IN
CHORUS
March 15, 2021
How I built a
management ladder
Guide
Note: This article is cross-posted from Poll Everywhere’s blog.

This past month at Poll Everywhere, we rolled out a career in management progression. The approach mirrored that of our engineering career ladder. However, the larger scope required close collaboration with our People Operations (People Ops) team and consensus building across a broad audience.

After establishing levels for our Individual Contributor (IC) engineers, managers on the team found themselves in limbo. When it came time to evaluate Engineering Managers, we didn’t have a rubric like we had for ICs. While some technical leadership skills overlap, the core skills of a manager are quite different from those of an IC.

I started our Management Levels focused on skills for managing engineers. However, the more I researched, the more overlap I found between successful managers regardless of specialization. Both require strong team-building skills, an ability to speak convincingly to stakeholders, and focus on high-value tasks by delegating work that you don’t have a unique ability to do.

In this article I’ll lay out how we designed our management progression at Poll Everywhere. You’ll learn how responsibility expands from Coach all the way through Chief so that you can apply a similar structure at your organization.

Process

The research model used the same approach as our Engineering levels.

  1. Survey the landscape
  2. Make a template
  3. Make them yours
  4. Scale them
  5. Review with everybody that has to live with them
  6. Apply them

Survey the landscape

I started by looking broadly across the SaaS industry to see how the largest companies organize. Slack, Google, and Dropbox gave me a place to start. The specific roles I looked at have since been filled, but these huge companies always have management roles open.

In addition to giant tech companies, I looked at companies closer in size to Poll Everywhere. Unlike Engineering, management expectations at larger companies weren’t dramatically different from those of smaller companies.

Working with our People Ops team, we decided on five levels of management that we wanted consistently across the company.

  1. Coach
  2. Manager
  3. Director
  4. Vice President
  5. Chief

Make a template

Instead of starting at the lowest level, we started by defining the Director level. Our Chief Revenue Officer had two of his coachees in mind for that promotion already and had done a great first pass.

He and I centered around the idea of owning an “outcome metric” end-to-end as the defining characteristic of being a Director.

DEFINITION
An outcome metric tracks an outcome that the business cares about.

Taking an example Customer Success department, two outcomes they might care about could be account retention and account expansion. These are considered outcomes because both are money in the bank for the business.

On the other end of the outcome spectrum are efforts. In the Customer Success example, efforts might be scheduling calls with your contacts at the company or sending them use cases when new features are released. These are good steps to take to develop relationships, but don’t necessarily mean that the account will renew or expand usage.

Combining the idea of owning an outcome metric with the more typical responsibilities of management from our industry survey we landed on the following description:


Director
Manages a department with multiple teams. Success is measured against an outcome metric (e.g. account retention is a business outcome while scheduling calls with each account contact is an effort). Has hire / fire authority across the department. Aligns vision with that of the organization and drives execution to get from where they are today to that goal.

  • Responsible for an outcome from end to end
    • Responsible to deliver the outcome
    • End-to-end ownership of the goal
    • Reports status at our “Quarterly leadership KPI check in” meeting and potentially more frequent venues
  • Builds trusting relationships between teams to maintain department cohesion.
  • Evolves leadership, collaboration, and communication skills to support department autonomy.
  • Builds support with stakeholders to deliver initiatives that impact their outcome metric.
  • Balances many responsibilities. Effectively delegates lower leverage tasks.
  • Defines and oversees initiatives that improve the effectiveness of the entire department and guide teams toward the outcome metric.
  • Often reviews IC work or advises about approach, but rarely does the hands-on work themselves.

Make them yours

With the template in place, we connected each responsibility to our values and performance criteria.

