5 things to think about before creating a career framework
16 Jun 2021 Beth Nevins, People Director

Creating a career framework from scratch is one of, if not the, most complex people products an HR executive will build for a start-up. For the more experienced HR executive, familiar with career frameworks, it’s likely there will be an existing and evolved architecture, allowing them to hit the ground running. Surrounding infrastructure, including a review cycle and compensation calculator are also necessary. In larger organisations it’s this ecosystem that, at worst exists despite a lack of effectiveness, and at best is ideal for the purpose of attracting, developing and retaining awesome staff.

A ‘cookie cutter’ approach to this exercise doesn’t really work for start-ups, because while a company needs to balance building a framework that is aligned market wide, it also needs the active engagement of leadership and the team. This brings in a wider range of considerations such as business maturity, company values, critical competencies that are unique to your business model, and many more.

That’s not to say that a start-up needs to ‘reinvent the wheel’. There’s a wealth of frameworks out there, tailored to market leaders and start-ups, that can provide big gains when trying to become familiar with the structure, number of levels and design thinking that will be useful for the organisation. One resource others may recommend is progression.fyi, as well as the more industry wide recognised frameworks such as Radford and SFIA.

However, it’s easy to get lost in all this, because the more you look, the more you realise that actually, every company is different in their approach, some choosing to stick to ‘skills’ only, others hold closely to ‘accountabilities’ and ‘responsibilities’ creating more of a ‘role profile’ as part of the framework, and some decide to blend the two approaches altogether. Some stick to a business wide approach, others have a structure for every single department. On the plus side, you soon realise that the right approach is, like parenting, to just do what works best for you and your company.

So you’re on your own and knee deep in framework analysis. This can lead to several outcomes, either great insight and clarity for design, concern about the need to build ‘the’ next influential product in the talent industry, the need to remain competitive, or most importantly, how this framework will empower your company to keep accelerating forward supporting the company’s mission.

So a word to the wise, there are some key considerations to map out as a team as your guiding principles. These should be referred back to during the design journey. I strongly recommend you do this before you go looking at what everyone else is doing.

 

1. Determine why you need a framework?

It’s likely that by the time your start-up is needing to to build this, you’ve already totted up a sizeable headcount since most early stage start-ups either are instructed by VCs or driven by their intrinsic business need to simply ‘start growing’ to kick start their mission and turn an idea into an actual product. You’re focussing on recruiting fast enough, filling your leadership gaps around product, finance, operations, marketing and the next thing you know you’re 50-100 people best case, and in some fast-growth businesses, 200+ people without a framework.

Soon enough you may find yourself experiencing some of the following; different approaches to reviews, pay negotiations, termination of a hire early who did not live up to the skills and behaviours you were expecting, a team member has brought forward their unique case for a pay rise or title change or a team member is asking about their development and feedback given may have little consequence or meaning perceived by the employee.

As such, a career framework can certainly help creating a culture of…

  • Transparency of expectations (skills and salary) and a clear path to progress
  • Consistency for annual reviews, development, training and interviewing
  • Fairer people practice around pay and progression
  • Choice for people to progress down a particular path

The reason this is an important discussion to have as a leadership team is because your design thinking not only needs to have the above in mind as part of the creative process but the agreement to stick to it, appreciating the consequences of using it properly as part of building an inclusive and equitable culture.

 

2. Who to involve from the outset?

This can be a hot topic for discussions because when designing something that affects the entire company, while you want collective participation, if you’ve actually started scaling it may be easier to work out who needs to input occasionally, who needs to collaborate throughout, and who needs to be informed throughout.

One approach to input and feedback might not be best for everyone concerned when considering diversity and inclusion needs, time and coordination. When recognising who needs to be informed throughout, this really does mean everyone in your organisation, as once you commit to building this, teams want to know what’s going into the build, the approach, progress, and opportunity to discuss with their direct manager/team lead.

Before scoping and building, now is the time to be honest as a team in terms of your collective experience with product development and career frameworks, and determine if this needs outside expertise and more people power to support your build too.

At CloudNC it was easier for us to do a mix of online surveys, individual interviews and workshops to capture input and feedback. We also used a focus group made up of leaders for design workshops, who differed in their career paths to date, functional expertise and years of experience. We also partnered with an external agency The People Collective, for guidance and time on this build.

 

3. How many paths for progress do you want?

It’s on this question that themes of choice, options, culture and business need come most to the fore. When talking about ‘paths’ we mean ‘tracks’ interchangeably. If your business is (or an aspiring) innovative and diverse business then recognising this most certainly will lead you to realise that one path does not fit all.

