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Take Control of Your Career: A Personal Growth Framework

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Summary

Aaron Randall talks about a Personal Growth Framework – a low-lift way of helping identify areas to grow that are exciting and valuable for career development.

Bio

Aaron Randall is the CTO at Songkick, a live music startup aimed at making sure concert fans never miss their favourite artists live. Songkick develops web and mobile apps which serve over 19 million visitors a month.

About the conference

Software is changing the world. QCon empowers software development by facilitating the spread of knowledge and innovation in the developer community. A practitioner-driven conference, QCon is designed for technical team leads, architects, engineering directors, and project managers who influence innovation in their teams.

Transcript

Randall: I'm Aaron [Randall]. I'm the CTO of Songkick and today I want to talk to you about professional development and how to grow in our careers. But first, a simple question for you. Why are we here? Now, I don't mean in a "look up at the stars existential crisis" kind of way. Actually, I mean more specifically, why are we here in this room right now on a Wednesday afternoon at QCon? I'm going to go ahead and guess that most people here work in technology in some way and by giving up your time and money to be here at a tech conference, listening to other people share their thoughts and ideas, you're doing something. You're investing in yourself, and you're investing in your professional development. That's awesome for a bunch of reasons. Learning is fun, it feels good, and it's rewarding, but the reality for us in tech is that our industry is constantly changing. We need to invest in our skills to stay up-to-date. The more we learn, the better we get at our jobs, and the better the things we build. Investing in your professional development brings with it a bunch of other great things as well, like recognition, promotions, and pay rises. Then there's the data. Psychology researchers have identified six core needs that are most important for humans at work, things that give us a sense of belonging, like choice, or quality and significance. I want to focus on one of the areas that research has identified, and that's improvement.

Improvement

In this research, improvement is defined in a couple of ways. Feeling like we're progressing with purpose, working towards an important goal, and also that we have personal growth, that we're growing in skills that matter to us. This, combined with those other five core needs, mean that we get a sense of belonging and worth in our work. Given all of that, let me ask you another question. What are you focusing on right now to grow professionally? What are your goals, and how are you getting there? Maybe you're reading a book, maybe you're learning a new language, maybe you're mentoring and coaching someone in your team. Maybe you don't have an answer to this question, and that's okay too. I can certainly empathize. I know, for me, a bunch of times throughout my career, the answer to this question has been pretty hazy at best. In fact, the way that I like to think about my experience is with a ridiculous metaphor.

Say hello to my professional development room of wonder, and that's me, obviously. Throughout my career, I found myself at this door, and just behind that door are all the interesting things I could be focusing on to grow and develop and get better at my job. They may be things to do with my technical skills, but maybe it's emotional intelligence, or leadership, or communication. All I need to do is go in that room, pick something up from that room and bring it out with me and focus on it for the next few months and grow. Now, there's just one problem. When I open the door and go inside, it's completely pitch black.

What do I do? I shuffle around in the dark until I bump into something and I pick it up and I bring it out with me. As you can see, I've left this room with a box of technical skills and the thing inside that box is learning a new language, which is fine, I'll learn something new and I'll be better for it. Of all the things inside that room, is this the most impactful thing that could be focusing on? But take a step back. Maybe my technical skills are actually pretty good if I compare them to say my communication skills. As you're progressing through your career, knowing what to focus on it could feel a bit like this. You know there are loads of valuable things out there, but knowing what to choose to learn and focus on next is really unclear.

Intentionality

The reality is learning is an investment, and your time is valuable. What if I could have seen all the boxes in that room, would I have picked something else? There's got to be a better way, a way to make professional development clearer and more deliberate. Now we should hang on and go back to my room of wonder. Let's go back inside that room. What if I told you that, actually, there was a light switch and if you knew where it was, you could pull it and illuminate this room. With the help of the light switch, I can see everything. I can see all the different boxes, all of the different options in front of me, delivery, technical skills, business knowledge, and so on. This time, with the help of the light switch, I can compare and contrast these options, and I can make an informed decision. I can work out what's the most exciting thing to focus on and take off here next. This time I leave the room of wonder with a box of communication skills and I'm really happy about this decision, and I haven't had to scramble around the dark to find it either.

