day career framework 

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Optimise talent with a future-proof, modern career framework

A modern career framework serves as a blueprint for your organisation’s success, connecting HR processes into a comprehensive picture and preparing your workforce for whatever comes next. 

A convergence of trends is creating challenges for organisations trying to make the most of their talent. Expected changes like the introduction of new technology, expansion into new geographies and HR transformation have continued apace. And unforeseen trends such as the Great Resignation, skills shortages, increased mobility accelerated by the pandemic, and enhanced social sustainability expectations, like pay and gender equity, have also impacted the very definition of work.

In today’s fast-changing and competitive environment, leading organisations are adopting a career framework to mitigate these risks and pave the way to business success. Modern career frameworks provide a structure against which leaders can optimise their workforce, lower costs, improve pay competitiveness, and gain insights into future talent needs. By articulating a career philosophy that aligns with the future of work, and identifying the job families, roles and skills to support it, organisations are empowered to unlock HR and talent potential.

It takes time and money to create a modern career framework, but the long-term return on that investment, in terms of business results, can make it well worth it. 

Focus on people and skills, not jobs

Traditional job architectures, centred on jobs with a hierarchical view, were originally created to support job evaluations and rewards programmes. They tended to pigeon-hole people into jobs that were organised into many traditional grades. In some cases, the large number of grades led to undesired behaviours, such as employees chasing titles and promotions rather than focusing on performing in their current roles.

Now, organisations can adopt a modernised career framework, which not only addresses the current work landscape but can flex as market trends and critical skills change — offering a significant advantage in the competition for talent. Newer career frameworks have evolved to define required skills and behaviours, driving value from analytics and strengthening employee capabilities and organisational agility.

For example, focusing on the skill requirements for a job can broaden the potential pool of talent, enabling leaders to obtain talent with skills that would otherwise remain hidden. For example, today’s career frameworks can document the projects employees have worked on and the skills they’ve acquired, revealing talent that could be leveraged in adjacent, critical roles.

By linking job titles to clear, relevant, and critical skills and responsibilities, organisations can also pay employees fairly, more accurately measure their performance, and more fluidly replace them if they depart. Turnover, though, is less likely when employees see clear pathways to a wide range of opportunities within the company. That’s because broader career levels give people more internal and lateral career development. For example, talented individual contributors could see a path to advance their careers that does not require becoming a people manager. Greater clarity in career options supports attraction and retention, saving the time and expense of hiring someone new.

Resolve today’s challenges

Many organisations are creating new career frameworks, or modernising existing frameworks, in response to today’s trends or to resolve a pressing issue. For example, pay transparency is growing in importance: governments around the world are pressuring organisations to strive for pay equity, and Mercer’s research shows that 85% of organisations include pay equity in their compensation strategy. But it’s hard to say you’re paying the same salary for the same work when you can’t even clearly define the work. This is why many forward-thinking organisations are organising jobs into job families and career levels and taking a hard look at their job titles.

Some organisations find a career framework valuable as they transition to a new HRIS or undergo HR transformation, as its consistency adds valuable insights and informs a centralised process. Others use career frameworks to knit together or revise talent structures due to M&A or organisational splits.

In any case, the right approach to creating a career framework is to start with the greatest area of need, as determined by the organisation; not force-fitting it into a generic structure or using a cookie-cutter approach. The most successful career frameworks are used in conjunction with solid HR processes and consulting, including skills assessment tools, benchmarking and compensation perspectives. 

Future-proof your organisation

A modern career framework not only addresses today’s burning issues; it also helps leaders prepare for the future by:

  • Understanding the jobs that are required for success today and proactively planning for jobs and skills that will support the business strategy and enable future growth.
  • Focusing on a combination of the competencies, skills and experience employees need to perform in their current jobs, and then broaden that lens to look at their capacity and potential to deliver on future needs by learning and growing within the business.
  • Leveraging technology to assign work based on discrete projects rather than fixed roles, and utilising variable staffing models, which prepares the organisation to use nontraditional pools of talent, such as freelancers and gig workers.
  • Building agility into the framework to address changes in career structures and add competencies and roles, by either developing or buying the capability. 

What exactly is a career framework?

 A career framework underpins key activities such as architecture development, content building and use of technology, and links vital HR processes including rewards, performance management, selection and retention, succession management, workforce planning and career management. 

A career framework is a single, dynamic platform that links vital HR processes, including workforce analytics, selection and retention, performance management, succession management, rewards, career management and development. By sharing the same infrastructure and establishing a common language, the processes come together to form a clear, comprehensive picture. The flexible nature of modern career frameworks enables organisations to respond with agility to changes and challenges in the marketplace. 

The foundation of a career framework, the job architecture, defines the internal organisation of jobs (that is, roles, career streams, job families, and subfamilies and titling) and supports job evolution over time. Job architectures often serve as the scaffolding for salary structures. 

Role profiles define the company-wide responsibilities and capabilities that drive performance management and career development. They capture what the work is and how it gets done, clearly showing employees what’s required at the next level and helping employers assess their talent needs.

Trends pointing toward career frameworks


of executives are planning an organisational redesign over the next two years.


of organisations plan to restructure around talent populations rather than technical disciplines.


of C-suite executives say the pandemic showed that knowing what skills they have in the workplace improves their agility.

Eight reasons to invest in a career framework

A well-built strategic career framework delivers tangible benefits for your organisation and people. 

Employees get visibility into a wider variety of career opportunities, feel empowered to influence their career direction, understand role requirements and progression criteria, and have access to the training they need to develop critical skills — which increases retention and motivation. 

As employees gain a better understanding of what’s expected of them, they focus on the skills and behaviours that link to financial levers.

Target development dollars toward growing critical competencies and skills, and then measure the impact on business results. 

Link key satisfaction and retention measures for customers with the employee capabilities that deliver them. 

Equip talent to deliver on your strategy by defining roles, accountabilities, skills and behaviours needed today, during times of change and for the future of work. 

Improve responses to market shifts, capitalise on new opportunities, and preserve or enhance competitive advantage by effectively linking people, strategy and operations.

Increased retention saves money on recruiting costs, and identifying redundancies in roles and structures increases productivity and efficiency while lowering operational costs. 

Give HR and employees a clear line of sight into the talent pipeline and support top performers with succession planning.

Top five business drivers

The most common business drivers for investing in a career framework include:
  • Solutions

    Driving speed-to-value relative to software as a service (SaaS) HR technology solutions
  • Delivery

    Establishing a common platform for the effective delivery of an integrated HR service
  • Strategy

    Building functional capability and talent capacity to deliver on global and local business strategies
  • Growth

    Defining career growth opportunities and bolstering productivity
  • Rewards

    Creating an infrastructure to enable the effective delivery of a global total rewards system
Leading companies around the world are building strategic career frameworks to enable swift and effective HR transformation, establish the infrastructure necessary to deliver on the business strategy, execute their talent management model to accelerate business success, and build for an unknown future.
Vlad Gogish

is a Senior Principal in Mercer’s Norwalk, CT office in the Career business, and consults on human capital issues. These include rewards (both executive and broad-based), talent strategy (skills, performance, and development), and transformation (for organizations as well as their human resources departments). Vlad has experience with clients in financial services, manufacturing, construction, and technology industries, among others. Past and current projects include nonprofits as well as businesses.

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