Designing work, developing careers
Creating the Workfront User Experience Career Development Framework
It’s sad that the easiest way to progress in your career, get promoted, or just try something new is to change jobs. After all that is invested in recruiting, onboarding, and training top talent, why do so many companies come up so short on ensuring employees will stay? It’s usually not because of a lack of effort—turnover is disruptive and expensive. The answer is simply that it’s hard and we’re often focused on the wrong things.
What happens when the honeymoon is over and you discover that your perfect bride or groom squeezes the toothpaste in the middle of the tube and leaves the toilet seat up? It’s easy to be shortsighted during courtship and the wedding, but unless you quickly combine and plan your new lives together, the chances for longterm happiness and success are slim.
What is it that causes couples to grow old together? It’s not just love; love fades if it isn’t nurtured. The courtship and a wedding are exciting—intoxicating even—but that’s just what brought you together. Successful, lasting relationships require planning and continual investment. Pre-marital counseling is really smart. You must combine your lives. You’re putting aside me and becoming something new: we. You have to align your priorities, set goals, dream together, and continue dating. Important questions must be answered: What do we believe in? What are our political and religious views? Where do we stand on money? How are we going to support ourselves? Where will we live? When will we be ready to purchase a home? When will we have children and how many?
It’s hard work, but it’s worth it. It creates purpose and identity. It’s also been scientifically proven to result in longer, healthier, happier, sexier, and more affluent lives.
I don’t mean to imply that we’ve failed if employees leave. This is certainly where the analogy breaks down a little. The industry has changed significantly from the days when you apprenticed, worked four decades, and retired from the same company. Careers today are much more fluid. Where job-hopping used to be considered a stain on someone’s resume, moving around a little can now be considered an asset, as it can provide diverse experience and perspective. But, it isn’t always the most effective path and shouldn’t be the way.
I feel like many team members have been jilted. It wasn’t at the alter, but we also didn’t just grow apart. It feels like a bit of a bait and switch. We made promises about making a difference in the world, challenging and fulfilling work, and a career track, but often end up with just free lunch, ping-pong tables, and a transit pass—the relationship equivalent to take-out, watching the next episode on Netflix, and then scrolling mindlessly on our phones in bed until we fall asleep.
Companies are investing more into employee training and education, but it’s usually positioned just as an optional benefit—like gym reimbursement—not a primary part of your work, driven and supported by your manager. Annual reviews and merit increases are similar. Human Resources usually drops in and disrupts everything for several weeks with another new, opaque process and formula for employees to be graded on. It’s not a relationship, a plan, or growth. It’s culture theater.
Look around inside your company. Why is it so hard to promote from within? Why are you so willing to hire someone new instead of investing in those already on the team? Why is it often easier to obtain budget for a new position than a promotion? Why are you required to wait to promote someone until an arbitrary annual window instead of when they’ve earned it and are ready? Because it’s easier. You shouldn’t be surprised when someone is encouraged to take a new job elsewhere, with a more senior title and $20,000 more in salary, instead of being happy with their 3% annual merit increase.
What motivates people
Anyone that tells you that salary doesn’t matter is lying. I’ve watched enough people take another job with a raise to be convinced of that. Unless you’re living off the land, off the grid, currency is required to survive. But here’s the kicker: it’s not what motivates people.
Of course the starting point for any discussion of motivation in the workplace is a simple fact of life: People have to earn a living. Salary, contract payments, some benefits, a few perks are what I call “baseline rewards.” If someone’s baseline rewards aren’t adequate or equitable, her focus will be on the unfairness of her situation and the anxiety of her circumstance. You’ll get neither the predictability of extrinsic motivation nor the weirdness of intrinsic motivation. You’ll get very little motivation at all. The best use of money as a motivator is to pay people enough to take the issue of money off the table.
Daniel Pink, in his best selling book Drive, continues with the argument that the secret to high performance and satisfaction in roles that involve more than the most basic cognitive challenge, is “the need to direct our own lives, to learn and create new things, and to do better by ourselves and our world.” He shares how four decades of scientific research on human motivation has revealed how financial reward systems simply do not work and can actually lead to worse performance.
What motivates people then?
- Autonomy: the desire to direct our own lives.
- Mastery: the urge to get better and better at something that matters.
- Purpose: the yearning to do what we do in the service of something larger than ourselves.
