How to implement a new career framework with your team and re-evaluate it post launch

A photo of Rob talking to some of the Engineering team

Once you've drafted your shiny new career framework – how do you roll it out?

If you've been along on the journey of this blog series, you'll know all about the engineering career framework which Brightec arrived at, as well as how and why we got there. But it doesn't do anyone any good while it's still sitting in a drawer (or one of your many browser tabs!). The final, critical step is how you actually make the changes with the team.

Timeline and Pacing

There are no doubt times when decisive or instantaneous change is necessary or appropriate, but this isn't one of them. When you're talking about changing the way that people's roles are defined, or the criteria and expectations against which they'll be mentored, supported, judged or assessed, gradual and careful change is essential.

We wanted to work hard to carefully align people's expectations and ensure great team buy-in. The golden rule here was simple: no surprises.

We used our existing 6-monthly 360 review process to incrementally implement the new structure, to pace things steadily, and avoid adding additional meetings or overheads for people.

Month 0

I started a few weeks before the beginning of a 360 review cycle, by presenting to the team in our regular weekly morning meeting. I shared the whole idea and the draft framework, along with the rationale and some 'showing my workings'. I sent around the presentation to the team afterwards to read in more detail. I also set the expectation that we'd have the opportunity to discuss further in the upcoming 360s.

I made it very clear from the outset that "this hasn't come into effect yet". This is really crucial. You can't assess someone against expectations or a role description retroactively that they hadn't seen at the time, so everything I presented was forward-looking.

Having introduced the idea, I sat in individual conversations with every engineer. Alongside their existing 360 review, I allowed for Q&A time on the framework, and invited any feedback they had on the role wordings (either in or after their session).

At this point, the framework was something we were evaluating team-wide and inviting feedback on.

I listened to and noted down people's feedback, ready to look for any common or recurring themes. But perhaps due to the detailed rationale laid out, people were very receptive and there were relatively few comments at this stage.

After that, we let the draft framework sit there in people's awareness over the next cycle.

Month 6

In the next 360 cycle, having introduced and validated the structure as a whole, we moved towards thinking through with each person what the draft framework would mean for them individually if we proceeded with it. Again, I made clear the framework had not been implemented yet.

I summarised the minimal feedback we'd had on the role descriptions, and explained that there weren't any adjustments we had made to the wording. This helped people to know they were now fixed enough to rely on (while still not being unduly set in stone).

I asked people which role they thought described them best, and what resonated with them. I gave feedback on what they'd said, and sought to align expectations where needed. (More on this below)

Every team member had a role in mind at this point that they could tentatively 'try on for size' over the coming 6 months.

Month 12

Having laid the foundation over the last year, we sat with people and recapped those last 12 months. By this point, people were comfortable with the idea of a more detailed framework. Most people were convinced it was an improvement on our previous system and guidance, and eager to see it more actively in use.

At this point, during the 360s, I asked each person if they recollected what they'd said 6 months ago. I shared with people what role I thought best described them, and the alignment between our perspectives was virtually 100%. All of the groundwork so far had already led to really productive, specific and actionable discussions about people's roles, responsibilities and effectiveness. The team was universally eager to see those conversations taken further.

A year in, we'd reached 'the starting line'. Far from having any problems or disagreements, the appetite to move forwards with the framework was strong, and the alignment of expectations was great. I made clear (again!) that we still wouldn't be retrospectively evaluating against the framework, but that we were ready to start doing so now. Over the next 6 month cycle, we'd treat them as being in the agreed role. And then in 6 months time, we would review against those expectations.

Month 18

When the next 360 cycle came around, we'd covered the ground we needed to. The framework had been established and implemented, and people knew what was expected of them. We were able to retrospect on the last 6 months with reference to the framework and continue the constructive discussions around people’s development and growth.

After ~6 months of planning and an ~18 month rollout, this 2-year endeavour was coming to a natural close.

Thoughtful Conversations

Hopefully it's clear from the above that my priority during the rollout was to sensitively and carefully gauge each individual's views. It was important to me to deeply care about each person, speak candidly, and listen earnestly. I had multiple individual conversations with every person that would be affected by these changes, and those discussions will be some of the memories I'll treasure most as I reflect on my time so far at Brightec. They felt like precious discussions.

In planning your own conversations, you'll need to account for the individuals that you work with, based on your personal knowledge of and interactions with them. There are a few general pointers that might be helpful to you though in considering this:

  • I always gave people time to pre-read. People process information in different ways and at different paces, so this was part of making sure that no one felt surprised or rushed in our discussions.

  • I generally listened before I spoke. Each conversation was focused on the specific person I was sitting with, so I was always eager to hear and understand their views before sharing my own.

  • I framed questions carefully and openly. No career framework should ever become a 'tick-box exercise', so I really wanted to guide people to think about the content openly and thoroughly rather than prematurely focusing on a specific outcome.

I wrote previously about care with language and visual metaphors in the framework - for instance avoiding unintentionally implying hierarchy or status with vertically stacked visuals or language like "ladder" and "level". That care carried through into these conversations and questions.

Don't ask: 'What level do you think you are?' 'Do you think you're a {X}?' 'Do you demonstrate expectation {Y}?'

Do ask: 'Which of these roles is a good description of you?' 'Which of these roles resonates with you most?' 'Why is that?'

Follow-up and Adjustments

With the framework rollout complete and the role expectations in use, I kept each of the descriptions under quiet personal review. They will always be open to change and improvement, but very much following the same principles as above.

If and when they do change, it will be by small degrees, very gradually.

About a year later, I fully re-reviewed the text to see if everything was still appropriate and what adjustments might be beneficial. I added just 3 sentences spread across 3 roles – references to expectations around participation on our technical councils, which hadn't existed when the framework was initially incepted.

It was a huge moment of personal encouragement for me. We'd built something enduring. It would allow us to be consistent and planful with our engineering expectations over the long-term.

The Further Future

At Brightec we're always seeking to be Making Things Better, and our career frameworks are no exception.

We've subsequently adapted this process to create a Design Career Framework, which features distinct UI, UX and UXR streams within the role descriptions.

The feedback and validation from the team has been hugely rewarding. In a survey we ran more recently retrospecting on the framework, every single engineer said that their career pathway ahead was clearer now, and that they felt more confident that Brightec was able to help them reach their potential as a developer. Engineers even said that their mental health and job enjoyment had improved as a result of the framework. This really marks out all the effort we invested as worthwhile. To cap things off, in the Spring of 2024 we won the UK Company Culture Award for Best Employee Development Programme.

We'll never stop improving, but we're thrilled by and celebrate how far we've come. We hope sharing our experiences will be useful for you in your own workplace!

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