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How to encourage and promote your employees with efficient job ladders
March 20, 2019
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Partech Shaker once again hosted Arnaud Meunier, Partech entrepreneur-in-residence and serial entrepreneur, for a talk on the use of job ladders in motivating and retaining employees.
Job ladders help to establish an employee meritocracy within a startup. In other words, job ladders implement a process in which startup employees feel part of a meritocracy that rewards performance and achievement with a structured and predefined system of promotion.
What is a job ladder?
A job ladder defines different progression levels for each job function, while explaining the differences between each level and how employees can move between them.
These definitions shouldn’t have anything to do with people management or seniority. They should focus on the expectations of each function, a defined career path and a clear remuneration policy.
A job ladder is another name for a career plan or a progression ladder. For example, a consulting group job ladder could look like the following: Consultant/Senior Consultant/Manager/Senior Manager/Partner.
Why create and use job ladders?
An efficient job ladder helps you to clarify how employees can progress within their job, how you reward this and what’s expected in terms of skills and impact. You should use a job ladder to provide clear information about the following:
- To ensure employees know what is expected of them. It is not because you are a talented and excellent manager that you should become a manager. Talented engineers do not necessarily make good managers, and this is why an “efficient” job ladder is a must.
- Getting promoted doesn’t mean that you are stealing someone else’s seat. If you are waiting for the person above you to leave in order to get promoted, something is wrong.
- Career progression should be transparent: employees should clearly understand how they can progress in their careers, what is expected of them and how it’s rewarded.
- A transparent salary process: why is one employee paid less than his/her colleague? Everything should be clearly stated in order to avoid any feelings of injustice.
Not one, but many job ladders
Ideally, you should have a job ladder per job function: for engineering, products, and management, etc. including the different job levels from junior to senior (level1/2/3, etc.). In each job, there should be well defined and clear criteria so that employees can evaluate their levels. For a Senior Engineer for example, criteria such as technical skills, code quality, impact and teamwork need to be clearly stated.
A career move from software engineering to management shouldn’t have anything to do with a promotion: it’s a side move, to a different job function and a different ladder.
Employees should be involved in job ladder definitions because they are the experts in their field, unlike their managers. This is what we did at Twitter by saying: what do you expect from an engineer, a sales person or a manager at each level: junior, senior, staff, and so on.
A job ladder for Data Scientists, for example, will probably include an analysis/algorithms category (quantitative knowledge, data collection skills, etc). On the management side, the job ladder will revolve around people management (expanding the team and career and performance development) and also organizational alignment, execution and project management, and so on.
What is the promotion process when moving from one level to another?
The promotion process is as important as the job ladder definition. This is why a three-step promotion process is recommended:
- Proposition: an employee and his/her manager prepare a promotion case.
- Peer input: ask for other employees’ feedback on the proposition,
- Committee: the decision should be made by a committee of employees with the same job functions. In this way, the committee, not the manager, decides if the promotion is to be granted or not. Employees become actors of their own career paths and are given responsibility as they also judge their peers. Managers become “cheerleaders”, who encourage their employees to reach their targets. This process relieves the tensions which arise because of promotions.
When creating your job ladders, you should keep the following points in mind:
- Optimization: make sure your job ladder is not crowded with procedures: keep the definition of the promotion criteria simple: “too many procedures kill the procedures”.
- Accessible opportunities: beware of using vague criteria, such as “impact” for example. Impact is relative: some teams can have stronger perceived impact than real impact. For example, a company’s support team is very important, but the impact is less visible than the product team’s input as it launches new products. The members of some teams are more frequently promoted than others as the perceived impact is higher than the real one. This can make employees want to move from one team to another for the wrong reasons.
- Reorganisation: when a startup grows from 10 to 20, and then to 100 employees, this leads to frequent reorganisation. To ensure that people don’t constantly move from one team to another during this period of high growth, stability is crucial.
Job ladders: an ideal complement to OKR
OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) are a set of objectives linked to measurable key results, that you grade or upgrade accordingly every quarter. Rather than building a one-year road map for your company, you do it every quarter. You define a mission with consistent, stable and exhaustive objectives, and key results for each one.
While OKRs help you to define the company’s success, job ladders help you pave the way for the success of your employees.