I know this is a ludicrous metaphor, but it's also a true story for me. I mean, not the room of wonder obviously, but the idea that many times during my career, I've come back to this question of what should I focus on next? I've just picked technical skills at the expense of all the other things I could be learning to get better at my job. If I could rewound time, I would have found my light switch sooner and I would've picked other things like my communication skills to focus on. That would have helped me get better at my job and actually feel more fulfilled. What this is all really about is intentionality. Being deliberate, not just improving things for the sake of it or improving things you're already good at. Being a great developer, tech lead, architect, CTO is not just about being able to write code.

Our jobs are complex and multifaceted, and we need to have a strong grasp of a whole range of skills to be successful and actually happy in our jobs. How do you find your light switch, your way of making sense of all the things you could be focusing on and distilling that down into something manageable, focused, and deliberate? Because not only as fun, learning necessary makes you better and makes you more fulfilled. But also ultimately you need to find your light switch because you own your professional development, not your company, not your manager, you. Let's take control of our careers.

Growth Frameworks

I want to briefly talk about growth frameworks. Who here has a company who has a growth framework or something similar? Most of you don't, and that's good, you're at the right talk. In recent years, some companies who began to introduce this. What a growth framework is, at its essence, a process that helps answer the question, "How do I progress in my career?" Their intention is to make professional development clear, fair, and deliberate. As I said, a bunch of companies have begun to introduce these, including Songkick, where I work, Monzo, Kickstarter, Spotify, and so on. All these companies develop growth frameworks in different ways, and their format and output takes different forms.

Rent the Runway has a simple spreadsheet, and Medium has a really cool interactive website, and Songkick, where I work, we've actually got a physical booklet. We've printed our growth framework. Although the formats of each of these companies’ frameworks takes different forms, fundamentally, they share the same core concepts.

How do we actually work? These frameworks generally have two key building blocks, skills, and roles. Starting with the skills, each company defines the skills that they care about across all their roles in technology. I've pulled these examples from Songkick's growth framework because it's what I know best, but it's pretty representative of the rest of the ones I've seen as well. Remember those boxes in the room of wonder. We've defined those here as seven skills, and these are the skills that we care about across all roles in technology. These are the skills that you need to be able to demonstrate to be successful in your role, things like leadership, communication, and emotional intelligence.

Skills are the first building block of growth frameworks, and the second building block are the roles themselves. These are all the roles that we have in the tech team at Songkick, things like software developers, senior software developer, tech lead, and so on. A growth framework takes these skills and these roles, and it smooshes them together to create something like this - a detailed table of responsibilities for each role. This is what the software developer level-one role looks like, and it's one of these pages in our growth framework for every role in the tech team. The idea is someone in the team can come to this page and at a glance for this role, see what the role is, the different skills that apply to them, and example behaviors and definitions from what they should be performing at this level. That makes it really clear what we look for at each role, beyond just tech skills.

How does this all actually answer the question, "How do I progress in my career?" To understand that, I need to talk a little bit about how growth frameworks are actually used. Say “Hi” to our software developer, this is Sam. Sam's a software developer level two, and this is what her role looks like in the growth framework. Once every three months, Sam and her manager sit down with this page, and they talk through it. As they chat, they're going to keep track of their conversation in this document. They talk through each of the skills at Sam's current role, and Sam and her manager provide examples of where things are going well, and where there are areas for growth.

Where a skill has areas for growth, but the skill is work in progress. Sam and her manager will jot down ideas, the things that she could be doing to continue leveling up to the skill. Where Sam is clearly and consistently demonstrating a skill, it's also a nice time to acknowledge and celebrate that and point out as a positive thing that she wants to keep on doing. They repeat this for all seven skills, taking notes as they go. At the end of this process and this discussion, Sam has this really amazing document, full of great ideas for things that she could focus on, translating to goals to work on for the next three months or so to continue growing in her career. That's like a turbo introduction to how growth frameworks work. Why am I talking about them, particularly given most of you have told me you don't have one of these at your company? I want to talk about how you can empower yourself to take control of your career progression. I think that stealing some of the ideas around the format and structure of growth framework is actually really valuable for doing that.