But these elements are not things most employees can achieve themselves. They’ve been given a job to do and are expected to just get their work done. Most employers are distracted by pressure to deliver immediate results, which causes them to put off and deprioritize what feels like soft, nice-to-haves. It looks good on recruiting websites and posters around the office, but who really has time for mastery and purpose? Who’s responsibility is it?
Facebook recently conducted research into why people leave. The results were both surprising and enlightening.
People don’t quit a job, the saying goes — they quit a boss. We’ve heard it so many times that when we started tracking why employees leave Facebook, all bets were on managers. But our engagement survey results told a different story: When we wanted to keep people and they left anyway, it wasn’t because of their manager… at least not in the way we expected.
Of course, people are more likely to jump ship when they have a horrible boss. But we’ve spent years working to select and develop great managers at Facebook, and most of our respondents said they were happy with theirs. The decision to exit was because of the work. They left when their job wasn’t enjoyable, their strengths weren’t being used, and they weren’t growing in their careers.
At Facebook, people don’t quit a boss — they quit a job. And who’s responsible for what that job is like? Managers.
If you want to keep your people — especially your stars — it’s time to pay more attention to how you design their work. Most companies design jobs and then slot people into them. Our best managers sometimes do the opposite: When they find talented people, they’re open to creating jobs around them.
They identified three key ways that experiences for people can be customized:
- enable them to do work they enjoy,
- help them play to their strengths,
- and carve a path for career development that accommodates personal priorities.
It’s our job as managers to design jobs that are too good to leave. We must create environments of autonomy and psychological safety where team members are motivated, supported, and able to do their very best work. There must be a personal path forward of growth and learning. It has to be a priority.
Marc Burrage, Managing Director for Hays Poland, has found the same evidence in his firm’s research:
It’s not enough just to send employees off on training courses though. What’s even more motivating for most employees is being shown that there are more rungs on the career ladder that they can climb to within your business. One striking learning to come out of the recent Hays Global Gender Diversity Report was that only 42 per cent of women and 58 per cent of men feel as though they have the opportunity in their current role to promote themselves and communicate their ambitions. Similarly, more than half the people we surveyed in our Hays Asia Salary Guide (54 per cent) cited the wish to face new challenges as a key reason for their departure from an organisation, while almost the same percentage (48 per cent) indicated a lack of progression as the cause.
Motivated by this knowledge and driven by a commitment to deliver something truly useful and inspiring, the management team at Workfront set off on a journey last Fall to build a career framework for our team. We announced our plans, a timeline, and our committment to it being a collaborative process. They team was ecstatic.
We began by assessing how the current structure and process was working. The team’s feedback was collected, reviewed, and shared. The interest around this initiative was palpable. They were open and honest and shared specifc, emotional insights into what they were experiencing. They believed in what we were doing and that we could deliver something real.
For simplicity, I have abbreviated the major topics into the following four fictional quotes:
I would like to continue growing in this role and want to be successful, but don’t feel I’ve been given the tools to do so and the direction from leadership on how to be.
I have no idea where my career is going. Since there’s no clear path, maybe I should consider going somewhere where I can grow and move up the corporate ladder.
I know I’m lacking in some areas in order to get a promotion, but I’m not sure exactly where and what my company needs me to improve upon.
Sure, there are a lot of resources available to me, such as training, but I’m unsure which resources apply to me and I’m overwhelmed by all the options.
It was hard to hear, but we were excited. While obviously a big challenge, we were optimistic that we could solve it.
Core principles and goals
The next step was to establish a set of principles and goals. It was important that the objectives be clear and that we had something to measure our work against along the way and in the end.
- Must be a framework — not a checklist — with baselines and clearly delineating expectations for career and skill development.
- Must be lightweight, visual, measurable, and as objective as possible.
- Put individuals in control of their career — explicitly outlining expectations to succeed in current role and what steps they need to take to be promoted or move into a new role. Help each person articulate, plan, and demonstrate career advancement.
- The ability to track an individual’s progress over time, eliminating surprises and recency bias from performance reviews.
- The ability to compare individuals to the collective group to maintain a balanced organization, guide hiring decisions, and identify mentorship opportunities.
- Parallel maker and manager tracks, equal in influence and compensation, with transitional support and reversible choices.
Then, we planned the components the framework would include:
- Separate tracks for makers and managers
- A set of established norms
- A rubric
- Job level profiles
- A scorecard
- Development plans
Bringing it together
Into the new year, we researched, wrote, reviewed, and revised. We collaborated with and gathered feedback from People and Culture, Product Management, Engineering, and consultants. We knew that it was crucial to have support from the rest of the business in order for this to be successful.
