Increasingly, employees are demanding more transparency about their career and growth and more clarity about whether pay, performance and promotion decisions are fair. At the same time, managers are asking for help, as they take on more and more responsibility, often with little to no experience. Thoughtfully created leveling frameworks support both of these needs.
In my last post, I wrote about the importance of defining and communicating clear expectations as part of a fair and transparent performance review system. These expectations can take a lot of forms, but my personal favorite is a leveling framework. Leveling frameworks outline the career levels within an organization and define what is expected at each, typically organized around a few key competencies.
Once developed, leveling frameworks can be the foundation for almost any people-related program, including compensation, performance reviews, promotion, development planning, recognition and learning and development.
Unfortunately, HR professionals and functional leaders spend hours wordsmithing the perfect description of what it means to be an L3 Engineer or an Associate Marketing Specialist only to find their hard work not well adopted, understood or utilized. So, how can you keep your leveling framework out of the proverbial filing cabinet drawer? This blog will outline a step-by-step approach for building and implementing leveling frameworks that have proven effective and act as the foundation for your people programs.
There are many reasons for any organization to build a leveling framework. What is important, however, is that you know why it is important for your organization.
Ask yourself the following questions:
What common themes do you find? What are the most important goals this framework needs to achieve? Level frameworks can achieve multiple goals, including more fair and equitable decisions, increased clarity on career growth, greater performance accountability and more. It is useful to narrow down your organization’s why.
As you hone in on what a successful framework will be for your organization, consider too what it will not be. In my experience, expecting a leveling framework to act as a job description or a checklist for performance or promotion is unrealistic and hard to maintain. Additionally, when overly prescriptive, managers and employees cling too heavily to leveling frameworks, leaving little room to manage more nuanced situations. Zoom out and focus on the amount of detail needed to provide clarity, simply and effectively.
Leveling frameworks outline a set of critical skills, experiences and behaviors, which for the purposes of this post I will call “competencies.”
At a minimum, a leveling framework should describe the experience and skills needed to perform the work and the nature of the work itself. Let’s call this the “What.” This typically includes competencies related to technical skills and job scope. To identify these competencies, you can ask:
Additionally, adding competencies around the “How” provides clarity on the ways you expect individuals to behave and work together. To identify these competencies, you can ask:
Ask these questions of your leadership and management team, but also ask a diverse range of employees. This will ensure the competencies you chose are inclusive, realistic and resonate with all end users of the tool.
Leveling frameworks typically have between six and eight total competencies, each with a few sub-bullets that define the expectation. For example:
Pro Tip: This is an important time in the process to edit. While we want these competencies to be comprehensive, too many will be hard to manage and remember. Avoid including table stakes that aren’t differentiated by level and weave stated values or operating principles throughout rather than making them their own competency.
When building out leveling frameworks, there often is an instinct to build them function by function. After all, each team has slightly different expectations and all have different technical skills and experiences required. Instead of this approach, I would encourage anyone taking on this process to start by building one common, company-wide set of expectations. There are two compelling reasons for this, one philosophical and one practical.
First, a common framework drives consistency.
Second, and more practically, a common framework is convenient.
Once a company-wide framework is complete, it will offer a clear and consistent view on expectations, which can be calibrated cross-functionally and across leaders. It may be sufficient on its own, or can be used as a foundation to build customized frameworks.
Pro Tip: This is the step where you actually sit down and write out the expectations for each competency at each level. It can be tedious and hard to differentiate across levels. Use inspiration from many examples on the internet, then add your own language and culture to ensure it resonates with the team.
Bringing leaders, managers and employees along in the steps above is critical to ensuring buy-in for the process and tool. At this phase, however, they can truly start to weigh in and make the framework more custom to their own team.
To do this, while maintaining the consistency and ease of a common framework, I recommend the “Mad Libs” approach. Mad Libs are a fill in the blank story that let you add your own (often goofy) touch to a pre-written story. Similarly, customizing a company-wide framework allows leaders to add function specific descriptors to an otherwise consistent story about expectations.
Here are a few examples, where the bolded words are being replaced with more specific and relevant details:
As you work with leaders to customize each competency, level by level, think about where the specificity is adding value. If it is too specific, it can run the risk of being limiting or becoming a performance “checklist.” If it is not specific-enough, it may not be worth building and maintaining a separate version.
Pro-Tip: You don’t need to build customized frameworks to offer functional personalization. Consider training your managers to “translate” company-wide expectations into their own words and share in 1:1 conversations. By using relevant examples and suggestions for what each expectation might look like in the employee’s day-to-day work, you allow an even greater level of specificity and ensure conversations about performance are occurring regularly.
The truth is, it doesn’t matter nearly as much what you write in your framework as how you implement it. Here are a few tips to make sure your Level’s Framework is well understood and adopted.
Increasingly, employees are demanding more transparency about their career and growth and more clarity about whether pay, performance and promotion decisions are fair. At the same time, managers are asking for help, as they take on more and more responsibility, often with little to no experience. Thoughtfully created leveling frameworks support both of these needs, while improving performance, building trust and ensuring fair and equitable practices within the organization. At almost any size and certainly for any company with growth ahead, implementing a level framework will be an investment that will continue to reap benefits.
Looking for more insight on how to implement leveling frameworks in your org? Reach out to Rachel at firstname.lastname@example.org.