For start-ups in particular, it is far more cost-effective to develop existing employees than to recruit and onboard new ones. Personio predicts that 30% of European employees are planning to leave their current role in the next year due to a lack of career progression opportunities. Issues like transparent pay and progression opportunities are hot topics right now within startups and beyond.
In this article, we'll explore how effective feedback and clear progression frameworks can help your start-up retain top talent in an increasingly inflated and challenging recruitment market.
What is a progression framework?
According to Progression.fyi, a progression framework (or ‘competency matrix’, ‘career ladder’, ‘career pathway’) is an internal document created to help employees understand the expectations of their roles, and how to progress and grow at work. For those of you who’ve not heard of Progression.fyi, it is an invaluable source to get started on all things career frameworks as it brings together inspiration from the world’s best companies.
Progression frameworks are great for employers because they provide a consistent, unbiased and fair way to manage your employee lifecycle. For employees, it provides an aspirational roadmap and clarity so they know what they need to do to get to where they want to go. Such clarity reduces the anxiety of the unknown and makes other offers less tempting.
In addition to providing clarity to your employees, another benefit of having a progression framework in place is that it makes hiring clearer and more consistent. From a competency perspective, knowing what you expect from someone at each level in your organisation makes hiring consistently and fairly a lot easier as you can benchmark candidates against an agreed set of competencies.
Choosing the right framework.
It’s important to establish the approach and style that works for you and your team. You should build one with longevity in mind, taking into account your culture but also different routes employees may want to explore. For instance, not all Software Engineers want to be Managers so building a specialist route for Engineers as well as a management pathway means you’ll be more likely to retain your technical talent and develop them towards their strengths.
There are key questions employees will have that your framework will need to answer, such as:
- What do I have to do to progress?
- When and how often can I be promoted?
- Where can my progression lead me in this organisation?
It’s key that your managers:
- Are equipped to answer these questions, either through training or available guidelines.
- Have objective guidelines to facilitate decisions.
- Understand the different routes for people. After all, it’s not always about becoming a manager or team leader, sometimes sideways or cross-functional steps where they can transfer their skills, are more exciting to employees.
- What is my earning potential? (see this article on how to approach salaries to tackle this one)
Personalise your learning and development (L&D)budget.
Personalising your L&D budget for each individual so that it is flexible enough to encourage your employees to own their learning and progression, is a fantastic opportunity within a growing business.
In a start-up where entrepreneurial spirit is so important, giving people the opportunity to drive their own ideas for training and upskilling seems like a no-brainer. Those that like to own their career and chase after what they need often are best suited in a start-up environment. Consider setting this as a filter when hiring so the teams you’re growing are on board with this culture of ownership.
Implement a culture of continuous feedback.
The underlying foundation needed to implement successful progression strategies is ensuring you have a healthy culture of feedback in place. According to a poll from Gallup, employees who receive frequent, meaningful feedback are four times more likely to be engaged than their peers and perform better at work. A healthy culture of feedback is pivotal in supporting any successful progression strategy.
Radical ideas for progression frameworks.
People mobility and secondments.
People mobility is often an underrated and forgotten approach, which can really complement learning and development opportunities within a start-up and can intentionally be built into progression frameworks. In a scale-up I was part of, there was a committee of managers and leaders who would meet quarterly to discuss internal progression and secondment opportunities in order to better retain and challenge its people. It didn’t require a lot of heavy lifting and was a great story to share with employees and candidates.
Ditch performance reviews completely.
This same scale-up, AND Digital, has taken a more radical approach to performance reviews, by scrapping them and replacing them with a more product-led approach, ultimately mixing scrum and agile with coaching and development. They created Career Scrum Teams, with the employee as the Product Owner; scaling back their ambitions to realistic next steps for the next 6 months, while their career coach played the role of the Scrum Master. They can then involve any technical experts that are relevant to their goals. At the end of the period, a review and retrospective take place. Performance reviews and ratings were replaced with this method, which helped to eliminate common tick-box behaviours before a performance review period. This changed the conversation from scrutinising performance, when each employee had been hired for good reason, to focus on their development opportunities - an empowering and motivating shift of tone.
How can you make a start on implementing a career framework in your start-up? I hope this article helps you to feel empowered to provide an engaging and positive culture in your start-up that allows you to grow and retain your talent.