Separate tracks for makers and managers
Parallel maker and manager tracks, equal in influence and compensation was a top priority. Manager positions are limited and someone shouldn’t have to enter management to progress. The other mistake that we were keen to avoid is pushing people into management that aren’t interested or ready. Organizations for too often make their top individual contributor a manager based solely on their success as an individual contributor. It’s illogical. Why would you want your top individual contributor to stop contributing? Managing people is an entirely different job.
While management is a separate track, leadership is not. Leadership is not a position; it’s a responsibility.
- Management is different from leadership. Managers should be good leaders, but leaders don’t have to manage. Managing people is a different skill set and job from design. You are designing teams that design products instead of designing products.
- Management is practiced by those on the management path (Managers, Directors, VPs, etc). It involves hiring, retaining, and empowering a team of people.
- Leadership can be practiced by those on both the management and the individual contributor path. It involves driving change for the better through inspiring, role-modelling, vision setting, articulating, coaching, teaching, and executing.
An individual does not need to progress through all stages at Workfront. They can be hired as a Designer 2, for example. Someone entering the manager track must be at least at the Lead/Manager level however. Meaning, you must have at least progressed beyond Senior to move to management or have acquired equivelent management experience elsewhere.
While we will be building out tracks for individual contributor researchers and management, we started with the design maker track as it affected the highest percentage of the team. This will be straightforward with the framework that we now have in place.
We then started working on our norms. This required the most work. There was so much we could cover. We had spreadsheets full of skills and principles. We tried multiple approaches for grouping and organizing. For several weeks, we felt stuck and were getting discouraged. What was coming together wasn’t feeling much better than what we had before. We had to keep this lightweight or it would fail.
Then we had a breakthrough. Instead of a large, complex matrix of skills across the entire range of positions, with only subtle, incrementally-advancing descriptions, we would create:
- a simple list of principles;
- each with a description and three illustrative behaviors;
- grouped into four categories;
- with a requirement of being proficient in three of the four skills in each category.
The principles would define full mastery and top quality. We would then create job level profiles and measure individuals against the profiles by means of a simple scale. The actual scale didn’t matter. It could be viewed as 1–5, fractions, or a percentage. The requirement that individuals be proficient in three of the four skills in each category would provide individuals the ability to define their own career path, focusing on their individual strengths and interests.
After many more revisions, we decided to limit ourselves to sixteen skills and four categories. Sixteen seems like a lot, but not when you’re considering just the four in a single category. We debated whether the categories should be balanced or not. Balanced won. It required us to push things a little to make it all fit, but create a nice, consistent result in the end.
The categories that we selected are research, design, communication, and engagement and ownership (yeah, I know that that’s really five). Each of the sixteen skills has a description and three behaviors, which can be viewed in the skills tab of the scorecard template.
As mentioned above, the profiles and measurement will be accomplished by means of scales. We selected two: competency and quality, which together, represent an individual’s impact and influence.
Competency is a range between apprentice and master. Again, the steps in the scale are not important; its insight is in the position on it. Quality is measured between needs work and exceptional.
Once we had the norms established, it was time to create profiles for each of the job levels within the maker design track. We created a worksheet survey for each team member (individual contributor and manager) and had them plot what they believed each job level (Associate, Designer 1, Designer 2, etc) should look like. We then aggregated all of these worksheets together into profiles. There were a few instances where management had to make a call to break a tie or address an outliner.
Here are the profiles for each of the job levels in the maker design track:
UX Designer 1
UX Designer 2
Senior UX Designer
Lead UX Designer
Principal UX Designer
The final stage was the most exciting. At the beginning of the project I had set an incredibly high bar with a mockup of a screen from a fictional piece of software. Throughout the entire project, we knew that it wasn’t something that we would have, but we couldn’t shake it. Any solution we explored that was less than that just wasn’t good enough.
A solution that we considered seriously was building the scorecard in Workday. We are already using the solution for conducting reviews and had also started using it for tracking goals. It was interesting because it would be real software, but the experience simply wasn’t lightweight and visual enough to be compelling. To be successful, this had to be something that the team was excited about using.
We finally decided that a Google spreadsheet would be the best solution for our first version. We created a template that can be duplicated each time someone—an individual, manager, peer—wishes or is asked to score themselves or someone else. This works well as it is easy to understand and is approachable. We already spend a lot of time in Google Docs so there was little learning curve. We were also able to make it look a lot like the original mockup.
