When I started out leading a team, I didn’t consider that I needed to empower my team to grow. I just figured they would grow naturally, but I was wrong. It’s not that they lacked guidance, but more that the culture didn’t encourage everyone to think about growth. Growth therefore became a slow organic process and not the accelerated highly impactful process it could have be.

Now I know differently, and we have just launched a revised growth cycle at Nolte. It looks like this:

  1. Q1:
    1. Objectives
    2. 360 mini-review
  2. Q2: same as Q1
  3. Q3: same as Q1
  4. Q4
    1. Objectives
    2. 360 min-review
    1. Promotions

Objectives

We use the OKR (Objective and Key Results) framework to set both company and individual objectives on a quarterly basis. I find the OKR system allows for unrestrained thinking on your objectives as the objective itself does not need to be measurable, in fact the guidelines recommend you set audacious goals that will really stretch you.

I like to have my team self-evaluate against the job description of the next level up (see Promotions below), and set their goals around the biggest gaps. This way we are always working together towards the skills they need to acquire for promotion.

After that they need to think about how to measure that you achieved the objective, which can be tricky. I try not to get too bogged down in this with my own and my team’s KRs, and some of them end up as more experienced-based results. In other words you will know you’ve got there instinctively.

OKRs are measured on a scale of 0 – 1. A 0.7 or above is generally considered a good score, and 1 generally indicates that the goal was too easy. We set individual OKRs in the first week of each quarter, and then do a quick projection of the end of quarter score at the beginning of each month, which helps us see who needs help. The final evaluation is carried out at the end of the quarter.

360 Mini-Review

Many of us have taken part in the dreaded annual 360 review process. These are often drawn out affairs, which require some “popular” reviewers to lock themselves away for a whole day or more to work through endless lengthy questions. The feedback can be valuable, but is it worth the effort? And is an annual review really often enough?

I don’t think so, which is why we now run with a quarterly 360 mini-review process. The goal is to get feedback more often than an annual review, but with as little effort as possible. In the penultimate week of each quarter, every team member picks 2 peers with whom they’ve worked closely over the past three months.

In the final week of the quarter they are reviewed by:

  • Themselves (self-evaluation)
  • Their manager
  • Direct reports
  • The 2 peers (not repeating any of the people above)

The review form is simple and the guidelines state not to spend more than 10 minutes per person. On the form we ask the reviewer to evaluate the reviewee on each of our five core values, giving a rating (out of 5 stars) and a comment for each. The comment should explain what the person has done well and what they could improve for that value.

Finally, in the first week of the next quarter, everyone discusses their reviews with their manager. We don’t obfuscate the reviewers names or otherwise spend time preparing the results (we have a culture of open and candid feedback), we just go over the raw information. This information feeds into the quarterly OKR setting which happens at the same time.

Promotions

In my experience, everyone needs to feel they are growing towards a target and will be rewarded for success. For Nolte, this was one of the major items we fixed last year. We first defined levels within the organisation as follows:

  1. Intern: New to the field, on the path to becoming an associate
  2. Associate: A professional able to take responsibility for delivering results without constant oversight from another team member
  3. Senior: Experts in their field and drivers of success in their pods
  4. Leadership: Drivers of success companywide and represent Nolte outside of the company

Each level has a base set of expectations tied to our core values. For example, we expect an intern to deliver value at a completely different level to a member of our leadership team. We also set salary bands for each level, which are the same for all roles within the level (we want to have a level playing field and consider that any team member in any role can deliver equal amounts of value to our clients).

We then defined job descriptions for each role within each level, eg for engineering we have Engineer (associate level) and Senior Engineer. These job descriptions go into the specifics of what is expected. See this article for an idea how I defined the Senior Engineer job description: What does it mean to be a “Senior” Engineer?.

Most people in the team now have a clear path, working towards the next level up from where they are now. Their quarterly OKRs are aligned to this. At the end of each year, managers compile evidence that show promotion candidates have met the requirements for the next level up, and the leadership team review and ratify the promotion decisions. Then, of course, we celebrate them!

Summary

The feedback from the team has been very positive, people now feel they have a sense of direction for their careers. The feedback they received from the 360 mini-reviews was also useful, especially the positive feedback as it reinforced how much we value our team.

Your Challenge: Ask your team how they feel about their career growth. Is there anything you could do to help them grow?

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