You know the saying: A company is only as good as its employees. If you’re in agreement, it’s a no brainer that the best investment you can make as a company is to create an environment that fosters personal and professional development.
During our initial years while the team was still small, there was no framework in place and people’s growth trajectories emerged in a rather organic fashion. As new people came onboard, there was a growing feeling that we needed to shed more light on the matter.
Over the past few months, I’ve spent a decent amount of time thinking about the way in which people advance their professional careers while at WyeWorks, how that aligns with our values, and the role our feedback process plays in all that.
Today, I’d like to share with you what we as a team came up with in order to start facing this challenge.
How we understand career development
We started by asking ourselves why we wanted to work on this, and the answer quickly came to the surface: We want to help people grow. That alone was the fundamental principle that shaped our framework. We wanted to focus on our teammates’ strengths and how best to help them reach their maximum potential, thus moving away from the more typical performance evaluation approach that most of us were used to in previous jobs.
After some serious reflection, we concluded that we understand growth as the journey through which someone becomes their best self, be it by learning new skills as well as perfecting existing ones. Hence, the purpose of our framework has to be to facilitate that journey.
Why we don’t stick to traditional models
With that goal in mind, traditional frameworks quickly fell short since they’re primarily concerned with assigning someone a level or categorizing them in a ladder of some sort. We think that this not only constrains people’s growth to certain predefined boxes, but also frames professional development as a competition rather than the journey it should be: with its ups and downs, and more importantly, one that allows for lateral moves in order to experiment other areas.
It would be preposterous for us to consider every possible path our engineers would like to take and prepare a set of career tracks or roles accordingly. Even if we were able to do this, in the pursue for credit people will do precisely the actions we define and we’d most likely end up with a team with homogenous skills rather than one that taps into their naturally diverse talents. That would simply defeat the whole purpose of what we were trying to achieve.
We needed to create something different.
What we’re doing right now
Growth at WyeWorks begins from day one, when you are expected to acquire the necessary skills to perform the job you were hired to do. For software engineers, that means learning the technologies and processes we rely on in order to deliver the quality we aim for to our clients.
As time goes on, we start having frequent conversations with each and every one on the team about their interests, goals and ambitions. For that purpose we created a dedicated group of coaches that will help unveil what they really expect their life to be like in the near future. We found this to be the hardest part of the process to be honest. Once people envision their future selves, our coaches’ role is to guide them through the action steps and development of the necessary skills required to get there.
This means the most important contribution we can make is not pushing what we think is best onto our people, but instead concentrate on listening. We must listen. Our job is to expose and elevate those internal motivating factors, and then let them experiment with different projects that will help them to build the skills they are intrinsically motivated to master. Moreover, such skills don’t necessarily have to fit into a box or a position. There may be people who want to become experts in DevOps (and will have to gain the knowledge and capacity to work well under pressure), others might want to ensure clients are happy working with us (requiring the development of high levels of empathy), and some might want to teach and train newhires (meaning they’ll have to improve on their patience and communication skills). Sometimes, more often than not, it might even be the same person. For us it’s just as important to have people on our team who develop deep into certain skill areas as well as generalists, providing us with a robust and flexible team at the same time.
As a company this obviously has its challenges. We must first of all be willing to invest the time and money needed to give people the chance to explore outside of their confort zones without compromising on the level of service we provide to our clients. To that end, we have in-company time that anyone can take advantage of, as explained here. We also must be as flexible as possible to empower people to develop per whatever path they prefer while figuring out how we can utilize that talent to everyone’s benefit. And when that’s not possible, we must be humble enough to recognize that they might be better off somewhere else.
How do we measure progress?
You might be asking yourself how we measure progress and perhaps even how we tie all this in with salary. The answer is easy: we currently don’t include compensation into the equation. It was a problem too challenging to tackle for a first version of our framework and we feared we might end up incentivizing unwanted behaviors. Besides, studies have shown that the positive feelings associated with getting a raise are only temporary, and that long-term satisfaction is much more closely tied to personal development and a sense of accomplishment.
Therefore, the only metric we care about and measure at this time is personal growth. We do this by simply asking each employee whether they feel as though they’re constantly growing or not. That’s what really matters to us.
Obviously, this doesn’t mean we don’t give people promotions though. We aim to pay fairly and in line with the market, but (at least for now) that process continues to be separate and somewhat subjective.
To us, success is to inspire companies and individuals to build great software in a sustainable and joyful way, enabling business to flourish while people grow to become the better self. This means becoming our best selves is part of our very definition of success, and what I covered here is one of the mechanisms that help us achieve such goal.
Having this mindset of being continuously improving our capabilities is what allows us to stay relevant over the long term.