A question to agree on is whether you are offering a career’s worth of progression for individual contributors and people managers. In our experience, we’ve seen the need for both an individual contributor and people manager path particularly within technology teams and highly target driven teams e.g. sales or recruitment. Back in the day, when some of us worked in a recruitment agency, most of our ‘top billers’ did not want to manage teams and preferred to be hands-on. On the other hand, the behaviours displayed in these top billers were not the same skills or behaviours the business needed in their managers. It’s an important consideration when a handful of these individuals at the time accounted for the majority of the business’s revenue.

Having multiple paths to progress will also lead to agreeing on equally valuing these paths in terms of compensation.

It’s worth thinking about whether one, two or perhaps three/four paths might be useful for your business, without creating unnecessary complexity.

For CloudNC, we recognised that we valued both paths for individual contributors focussing on building expertise around the business, product, systems and domain and for people managers focussing on hiring, retaining and developing high performing teams in line with business strategy and goals.

 

4. What sort of core competencies does your company require?

Question 4 and 5 (below) is where a cookie cutter approach is most likely to fall foul for your unique business need. This is because every business is going to hire for a certain behaviours, potential and skills that suits their stage of growth, product type and company values. When answering this question it is also worth recognising what type of business you have. For example it may be a consultancy, research, creative or scientific company by nature, and then you can consider what type of core competencies are required to succeed regardless of role or department.

For CloudNC, the core competencies we wanted to see develop and compound across the business were…

  • Knowledge: We’re disrupting a predictable and archaic industry with seriously complex challenges operationally and technically. In order to do this well, the two domains, in our case technology and manufacturing, must share as much information with one another to build a great product and as fast as possible.
  • Prioritisation & Delivery: We’re a lean start-up. This means that ‘focus’ on what’s business critical and weighing up urgency and building for impact is key to progression. This isn’t at odds with an experimental culture, since we recognise that part of the delivery process can be determining if something doesn’t work.
  • Collaboration: This goes hand in hand in recognising the cross-pollination of domain knowledge to do our work well. Collaboration is not simply ‘within the team’ at CloudNC. The very nature of disrupting one industry (manufacturing), through the power of another (technology) requires a great amount of cross team collaboration too.
  • Communication: CloudNC operates a flexible first culture which means we offer home working with offices for teams to collaborate in where teams and individuals need to. We also have a factory where the magic happens – our technology rolls out into a live, physical environment. As such, everyone at CloudNC needs to be able to communicate really well across multiple platforms, online and in person, inside and outside a team. While we know both the worlds of tech and manufacturing need to educate one another to succeed, being able to adapt your ‘domain specific language’ so that another can understand you is pretty key to progressing at CloudNC.

 

 

5. What are your company values?

And last but not least, as with any people related design, your values should underpin this – always. If you haven’t done company values yet, don’t dismay, but this should mean that when you do ‘do them’ or refresh existing ones, you’ll need to come back to policies and products to identify whether they are still fit for purpose or amend them, to embody and live your values.

Some ways to use the values in a framework, is to either make them the core competencies by default and build out descriptions for these in more detail. Or, you could have them underpin the framework design, so it’s clear how they’ve been considered or built into business wide ‘core competencies’. CloudNC did the latter.

Care: Our value for ‘care’ has been threaded specifically through the competency of collaboration

Share: Our value for ‘share’ has been threaded specifically through the competencies of knowledge, collaboration and communication

Strive: Our value for ‘strive’ has been threaded specifically through learning more e.g. gaining more knowledge as a competency and through on the job learning through collaborating with others

Deliver: Our value ‘deliver’ has been threaded specifically through the prioritisation and delivery core competencies.

Hopefully these steps will put you in the right mindset to be able to look at other frameworks critically and get you thinking about ‘how’ frameworks suit those businesses specifically. You can think about what you like or dislike about them and how they may be similar or different to your initial ideas and business needs – and that’s OK.

You can then start exploring how many levels you want, titles associated and start fleshing out those competencies in some detail as a group.

Oh and one last thing. Once you’ve done this, you’ll need to ensure it’s fully aligned to a compensation calculator, promotion principles, interview assessment, a review process, a leadership training plan and more. And here’s where we sign off to make a cup of tea. You’ll figure it out…

For more information on working at CloudNC drop us an email at careers@cloudnc.com