Personal Growth Framework

Let's talk about a light switch for the rest of us. It's called a personal growth framework, and it's about enabling you to take control and be deliberate. Don't wait for your company to introduce growth framework before you make a plan to grow and set great goals, do that now. For those of you that do have a growth framework at your company, you can use this as well. That's something that you can be really invested in and use alongside that.

Personal growth framework sounds fancy and complicated, but it's really not. It's actually simple. I'm going to run you through the process now at very high level but you'll see that it's really quite straightforward. The nice thing about it being personal, over something provided by your company, is that it can span companies and roles. You can take this thing with you as you progress and grow in your career and move from one company to the next. Also, you might find that you're more invested in this thing because as you'll see, it's being led and directed by you, not your company.

Let's talk about how it works. There are three key pieces to the personal growth framework. A simple process where I've stolen some of the best bits I found from other company-led growth frameworks and some time and focus. Now, the first one, the process, is going to be provided for you. I'm going to talk you through at a high-level now what that looks like, and I'll provide some links to the end if you do want to try this for yourself, but the other two, the time and focus, you own.

A lot of us are working at companies where it feels like we're shipping all the time and we're working at 100 miles an hour, and it's really difficult to stop, catch your breath and do things like think about your career and set meaningful goals.

1 Hour, 1 Page, 5 Steps

This framework, like any of the others, requires some deliberate effort from you. Luckily, not that much. I think you can do this with just one hour of your time, completely single page of questions in five steps. It's like a closer look at the personal growth framework. This is it, nothing fancy. It fits on a single A4 page, just, and as I said, I'll share this template at the end. There's a link for it, if you want to try it yourself, you can. I want to run through each of the five steps now just to give you an idea about what it looks like and how it works. I think with this kind of thing, it's much better with real-life examples. I've actually enlisted the help of Joe who is our tech lead, our team at Songkick, and he's completed this personal growth framework for himself, and he's kindly agreed for me to use some of his answers as examples for this, as we're running through at very high level. (Yes, I can hear you laugh and but also, great pen.)

Define your North Star

Starting from the top, at step one. The aim of the first question is to define your North Star. Your answer to this question is going to inform all of the other answers on this page, so it's really important to get it right. I want you to start by asking yourself, "What is the next big thing I want to achieve in my career and why?" This is your North Star. Try thinking bigger picture. Maybe you're working towards a new role, maybe you want to become a tech lead, or an architect, or a people manager, or maybe you want to become even better at your current job. Have a go at this right now, so take 10 seconds and have a think about your answer to the question, "What is the next big thing I want to achieve in my career and why?" You should be able to describe your North Star in a single sentence, and you fill it in here. The answer from Joe was, "I want to continue growing as a tech lead because I'm new to the role and from working with other TLs, I know there's more I can do to empower my team and grow my confidence." That's great. This should be aspirational, but it doesn't need to be, "I want to be an astronaut." This person is new to a really big and important role, and they acknowledge it as a bunch of leveling up that they still need to do.

What’s Going Well?

Onto step two. This is quick, "What's going well? What could be going better?” exercise. I want you to think about the things that are going well in your current role, your strengths. There are two reasons to do this. The first is to warm up your brain and get you thinking critically about your current performance in your current role. Second, to identify things that you know you're going to want to keep on doing. This framework, like the others isn't just about finding new opportunities to grow. It's about acknowledging that there's a bunch of valuable things you're doing today that you're going to need to keep on doing, as well. You should be able to think about three things pretty quickly and jot them down here. Here are the answers from Joe. He said that he's doing well at supporting and upskilling junior devs in his team, communicating well with the product management design lead, and also prioritizing meaningful tech dev, which is great.

What Could Be Going Better?

Step three is its counterpart, and it's time to think about what could be going better. What are some of the opportunities for growth in your current role? Again, you should be able to think about three things pretty quickly and jot them down here. Joe thinks he could be better at communication to the wider company, checking in with developers and estimation, full stop. At this point, at the end of step three, we've got our North Star, the next big thing we're aiming for in our career, and we've thought a bit more about what's going well and what could be going better in our current role. So, our brain is fully warmed up.

