Career Ladder is not enough, you need an interim period

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Why

Promotion is hard. Being promoted from senior to lead is even harder. Because it's the first milestone you move into management and leadership.

From my experience (when being promoted to Tech Lead), the biggest pain comes from unclear transition plans and unclear outcomes. The feedback from promotion committees only suggest the areas to improve, doesn’t explain how the engineering team will facilitate this career development:

  • Is there a business need for a new Tech Lead?
  • How to formally inform the team of the candidate transition to Tech Lead?
  • When to assign a report to the candidate to try people management?
  • How long would this transition take?
  • What will happen after the transition? Will the candidate get a commitment to be promoted if it is successful?
  • What if the transition hasn’t successfully gone through? Or what if the candidate doesn’t like management after the trial?

All of these questions aren’t answered either by the promotion committees or the career ladder. And the line manager should have worked with the candidate to create a focused plan.

How

The idea is to introduce an interim period with a focused transition plan and be transparent about the expectation of the interim period outcome.

  1. Upon the candidate is considered as the developing Tech Lead (how a candidate is considered as a candidate will be in another proposal), the promotion committees not only provides feedback but also finalise the following things:
    • Start date of the transition period.
    • End date of the transition period. Not less than 3 months, no more than 6 months.
    • The interim job title. (i.e. Act Tech Lead, Developing Tech Lead)
    • Define the system access that the candidate needs in order to perform the interim role.
    • Define the success criteria.
  2. Inform the engineering team of the transition plan, highlight that this is a temporary role. This provides transparency to the team who’s in an interim role and starts tracking.
  3. The interim role doesn’t impact compensation.
  4. The current manager works with the candidate to craft a focus transition plan.
    • The plan focus on the people management responsibilities and challenges
    • When and how to transition a direct report to the candidate
    • Invite the candidate to the important meeting/discussion that the manager has
    • Plans out some leadership opportunities like hosting a Group Conversation, acting as the hiring manager for an intern position, or running a series of demo meetings for an important deliverable.

What

At the end of the interim period, mostly its timing should align with the promotion calibration. The promotion committees will review the candidate and there are two possible outcomes: The candidate successfully completes and aligns with the success criteria. Will get promotion The candidate doesn’t complete the interim period or doesn’t like the management track, the candidate moves back to the prior role. Detailed feedback must be given as to why it hasn’t been successful.

Not successfully completing the interim period does not mean the team member can not move into a similar role in the future.

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