The major drawbacks to this solution is that the data is not in a database. It’s siloed in separate spreadsheets. That means that there is no good way for an individaul or manager to document or visualize progress. There’s also the issue of versioning. As we refine the scorecard or the principles and categories, any previous version is still out there, now out of date. We feel good about the decision however and consider it a great minimal viable product.
The worksheet may seem a little daunting, but once you’re familiar with it, it’s actually quite simple. Those completing the worksheet score the subject on both competency and quality, for each of the sixteen skills. Since Google Sheets doesn’t have radio buttons, we had to use a little scripting to make checkboxes behave like radios. This ensures that only one grade is being give for each scale.
This is where it all comes together. The data entered into the worksheet is then displayed in a read-only scorecard. The scorecard also includes an overlay (the thick black line) of each job level so that individuals and managers can easily see the delta between where they are today and where they would like to be, and then set specific goals to level up. Individuals are considered proficient in a category if they are “above the line” in three or more skills. This required quite a bit more custom scripting and unfortunately updates very slow; but again, it’s a great MVP.
In the following screenshot, the colors represent how the individual was graded (by themselves or someone else). The “Designer 2” job level has been selected from a pick-list in the upper-left, resulting in the thick black line cutting across the colored squares.
It’s read like this:
- I am/you are currently performing at the Designer 1 level.
- Overall, I am/you are close to Designer 2.
- I am/you are proficient or operating at the Designer 2 level in Design, Communication, and Engagement & Ownership.
- Overall, my/your quality is higher than my/your competency, but in terms of meeting the expectations for Designer 2, where I am/you are lacking is in the quality of my/your research.
- To be fully proficient or operating at the Designer 2 level, I/you need to improve the quality of my/your research so that I am/you are at or above the line for quality in three or more research skills.
Things to note
- When evaluated, individuals are assessed for each skill, but graded against categories. Mastery means consistently exceeding the expectations associations for competency and quality of 3 or more of the skills for a single category.
- Progression is based upon the continuing maturity and evolution of your skills, your ongoing growth as a person, how well you grow your team and those around you, and above all, your tangible contribution to your team and the company. It does not involve progression based upon years of experience, politics, cronyism, or favoritism. That said, growth and mastery take time. You grow by growing yourself and growing those around you. Your work can then be executed autonomously, without supervision.
- Work nirvana is reached when we are intensely aligned, while also being able to be autonomous in our execution. With this in place every individual needs to be an active stakeholder in their work. It also requires clear explanation of our roadmap, metrics to strive towards, and a vision worth waking up for.
- Mastery is not linear. The more you progress, the harder it is to get to the next level. That is because you’re increasing in competency and quality, on top of maintaining mastery of everything you’ve learned up to this point.
We officially launch the framework the first week of March. We walked everyone through the final set of norms, rubric, job level profiles, and scorecard. We trained them how to use the worksheet and set expectations to begin utilizing this new resource for the 2020 Q1 quarterly reviews. I have high confidence that this will be an effective tool to inspire the team and drive growth in competency and quality.
This is just the beginning. The team is eagerly and actively monitoring this as it takes off. I anticipate updates to come on both the framework and the scorecard. Some next steps that we identified:
- Designer 2 is a new level that was introduced alongside the framework. All designers with the current title “UX Designer” to be re-positioned as Designer 1 or Designer 2.
- In addition to the descriptions and three behaviors for each skill, we wanted to select internal case studies of practical application.
- The primary challenge with the Google Sheets scorecard is the limiations on tracking and visualizing progress. A solution is needed for this.
- A solution for documenting development plans.
- Develop the design management track.
- Develop the research maker and management track.
In conclusion, I have a request: please don’t use this framework. A big mistake that teams make is blindly adopting processes or frameworks. There is no perfect process or framework. Your team is unique. Do your research. Invest the time. Learn from what we and many others have done and create the solution that will best support and inspire your team. This is right for us because we built it. Together.
The Workfront UX team included some of the best in the industry. Combined with our operating agreement, we significantly improved our ability to provide our team with real autonomy, mastery, and purpose. We were focused on the right things. This framework for personal growth and career development was part of what we committed to provide them in return for their commitment to us. We invested in them and in our relationship because we believed that we would achieve great things together. Designing jobs that are too good to leave is hard work, but it’s worth it.