Technical Skills, Communication, Leadership

Step four - and this is the biggest of the steps - is about critiquing yourself against a range of important skills. Cast your mind back to the professional development room of wonder and all those different boxes in that room. All the different things we could be focused on growing like leadership, emotional intelligence, and business knowledge. Remember what I said about our roles being complex and multifaceted. Actually, we need to be able to have a strong grasp of the whole range of skills to be successful, not just tech. It's time to think more broadly about those skills and step and four is all about that. I've grouped all of the boxes from the room of wonder into three broad but important categories, technical skills, communication, and leadership. This step is about writing down your strengths and the areas for improvement for each. On the left-hand side for each of these, I've included prompts of the things that you should consider when you're answering these questions, but make sure you're thinking about the full breadth of these categories.

For technical skills, that's things like knowledge or best practices, testing, clean code, and so on. As you're filling this in, if you need inspiration, particularly for areas of improvement, try looking at your job description. Are there things on there that you're not doing right now that maybe you should be? And have a look at the job description for your role at other companies you respect. What do they expect from people at a similar level? Also, think about peers in the industry that you look up to and respect. What are they good at? What are their skills that you'd also like to be able to learn how to do? That should give you some inspiration for areas of improvement. Joe is for that strengths, for technical skills, and his areas of improvement, and it's got things like good architectural understanding as a strength, and area of improvement around staying on top of advances in tech and process. Given what he's written, it's now time to rank himself out of 10 for this skill. This is really rough and ready like a finger in the air. This is definitely not an exact science, and I’ll explain in a moment why we do this. Given everything that Joe has written, and thinking more generally about his technical skills, he's given himself a 7 out of 10 for that skill.

Now onto communication. We repeat this process, but at communication and leadership skills, again, ranking ourselves at the end. When I watched Joe fill this out, actually he went backwards and forwards between these, he didn't go sequentially, and he was just jotting down ideas as things came to him, so you don't have to do this in order. Also, he reused ideas from his answers in step two and three - what's going well and what could be going better in his role. In step three, he said that he could be better at communications with the wider company. That's something that he’s brought down here, as an area for improvement or comms and he's expanded on that to give a bit more detail. Again, Joe ranks himself out of 10 for this, and he's given himself another 7 out of 10.

Finally, onto leadership. Given what Joe's written, and thinking more about the skills, and using the prompts in the left to make sure he's got the breadth of each of these skills covered, and he ranks himself again. For leadership, this is actually a 5 out of 10, so some areas of opportunity here.

Setting Goals

Once you've completed this for all of these three skills, it's time for the final step of the personal growth framework, which is setting goals. This is definitely the most difficult part of all of this - step five. Taking everything you've written and translating into meaningful goals. Look back at your North Star. You answered step one, remind yourself of why you're doing this in the first place. What is that big thing that you're aiming for? With that in the back of your head, move back up the page to step four and your answers here across your skills and underline three areas of opportunity that felt particularly impactful, exciting, or valuable to focus on. This is the point where it's really useful to look at those ranks that you gave yourself because it gives you a real high-level indicator of areas you might want to focus on first. Joe gave himself a 7 out of 10 for both tech and communication skills, but only a 5 out of 10 for leadership. He decided he wanted to focus there first, and he actually underlined two of the areas in leadership he thought would be pretty exciting for him to work at how to translate into goals, and he picked a third from communication. Then, with those three areas of opportunity, he went back to this final step, and he worked out how he could translate this into goals and measurable milestones of how he's going to achieve them.

