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The Importance of a Detailed Leveling Guide

Acquisition / Integration
Changing A Company
Mission / Vision / Charter
Goal Setting

4 November, 2021

Kirk Gray
Kirk Gray

VP Engineering at McGraw Hill

Kirk Gray, VP of Engineering at McGraw-Hill, examines his process of creating a leveling guide and implementing it in an enterprise.


A few years ago, my company consolidated several previously siloed and independent engineering organizations. Within these organizations, titles and expectations were divergent, and the career path was muddled or nonexistent. My goal was to help employees know where they stand and where they're going while ensuring retention during the transitional process. The leveling process had to align with the entire company, and I needed other senior engineering leaders to buy in to jumpstart this process.

Actions taken

Step one is having an opinion on how the leveling process should look. I took an assessment of the organization and how daily operations were running. I got to know the employees that would be affected by the leveling. I analyzed their behavior, title, and level of engagement within the company to understand where people were at. Using this information, I determined how the market described each position: specifying requirements, skill sets, values, and tasks. There was never any documentation that settled our company expectations other than vague statements. My list allowed me to establish the end goal; to give many promotions or work towards a clear objective.

I brought my opinions and results to the field, researching other organizations' similar or dissimilar leveling guides. I sought to find systems that wouldn't align or work well with my company to concisely understand what I didn't want. In reverse, I found guides that I could incorporate into my company and team. Some of the guides were startup or engineering-driven, and I needed to build empathy and growth of understanding for our customers. Finally, I added our company specifics to the leveling guides to answer how our engineers can deliver value within our company.

After incorporating the leveling guide into our onboarding process, I worked with a team to continue vetting it and preparing it to propose to my leadership. The other senior leaders shared their opinions, and it was my responsibility to filter through them. I asked myself how this feedback related to our goals and motivations. Our compensation department worked alongside me to arrange documentation around responsibilities that exemplified a pay raise. When employees worked towards our goal, completing a specified number of tasks at a competent level, they earned a step up in the pay scale. Working with the compensation team was essential to determine how the career ladder progressed related to pay and promotion.

Once our leveling guide was produced, we incorporated it into our onboarding process and displayed it from day one. I wanted each individual to comprehend their roadmap and career path and be congruent with our company's mission. Our company decided not to retitle each partner, as we found it does not solve problems. The first thing was to communicate with each team member to provide them with an understanding of the changes and new expectations that come with this transition. I wanted each individual to assess themselves and have an honest discussion aligning their capabilities with their managers' insight.

After my team built shared comprehension of where they stood, we had them create personal goals tied to delivering value. From there, each individual charted a roadmap determining their steps to achieve their goals and next career steps. It was important for the new career ladder to be obvious for everyone, so there was no confusion regarding vertical transitions. Once the leveling plan was implemented, there was a universal appreciation for the cohesiveness detailing the career path and how to get a promotion. It motivated our teams to advocate for themselves, doing the work that brings them happiness and the company value.

Lessons learned

  • Find champions within your organization who are willing to sponsor and chaperone change. These individuals will become your partners and provide constructive feedback to your leveling guide.
  • Seek a variety of opinions from a variety of stakeholders as early as possible. You want to comprehend how your leveling guide will be received before you implement it.
  • Communicate as much as possible to create clarity. Corporate edicts are constant in an enterprise, and without explaining what benefits your change will bring, it will be overlooked or ignored.
  • Follow up and keep referring back to your leveling guide. With a constantly changing market, keeping your framework up to date will retain alignment.

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