  • Responsible for an outcome from end to end.
Content, Delivery
  • Responsible to deliver the outcome
  • End-to-end ownership of the goal
  • Reports status at our “Quarterly leadership KPI check in” meeting and potentially more frequent venues
  • Builds trusting relationships between teams to maintain department cohesion.
People and team
  • Evolves leadership, collaboration, and communication skills to support department autonomy.
People and team, Tools and processes
  • Builds support with stakeholders to deliver initiatives that impact their outcome metric.
Delivery
  • Balances many responsibilities. Effectively delegates lower leverage tasks.
Delivery, Judgment, Drive to grow
  • Defines and oversees initiatives that improve the effectiveness of the entire department and guide teams toward the outcome metric.
Solution seeking, Content, Delivery
  • Often reviews IC work or advises about approach, but rarely does the hands-on work themselves.
Content

Scale them

Directors work at the department level, so a scaled down Manager role would work at the team level. And coaches at the individual level. Scaling up, a Vice President works across many departments and a Chief across the entire company. Centering the remaining responsibilities around this scope of influence made the progression easy to follow from one level to the next.


I. Coach
Responsible for the development of 1–2 coachees. Success is measured by the output of the individual coachees. Significant IC work is expected. Becoming a coach often functions as a transition from the IC path to the Management path.

  • Develops skills in coachees so they can perform their roles excellently.
Content, Delivery, People and team
  • Builds trust with coachees.
People and team
  • Proactively seeks new growth opportunities for coachees.
Solution Seeking, Judgment, Drive to grow
  • Speaks to coachees explicitly about their growth and performance at least once a quarter. Provides input and documentation to People Ops about their coachees to support yearly compensation review.
People and team, Judgment
  • Writes and delivers 360 feedback thematic summaries to coachees.
People and team, Tools and Processes
  • Invests substantially in larger IC efforts.
Content, Delivery


II. Manager
Manages a team with the expectation of some IC work. Success is measured by the output of the team. Typically has 3 or more coachees. In some cases a manager may be responsible for an area of our company but not have coachees.

  • Responsible for the output of the team.
Content, Delivery, People and team
  • Builds trusting relationships with coachees. Maintains team cohesion.
People and team
  • Coaches team members toward skills that develop a well-rounded team.
Tools and processes
  • Builds support with relevant senior team members for new initiatives and sees those initiatives through to completion.
Solution Seeking, People and team, Delivery
  • Provides strong input when hiring or forming their teams, but doesn’t have unilateral authority to hire / fire.
 Judgment
  • Balances many responsibilities.
Judgment, Drive to grow
  • Rarely able to invest in larger IC efforts.
Content


III. Director
Manages a department with multiple teams. Success is measured against an outcome metric (e.g. account retention is a business outcome while scheduling calls with each account contact is an effort). Has hire / fire authority across the department. Aligns vision with that of the organization and drives execution to get from where they are today to that goal.

  •  Responsible for an outcome from end to end.
Content, Delivery
  • Responsible to deliver the outcome
  • End-to-end ownership of the goal
  • Reports status at our “Quarterly leadership KPI check in” meeting and potentially more frequent venues
  • Builds trusting relationships between teams to maintain department cohesion.
People and team
  • Evolves leadership, collaboration, and communication skills to support department autonomy.
People and team, Tools and processes
  • Builds support with stakeholders to deliver initiatives that impact their outcome metric.
Delivery
  • Balances many responsibilities. Effectively delegates lower leverage tasks.
Delivery, Judgment, Drive to grow
  • Defines and oversees initiatives that improve the effectiveness of the entire department and guide teams toward the outcome metric.
Solution seeking, Content, Delivery
  • Often reviews IC work or advises about approach, but rarely does the hands-on work themselves.
Content


IV. Vice President
Manages an organization through several department managers or directors. Success is measured against the outcome metrics of the organization. Has overall control of planning, staffing, and recommending and implementing changes to methods. Establishes overall direction, outcome metrics, and strategic initiatives to achieve goals. Reports to top leadership. Has expert knowledge of their domain with strong leadership skills and a keen awareness of the business.