Writing goals is hard, and but here are a few tips. The goals themselves should be unambiguous, and it should be really clear when a goal has been achieved. The “How are you going to can achieve this?” - these are the steps you're going to take, the measurable milestones which, if you complete all of them, should clearly advance the goal itself. Try and set goals that you could finish in about three months, so you could hit about three months. That gives you enough space to tackle meaningful goals, but not too long that these goals become too big and difficult to actually measure progress against. Joe's first goal - he had represent technology in sprint planning, something that he's not doing right now. His steps of how he's going to achieve things like, "Put time in the calendar for prospection," which is a word I had to Google by the way, and, "Enter particular meetings with thoughts written down, " and, "Make a plan for how to tackle tech initiatives in Q2." What's good about these is Joe is going to be able to look at these, point to them and say, "I did that," or, "I didn't do that in three months time." These are really clear and unambiguous. There's no blurry middle ground here.

Here are Joe's other two goals, and as you can see, they all are clear and unambiguous, and the milestones, how's going to achieve them are specific and measurable. As I said, writing good goals is really tough, but there is a great article that I shared the link to here, from Google's re:Work and it's definitely some great further reading on how to understand and set meaningful goals. Definitely, I recommend reading that if you're interested. That is it. That is the entire process for a personal growth framework. One hour of your time, completing a single page of questions consisting of five steps to get yourself some meaningful goals.

If you do decide to give this a go, that's a big deal. The reality is this is a smaller amount of time and effort from you, but you'd have invested some time and making a plan and progressing your career, and you should definitely celebrate that. You filled in one page, and you've set some great goals, now what?

Get Feedback

Get some feedback. Just because this is a personal growth framework, it doesn't mean it needs to be private. I've got a couple of pieces of advice for you. First off is rubberduck. Run your goals by your peers, your friends, your manager. Talking through your goals out loud is a great way to sense check them. Can you actually explain them? Are they sensible? Also, that you can justify doing them in the first place, that these are sensible goals. Next, managers should be your allies working with you on this with you driving. Show them the output of your personal growth framework and get them to give you feedback on your goals. By the way, if you do show this to a manager, their head should explode. They are going to think you are awesome for investing so much and being so self-directed in this kind of stuff. These two points fit into something else, which is accountability. Sharing your goals and your output with other people has been really powerful. It holds you accountable to actually achieve the things you said you want to. Share your goals with people you trust, and you're more likely to actually hit them.

Repeat the Process

For this thing to be effective, like any of the frameworks, it shouldn't be a onetime thing. Repeat this process. Find a frequency that works for you. I personally would suggest trying something like this every three months or so, going in and out of your room of wonder and updating your goals as you progress. That gives you enough time to tackle meaningful goals, but not too long that this whole thing becomes unwieldy and demotivating. You might go through this process every 3 months for 3, 6, 9, 12 months, and have the same North Star at the top of that page throughout, particularly if you're working towards a new role, and that is fine. This is not a race, and this is not a box ticking exercise. This is about being clear and deliberate, but you should always see the skills that you're investing in improve from one course to the next, particularly if you're putting the effort in.

Achieve Your Goals

It's all well and good setting great goals and getting feedback on them, but that's just part of the puzzle. You actually want to achieve your goals now. Achieving your goals is an entirely different conference talk I don't have the time to do that today, unfortunately, but two points I want to make here very quickly, and a couple of books suggestions for you. Now that you've set great goals, try to form a habit around working on them. Creating a space and creating routines to hit your goals is crucial, and “Deep Work” has some great recommendations on that. It sounds obvious, but put the hours in, put in a deliberate practice, it'll take to actually work and advance these goals. There really is no shortcut to this, and “Talent is Overrated”, has a bunch of more information on that. Form a habit and deliberate practice. I think the two of these combined will really help you progress your goals.

Celebrate Success

Finally - and this is very important - don't forget to celebrate success. You're putting a bunch of hard work into this and a deliberate practice into growing, setting great goals, and achieving stuff. When you do hit goals and make progress, it's really important to stop, acknowledge that, and celebrate. Lara Hogan has a great way of doing this. Whenever she accomplished something in her career, she stops and she eats a doughnut. I would suggest doing that, or if you're not a doughnut fan, then find your equivalent, but it's really important to do that. If you're interested in what we've seen on the personal growth framework and you want to take it for a spin, there's a link here and a few more instructions, so you can try it for yourself.

