Crafting Career Ladders for Individual Contributors: A Tale of Growth and Challenges
You don’t always need a career ladder.
In the dynamic landscape of startups, the need for a career ladder or leveling guild may not always be apparent, especially when you are the lone contributor in your field. In such cases, a more personalized approach, working directly with your manager to set short-term and long-term goals, often proves more effective.
But, you do need a career ladder.
However, as your team evolves from a collection of individuals into a cohesive unit, the necessity for a leveling guild becomes pronounced. This guild serves not only to establish standards for individual career progression but also acts as a crucial guide for onboarding new team members.
Our team, experiencing rapid growth and doubling in size within a year, found itself confronted with unforeseen challenges. Discrepancies in titles and leveling between the US and EMEA teams, coupled with a lack of clear expectations for individual contributors’ career advancement, prompted us to take action.
Recognizing the uniqueness of our situation, we understood that a one-size-fits-all approach wouldn’t suffice. Copying another team’s leveling guild would be like fitting a square peg into a round hole. Thus, we embarked on crafting our career-leveling ladders.
Designing these ladders, we understood the importance of context. Crafting them couldn’t occur in isolation; instead, it required a holistic approach that considered various factors:
- Global Impact: Our team operates on a global scale. Any career ladder we design must have a global perspective, ensuring that it aligns with diverse cultural and professional expectations.
- Industry Standards: Staying abreast of industry standards is crucial. The technology and business landscape are ever-evolving, and our career ladders must reflect the skills and competencies valued in the broader industry.
- Company Core Competencies: Aligning our career ladders with our company’s core competencies ensures that individual growth aligns with the overall goals and vision of the organization.
- Cross-Team Standards: Understanding the leveling standards of other teams within the company prevents internal misalignments and facilitates smoother transitions for team members who might shift roles.
- Team Charter and Focus: Tailoring our career ladders to our team’s charter and focus is essential. The needs of an established organization differ significantly from those of a team in growth mode. Our career ladders must reflect these nuances.
- Creating space for personal growth In our career leveling guild, we specifically leave one area as an option for our designers to identify. We understand each team member is unique; by creating space for personal growth, we encourage our members to focus on their superpower, and develop deep knowledge in the areas they shin.
Crafting career ladders is, in essence, a journey of self-discovery for the team and its members. It’s an ongoing process of adapting to the changing dynamics of the industry and the organization. As our team forges ahead, we recognize that the investment in developing these career ladders isn’t just about titles and promotions; it’s about fostering an environment where every individual contributor can thrive, bringing their unique skills to the team’s collective success.
Why do it?
Developing people. Provide standards for the team and guidance when we hire.
When to do it?
Use it for career-level discussions. It is not just for the annual review time. Continue evaluate the progress by mapping to the guidelines.
What supplies are needed
How to use these example templates
Team workshop development template
- Articles — a collection of related articles covering general leveling and design industry leveling
- Leveling guide — some examples of design leveling definitions
- A space for your team to collect information that is relevant to your team, such as the company leveling guide, other teams’ leveling guild
- Brainstorming space for the team to identify design/team-specific attributes to build the leveling guild
- A table template to draft each level description
Examples of leveling guide
In this folder, there are some examples of what our team is using for leveling discussions. I’ve included a few functions within the design org (such as ICs, Design Manager, and DesignOps ICs), and also older versions. The are built in Google sheet. Copy the sheet for your own team to use.
This is a figma template with an example leveling guild we used. Designers liked it for it is more visual with the rose chart. However, if your team uses a career tracking/development tool such as progression.co, you will have a much-integrated charting version.