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Building our career ladder from scratch

Managing Expectations
Scaling Team
Career Path
Performance

6 December, 2017

Joao Miguel Quitério
Joao Miguel Quitério

Engineering Director at BitSight Technologies

As the company grew, a need for a clear career plan became obvious. Joao shares how TalkDesk built a career ladder.

Problem

I joined Talkdesk quite early on. For a long time, no effort was put into thinking about career growth for the team. As a team grows and people have been there for a while, some people evolve in their role and suddenly you start hearing: "Why is he making more money?", "What do you value for growth?" and "How can I make more money is this company?". It was becoming crystal clear that we needed to do something about this to provide transparency.

Actions taken

We decided to set up a team to tackle the issue and to come up with a real career plan. We started by looking out for reference points and stumbled upon a great article from "Rent the Runway" about their career ladder. It happened to be a very good base for our work. However, I believe that you should not take an "as is" approach, but instead should adopt a plan and adapt it to your structure, needs and culture. Here are the main adjustments we made:

  • As we are a remote team, communication is extremely important. We, therefore, decided to emphasise this by having a dedicated "Communication" column
  • We also adjusted the number of levels. We wanted a bit more granularity and ended up with three levels of engineers, two levels of senior engineers and two levels of principal engineers.
  • We also added three other tracks: QA, Data Scientists, and Operations.
  • We also made an update to the language of the document, to fit our culture and values. We kept the foundation of the ladder as the separation between management and ICs, with "leading" being more of an assignment. We discussed each cell and had great discussions about expectations, before deciding to share the ladder with a few select people to gather their feedback. After implementing the career ladder, we realized there were people who were being overcompensated when compared to where they should have been on the ladder. For these people, we decided to keep them at their original salary and have them at their real level, but to consider them to be "underperformers" until they reached the expectations normally required for their salary levels. This triggered discussions during reviews and one-on-ones about how they could reach the level expected of them.

Lessons learned

The hardest part was the transition from a "chaotic" system to the new structured ladder. Placing people in terms of levels was very difficult, because levels are of course very linked to compensation, and some engineers were not happy. The very first placement was a way for us to send a message, show the path ahead and clarify our expectations.

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