Make the Time, Be Deliberate and Grow

To wrap things up, let me ask you a question again. What are you focusing on right now to grow professionally? What are your goals, and how are you getting there? Find a way to set great goals and work towards them because ultimately, you own your professional development, not your company, not your manager, but you. A personal growth framework is just one example of how you can switch your lights on. If this framework isn't for you, that's fine, but find the approach that does work for you because any investment in yourself is so much better than none. Remember, make the time be deliberate and grow.

Questions and Answers

Participant 1: Great talk. You said that there are other ways to find that light switch. I was thinking before you said that, about asking about habit trackers, like mobile applications, what do you think about them and then how does it compare to this personal growth framework?

Randall: Yes. That's a great question and a complex answer, I guess. The writers are all different and will have different ways of finding our way to make space and work towards goals. That book that points to “Deep Work” talks a lot about you basically have four hours in a day to actually do any kind of meaningful deep work, and once you've used up that time, your brain has expired for the day. I like to form my own habits where I block out a little bit of time here and there, particularly weekends, for myself to do it, but I don't think there's a one size fits all answer for this, honestly. I think it's a case of taking inspiration from something like this, from other growth frameworks, from books that you've read and working out which one of those processes resonates most with you, and which one feels like you can make that a success?

Participant 2: Does the 10-on-10 level exist really? When you will fill the survey, now you put seven, seven, seven. Does 10 really exist or you have to stop learning when you reach 10?

Randall: Your question is if you put 10 across the board for those core competencies?

Participant 2: No. When you evaluate yourself, if you put yourself on 10, this means maybe that you think that you are stopping to learn. Maybe this is not true. I ask if 10 exist in the reality.

Randall: I think if you put 10 across the board, then you're probably in the wrong job. Maybe you've probably hit the ceiling of where you're at right now, or maybe that's fine. It depends what you want, I guess is a better answer. You can put tens across the board and be really comfortable and happy in your role and that's great, but someone else put tens across the board, and it'd be a real clear indicator that actually they should be at the next level and be pushing themselves more, if that's what they're looking for at that point in their career.

Participant 3: Thanks for the talk. I actually have kind of an opposite question of that. I find that, over time, my skills sort of increase and it's like ever-sliding scale. Even though I've improved, I feel "Now, I can only rank myself seven again because …" How does that progress? Or how do you see the progress?

Randall: I think one of the parts of this is talking about getting feedback, sense checking what you've written and being able to articulate it and speak out loud about what you've said to people like your manager. I think, if you're not sure whether either you've ranked yourself correctly on some of those core skills, or you're being honest about them, that's where the sense check comes in. That's what your manager says, "Actually, you are an eight here" and you feel like an impostor when you've given yourself a four kind of thing and help to get a bit of clarity on that. Does that answer your question?

Participant 3: I was thinking more once you learn something, your vision often expands and you realize there's actually a lot more to it than you knew. Even though you thought you knew something and at the time as a junior, as a person who just started a new job, you are pretty good at what you do, later on, you're still … I guess the question is more, as your vision expands, as you begin to realize that there's more and more to it, you're, again, pushed backwards, if that makes sense.

Randall: Yes, that makes sense. I'm trying to think of a sensible thing to say here. I guess there are two things. One is that it's not, as I said before, an exact science. This stuff is rough and ready indicator. Joe put seven, seven, five, now he might be nine, six, five. But that sort of doesn't matter. It's help to give you a bit of focus on the stuff that are the obvious areas of opportunity. The other bit about moving goal posts, and you think that you're a six, but when you dig into it, there's loads more than you even thought and actually you're a three. I think that is where sense checking with other more experienced people like your manager should help course-correct a bit.

Participant 4: Great talk, Aaron, and great answers. I was just wondering, have you ever tried extrapolating this framework to all the areas of your life, like physical, mental health, social relationships, and if not, what are your thoughts on that?

Randall: That's another great question. Not really. There's a short answer and what we have thought about doing is strapping this out and generalizing across all roles. I definitely talk about this as technical skills and this is for the tech community, but the reality is that you could replace technical skills with domain skills or mastery, and it should apply to a designer, or a cook, or whoever, but beyond your work to day-to-day, interesting. I don't know. It's a short answer, but I can see definitely some parallels. We talk a lot about the point of working across these many skills is that you feel happier and more fulfilled in what you're doing, because you're learning more about more things, but I don't know. Maybe you can make that one, I'll be game to see that.