  • Responsible for the outcome metrics of several departments. With their directors, identifies and defines outcome metrics for each department.
Content, Delivery
  • Establishes trusting relationships between departments. Maintains organization cohesion.
People and team
  • Interprets company vision. Inspires departments to achieve it by aligning day-to-day work.
People and team
  • Sets the highest priorities for the company and their organization. Delegates the prioritization of other tasks and initiatives to leaders in their organization.
Judgment, Drive to grow
  • Focuses on identifying initiatives that impact how multiple departments work.
Tools and processes, Solution Seeking
  • Builds support with top leadership for initiatives that impact outcome metrics for their organization.
Delivery
  • Infrequently reviews IC work, but often advises on leadership approaches within departments and teams.
Content


V. Chief
Based on business goals, it may not be possible to add more chiefs even when we think there is a person well-suited currently in a Vice President role.

Responsible for overseeing the overall direction of the company. Success is measured against the outcome metrics of the company. Primarily focused on development of the organization’s vision and strategies to achieve it.

Monitors and refines company-wide outcome metrics, continuously iterating for improvement. Co-owns the company budget with other chiefs and regularly looks for ways to cut costs while increasing revenue.

  • Responsible for the outcome metrics of the company.
Content, Delivery
  • Establishes trusting relationships between top leaders. Maintains company cohesion.
People and team
  • Defines company vision and values. Reevaluates as competitive landscape changes.
Content, Delivery
  • Thinks and acts across the company and considers its overall impact on all stakeholders and the world at large.
Judgment, Delivery
  • Prioritizes only the most important tasks, effectively delegating everything else.
Judgment, Drive to grow
  • Responsible for defining clear areas of ownership and top-level decision making rights.
Tools and Processes
  • Stays informed of market shifts and alternate approaches developed in other similarly sized companies within the industry.
Content
  • Ensures the company is taking appropriate risks. Has final approval when negotiating agreements, contracts, or budget.
Judgment
  • Scope of their work is typically the future of the company.
Content, Delivery
  • Focuses on developing initiatives that define how the company grows.
Solution Seeking, Tools and processes
  • Inspires the team to achieve the company vision.
Delivery
  • Inspires talent to join, and is responsible for the public face of the company to recruits, prospects, and regulatory agencies.
Delivery
  • Does IC work very infrequently, but may have unique high-stakes tasks related to legal compliance, security, budget, etc.
Content

At the Chief level we did extra research because it’s much less common to find job postings for C-level positions. I was most nervous to get buy-in at this level since it felt like we were defining how they should spend their time and that we were a bit out of our lane. It turned out that they were excited to contribute and build on the first draft.

CEO reference job descriptions:

Review with everybody


Review with managers
The first step I took was to ask the people who would be assessed by these levels a few key questions:

  • Do these levels cover the major responsibilities of your job?
  • Do you think the progression from one level to the next makes sense?
  • Would you feel comfortable being evaluated against this ladder in the future?

Review with Diversity Equity & Inclusion working group
Then we asked our Diversity Equity & Inclusion (DE&I) working group to review the document. A prior version of these levels had outlined an assessment of our management based on how well they foster an inclusive environment. After reviewing the management levels from a DE&I perspective we decided that inclusion is a deep and complex subject and to collaborate with a consultancy we were already connected with to weave inclusion into a future version of our management levels. We hope to have this ready for the coming cycle (starting this April).

Review with each person
Since managers affect all the people they manage, we didn’t want to roll this type of expectation out without asking for feedback from the people that would be managed. At our company all-hands meeting, our People Ops team announced that we’d be rolling out these levels in two weeks and asked for everybody to review them. Two weeks later we finalized our Management levels for the coming year.

Follow up

We decided to pursue a consistent manager’s curriculum after doing the work of defining expectations for managers.

Be very clear when they change

Since these levels are how people are assessed, you must be very clear about when they’ve changed and how they’ve changed. With our Engineering Levels I’ve opened up a discussion once a year after each compensation review to ask if the levels still reflect what we practice. I plan to do the same thing with these management levels.

I hope the detailed step-by-step guide to our management career ladder and the research that went into it helps your teams get a better idea of what great looks like at their current levels and inspires them to grow into the next.

Matt from encoro

I’m Matt ⚡, making encoro for 360° feedback. Want to help your team hear how they’re progressing? Give it a try for free.