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How to Use Career Grids to Formalize Career Paths

Career Path

17 September, 2019

Satish Viswanatham
Satish Viswanatham

Senior Director of Engineering at Second Genome

Satish Viswanatham, Senior Director of Engineering at Skillz, explains how introducing career grids helped his company formalize career paths and how, by doing so, they made the whole process more transparent and objective.

Problem

For some time, we lacked formal procedures relating to career paths and career developments. Most often, during one-on-one meetings, people would bring up compensation or promotion issues or simply ask how they were doing. We heard from multiple directions and in various forms that we need to formalize our career paths. What we wanted to establish was a functional feedback mechanism and clear metrics for promotion and recognition. We were insistent on having transparent and fair career path policies that will enable us to evaluate all employees fairly and objectively.

Actions taken

For each career path, we established several levels. Both technical and management paths had seven levels. We created the same number of levels for each career path to ensure that the number of levels do not determine people's choices and is equally rewarding. We established a strong correlation between ICs and management. However, you can move to management only after attaining a certain level of skills. We believe that people should gain a certain level of technical skills before switching to managerial roles -- when you reach level five you would be considered for a managerial role. Junior people would be working more on enhancing their technical skills and then would gradually improve their people skills. We encouraged people to try different things and work in parallel on both paths thus benefiting from many commonalities. Then, for each position, we pinpointed skills that will be evaluated. These are, among others, core quality skills, communication skills, design skills, teamwork skills, acting proactively, etc. The various aspects of these skills differ for each level. For example, at a junior level, planning skills are evaluated as the ability to plan by yourself one day in a week while at a mid or senior level it will be required from an employee to plan a whole feature or a whole release for more senior roles. We introduced career grids and have them clearly documented. Grids were personalized for each and every person and we checked in every month how everyone was doing on their grid. Once our employees complete all the requirements stated in the grid they are qualified for the promotion. By introducing career grids we developed an objective process that allowed our employees to assess where they stood and which skills they should work on. At least once a month we checked milestones identified in a career grid. As a result, we could assess how much progress had been made and if that was enough for a promotion.

Lessons learned

  • Employees liked the transparency and objectivity of the process. In addition, they were pleased to be able to convey their feedback both on the document and the process. Also, employees appreciated being given feedback on their work and engineers were particularly keen to compare their grids.
  • One of the main challenges was to keep career documents updated, both for ICs and managers. Though they were not regularly updated, six-month reviews became easier because there was a baseline document to start with.
  • It was hard to come up with a uniform document but some problems were worked out during the evaluation interviews. Also, we encountered problems in terms of grading consistency, yet again, this was fixed during the interviews.
  • Many people are enthusiastic to pursue a career in management but are uncomfortable with the responsibility it brings along. We provided people a possibility to give it a try and then decide if they want to stay in technical roles or move further into management.

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