Participant 5: Thank you for the talk, it was very interesting. One question is about when you fill in the sheet, you presented everything cascades from the first point, which is "set your first main broader goal." I think you said something big, but not too big. Could you please be a bit clearer about how big? Should we maybe decide depending on the person waiting in front, and how much our company can support us? Or is it's we should just shoot as big as we can because everything cascades from that? A bit more clear on how we set the first step, the first goal.

Randall: It's tough, and there isn't a clear answer. It should be big enough that you feel you're excited to focus on it, you might have the same North Star for three, six, nine months and that should still feel motivating enough. If you're hitting your North Star every three months, you're probably not thinking big enough. If you haven't had it for a year and a half, it's one of two things, you've gone too big or, as you alluded to, you might be in a company that can't offer that kind of growth right now, which is a whole other different question, I guess. The reality is that not all companies can offer sustained fast growth and it depends where you are. And you might find that you hit a ceiling at your current company with something like this and actually you'd need to move elsewhere to be able to continue on that trajectory.

Participant 6: In the beginning, you talked about a career path, whereby you identified the few competencies and skills where people can develop to move onto new levels or new positions. Have you seen that better applied where the measurements of those skills or competencies is made by managers or, loosely, by peers?

Randall: I can't talk about where it's being made by managers only, but I can talk about our experience of building this growth framework at Songkick. In fact, slight differences, but if you are interested in learning more about that, we wrote a blog post. It was actually Songkick growth framework, you can read more about the whole process we went through. But what we did was we took a cross-section of the entire tech team to define those skills and to find the roles and build our growth framework, from a company perspective. We had representation from the most senior architects and VPs, down to brand new developers in the team and more junior developers, to make sure that it felt like it did represent the entirety of our tech team and not just what the managers thought.

Participant 6: Those measures were made by peers, or peers and managers?

Randall: It was made by a cross-section of tech team.

Participant 6: No, the leveling of each person. If your communication is 1 to 10, who's measuring the level of your company?

Randall: As you sit down and work to that growth framework, and how you agree on what level you're at right now? That's a conversation with your manager. We do that once every three months, and it's really you bring your opinions and they bring theirs and you discuss, and you come to some consensus. No one person dictating it, but it's really just like two adults having a conversation and agreeing on something at the end.

Participant 7: I just wanted to ask you something after the answer actually, because you said the North Star should be achieved in six to nine months, but if you have a career goal or something like that, shouldn't you have a series of North Stars that you think about from the beginning? I don't know, two, three years ahead?

Randall: Perhaps. This is not a one-size-fits-all framework at all. I think for me, as a person that built this thing with inspiration of the growth framework, it’s personally quite difficult to think of a five-year plan or three or five-year plan, but more manageable timeframes like within the next year or year and a half, as it is just supposed to be more feasible. I think that's where it's easier to break down what is it actually relatively a big chunk of time in our careers down into manageable steps and goals and programs. That doesn't mean that you shouldn't do that either, it just means that this hasn't been built for that.

Participant 8: Thanks for the talk, this was really good. I love the animations and stuff. My question would be around objectively understanding what you need to grow versus understanding what the company is looking for to grow as well. What you see as valuable versus what you see as valuable to your career goals, finding a balance so you can get a focus. That's one. The second one is, in my experience, most companies don't get the actual measurement bit right and then there's a balance and being, "Oh yes, it's seven," or, "Yes [inaudible 00:40:46]," versus what the company thinks you have as well - just finding that balance. Most times I think combining two things like annual reviews to get some kind of rating or they want to get some numbers anyway. And maybe someone feels like you’ve exceed the expectation and then others think you met the expectation. One of talks I attended yesterday, I think by Equal Experts just scrapped that. I think why they scrapped that was that it was bringing more negativity than positivity. I just wanted you to know your thoughts on that. Personal growth framework for growing yourself is fine, but when it gets to the company measuring you sometimes, it brings a different kind of reaction from people, in my experience.

