In the 21st century, it’s impossible not to think about how we can continuously develop the skills we need to tackle all the exciting tech opportunities the world gives to us. Here at Binary Studio, we want to keep pace with the times and promote a “Student Always” culture among our colleagues. And, of course, we want to make it transparent and engaging for everyone.
I am Lilia, HR People Partner at Binary Studio, and in this article, I’ll describe for you our approach to performance management and career growth opportunities at Binary Studio which, I hope everybody knows, is no longer viewed as simply “nice to have.”
We created the first career map for the engineering department and conducted pilot reviews last year. It’s been quite a journey, and we gained many insights. At the beginning of this year, we collected and implemented feedback, and now we’re ready to share version 2.0 of our approach.
Before moving forward, I would like to mention that it would be much harder to go through this implementation journey without setting goals from the outset. So first, let's take a look at the goals we had in mind while upgrading our approach:
- Keeping it consistent with Binary Studio’s values as every company has its own context and culture. It’s tempting to simply copy best practices and just use them - but it's all about culture - which eats strategy for breakfast!
- Increasing awareness and alignment between people and the company.
- Be applicable to people with diverse backgrounds, from different locations (Ukraine and abroad), at all levels of experience, to treat everyone equally.
- Bring clarity to the team about where they stand now in relation to their objectives.
- Shift the focus from performance to growth opportunities while creating a personal sense of progress and support.
- Increasing Customer Satisfaction scores and adding more business value to projects.
- Improving attraction, retention, and motivation.
- Provide objective standards for the hiring process.
We didn’t want to reinvent the wheel, so we chose a career map as a tool and framework to provide a development path for engineers. Our career maps help to set clear expectations for each level and also communicate to each candidate what is important to us. It’s the basis for discussions and feedback between each engineer and their manager.
As of now, we have developed 2 engineering tracks for individual contributors: Software Engineering (SWE) and Quality Assurance (QA). Both career maps have different requirements, obviously, but the same elements:
- 6 Tiers (or levels) - we avoid using titles like Junior Engineer or Mid-level Engineer that may imply limitations.
- Level of English fluency and experience, presently on a common-sense basis.
- 8 skills split into 4 categories (the same for both tracks) that cover the technical and non-technical aspects of work. Each skill has a description and definition to reflect standards correlating to each Tier.
Here, for example, you can see skills for the Software Engineering (SWE) track:
- Expertise (Knowledge, Quality) - special skills or knowledge that is acquired from training, study or practice, while living the company value of being a "Student Always."
- Delivery (Project Impact, Troubleshooting) - the impact of each individual on the team’s delivery, while practicing the company value of "Initiative & Ownership."
- Collaboration (Communication, Customer Orientation) - working efficiently together on a goal or project and building trust, while exemplifying the company value of "No Asshole."
- Leadership (Leading by Example, Growth Mindset) - potential to influence the behavior of others and to tackle obstacles as opportunities, while living the company value of "Leadership & Expertise."
As you might notice, each category reflects our values and clearly demonstrates which behavior, performance, and attitude is expected at the company. We truly believe that a mix of our core values, professional people and loyal clients is our key to success.
At the same time, we understand that no career map, review structure, or progression plan is perfect. We would like to, but cannot take into account everything, especially as relates to the specifics of each project. That’s why we ask for everyone’s common sense while using it. Also, it’s likely that we will periodically evolve the tiers, add details or expand them. But we only will do this if there is a need, it’s not just for fun!
Our performance management is based on continuous feedback of past behavior and trends, but with a focus on the future. That means we not only analyze the previous period, but direct the results to facilitate each individual contributor’s development and growth.
In order to give valuable feedback, it must be timely and honest. It is necessary to communicate, discuss problems, goals, difficulties, opportunities on a regular basis. Also, I can’t help but mention how important it is to appreciate and recognize others. Often.
Here is a diagram of our main touchpoints for feedback with people.
We encourage holding regular meetings with meaningful discussions:
- One-on-One Meetings with the Project Manager/Team Lead. These meetings are the most important part of our performance management approach. If effective communication is lacking, feedback is lacking, too. There is no mandatory schedule or standard agenda, it’s all based on an agreement between the Binarian and their manager. Our recommendation is to have 1-on-1 meetings biweekly to build trust and to keep current with the project.
- One-on-One Meetings with Mentors. Mentors are available to boost each Binarian’s development according to their specializations (i.e. programming languages, tools, frameworks, etc.). These 1-on-1s are recommended on a monthly basis.
- Quarterly Check-ins with PMs and Mentors. Meetings for updates and to ask questions, to determine goals, to engage in more in-depth talk focusing on your career growth and mastery.
- Biannual and/or Annual Tier and Performance Reviews. Meetings to evaluate efforts based on the Career Map and Start-Stop-Continue model:
- Start - Things that you aren’t currently doing, but would be good to start doing. Ask yourself - What should I improve?
- Stop - Outline behaviors that didn’t work or didn’t contribute to success whether personally, for the project or company.
- Continue - Outline your strengths and behaviors that have worked well, benefiting you, your project and company, including recent accomplishments.
These meetings can’t happen without 4 main characters:
It’s worth mentioning that we take feedback from our customers on regular basis, as well. Customer input is also instrumental for improving our delivery, service level and customer satisfaction rate. We understand the importance of meeting our customer’s needs through effective communication.
With all the above-mentioned points, we’re engaging to:
- Build a culture where no one is afraid to share constructive feedback and is eagerly open to receiving it.
- Give team members more clarity on their Tier in the company and what is expected of them to advance to the next level.
- Share more visibility on progression and growth options.
- Improve Customer Satisfaction by aligning to project needs and priorities.
- Improve forecasting on what Tier to hire people into the company.
- Improve retention rate to reduce costs on hiring.
We believe that every company should strive to inspire each individual to achieve their full potential. Career maps provide an invaluable framework and process to continuously improve Performance and Growth. They provide everyone clarity along with transparent objectives to know where we’re at in relation to where we want to go. For us that means listening to our people, enhancing a feedback culture, and opening up the best opportunities for development, including with company’s activities.
Hopefully, you will find our experience valuable if you’re thinking about developing a similar program at your company. Oh, and by the way, we are hiring!