Randall: If I've understood the fast part of the question, it's how do you balance the skills that your company is interested in and also the things that you're interested in to grow as well? Have I answered that correctly? It's a bit of both. We're humans, and we should be excited about the things that we want to grow in as well and not just grow in things that our company needs. I think this is up to you, when you fill this thing out, to suggest what you're excited about. When you take it to your manager and talk through with them, if you thought about this because this is really valuable for the company as well as maybe a skill area focus. How we do it at Songkick with our growth framework is we try and get a balance where we focus half of the goals you're setting are on things that are really clearly directed to a role in getting better in your day-to-day job. The other half can be more personal goals. Actually, if communication is important, the level of communication you want to reach isn't as important for the current role you're at, for example, but you want to stretch, have stretch goals of talking at a conference or writing more blog posts, and you should be able to pick that out and find the balance of stuff that's good for work, "I'm going to focus on stuff that's good for me. I'm going to focus on..." I can't remember the second half of your question, so apologies.

Participant 8: The second part is missing personal growth framework that you have just discussed. If the goal of the personal growth is just to grow yourself and not be judged by it, it works well, but when it's just measure your competence. It's finding the right measurements, like story points. Story points sometimes can be good for a team to measure their own acceleration, but when you compare to other things, it totally loses meaning. Or when the people don't really have enough context to understand what you've just measured. So basically, linking to the way companies do annual appraisals, or, "This person is 3/5, 4/5”, and then being objected to comparing 4/5 in a team versus 5/5 in a different team. I mentioned that yesterday during a talk, Equal Experts said they don't even do that at all in their company, and for some good reasons. What are your thoughts about that?

Randall: I don't have a good answer right now, honestly, but I am definitely game for chatting afterwards, to dig in a little bit more. I'm not sure I fully understand the question, so apologies, but let's take this offline - that'd be great.

Participant 9: Quick one. This struck me as very useful if somebody is already reasonably good at self-introspection. Have you got any thoughts on, if you were trying to get somebody else to do it in a nice positive way, how you'd help them get going, if they weren't used to that?

Randall: That is not a quick one, that's a tough one. That's a great question. I think there's a lot to be said for giving it a bash, giving someone something like this, if you think they're not that good at introspection. Giving them something like this and just seeing how they get on and then, if you are, for example, a manager or someone who's more experienced and take what they've given, they're starting position and give them feedback and advice on how to hold this thing better, if actually they haven't held it correctly. That's the best I can think of right now.

Participant 10: You mentioned that you could do this exercise, for instance, quarterly. From my experience, it's often fire-and-forget for some people. Do you have an experience how to help people follow through before the regular updates?

Randall: I think there are a few things. One, quarterly is hopefully enough to do that. You know, there's a shift from, for example, annual reviews where you talk about something really intensely and then you don't talk about it again for another 12 months, and it's just lost, which I think is the point you're alluding to. I think three months is like a good enough cycle to have space, have big goals but not forget about them, make progress. For this some of you, for example, shared with your manager, I think at one-on-ones during that sort of quarterly cycle are great points of check-in. Back to the Songkick's growth framework, that's how we handle that. We don't just talk about this once every quarter, but you would set the goals at the beginning of the quarter, and then you check in every two, or three, or four weeks, one-on-ones. You're checking and chatting through, "How are things going with this? These are the goals you set. Are you blocked on any of them?” How they're progressing kind of thing. Maybe finding someone like a manager or a peer that you can be held accountable to for these goals that you can talk through every few weeks or so, is probably useful.

Participant 10: You think it would be actually a good idea to do this, for instance, with your peer, it doesn't need to be your manager?

Randall: Absolutely, yes. I think you can find anyone that you trust and respect. That point of sharing your goals and talking through them out loud to people that you trust makes you more accountable to actually achieve them. But then you also might find that you can create bonds with people where they're doing this thing as well. Actually the two of you are kind of working together to make sure that you keep each other on track and work through it. Yes, get finding that person.

 

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Recorded at:

Jul 12, 2019

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