When it comes to the reasons folks cite for deciding to leave their jobs, lack of growth opportunities sits at the top of the list.

So eight months ago, when our manager-effectiveness survey revealed that only 72% of Ethenians felt they were getting adequate support on career development, we knew we had to make a change.

We spent the next few weeks reviewing our language — or lack thereof — around growth at every stage of the employee life cycle, and identified 3 key areas of opportunity.

Defining professional development

The more data we collected from our employees, the more it became apparent that there was misalignment on how we defined growth at Ethena.

Many of our employees interpreted growth in just one way: vertical. In other words, the only way for an employee to feel as though they had achieved professional development was to receive a promotion. Without a promotion, there was a sense that their career had gone stagnant.

The reality, however, is that there are a lot of ways to grow. In fact, the very nature of working in a scaling startup means that even within the same role, an employee will inevitably take on more challenging tasks in Q4 than they did in Q1.

So we defined what growth at a startup looks like:

  • Expanding the scope of a role, i.e. going from managing a team of 1 to managing a team of 3
  • Leaning into leadership opportunities, i.e. volunteering to lead a meeting, speaking up if you see something’s not working, partnering with leadership/HR to host an event, etc.
  • Adapting to changing needs and picking up new skills along the way

Communicating what growth means

We also made sure we were clearly communicating our definition of growth throughout every stage of the employee cycle, including during the recruitment process, onboarding, and periodically at company-wide all hands.

Doing so empowers employees to more easily identify growth opportunities in their everyday work and ultimately feel more confident in the many different ways that their everyday work can in fact contribute to their overall growth.

If you’re struggling with this at your company, the question I recommend leaning on is: “If you were to leave the company today, what new skill-sets and experience could you add to your resume that you didn’t have when you first started?” If you can point to new skill-sets and experiences, you’ve grown. If you can’t, it’s time to explore what new opportunities you can take on.

Define growth metrics

While we at Ethena are firm believers in the notion that promotions should be the result of growth and not the first step towards it, clarity around what it takes to get promoted offers employees key milestones to aim for and a clear sense of continued growth opportunity within their existing role.

We had already created job levels at Ethena, but we hadn’t done the work to publicly define exactly what they meant or how to determine the gaps between your current level and the next. With that in mind, we took each of our job levels and created definitions for them, breaking them down by: scope of role, hard skills, soft skills, and leadership skills. We even included a sample problem and a description of how each level would tackle the same problem differently.

We then shared that job level chart company-wide so everyone would be working off the same set of understandings as they headed into performance reviews.

If you’re interested in learning more about how we distinguish between job levels, keep an eye out for a future blog post where we’ll share our job level breakdown for public use. (We’ve already shared our breakdown on how we determine salaries for our Engineering team, as well as how we distinguish between junior and senior engineers.)

Invest in your managers

The reality is, you can set up all the right resources and communicate as clearly as possible, but if you don’t empower your managers to take it across the finish line and actually execute on company guidelines, you’re going to have a pretty hard time achieving success.

Managers play a critical role in upholding company standards, and when it comes to career growth, that’s no less true. If you’ve got the bandwidth, host manager trainings. If you don’t, explore lower lift options like creating a ‘managers’ Slack channel, hosting AMAs or office hours where managers can ask about challenges they’re facing, and offer periodic tips and best practices like:

  • How to deliver difficult feedback while keeping it motivational
  • How to delegate effectively
  • How to empower your teams to reach their full potential

And by the way, if you’ve got the bandwidth for manager trainings but don’t quite know how to go about executing on them, you’re in luck. We recently hosted our own internal manager training series and plan to share what we did in future blog posts.

So did it work?

So far, the answer seems to be a resounding yes. Six months into these changes, we increased employee satisfaction around career development by a full 18 points! Yes, you read that right — we went from 72% to 90% in just 2 quarters.

Of course, that doesn’t mean our work is done. We’ll continue to monitor employee sentiment in future engagement surveys and make adjustments as necessary.

Additionally, another way to check in with employee sentiment is via managers. At Ethena, we practice weekly feedback sessions with direct reports (that we call Feedback Fridays – check out our blog post and feedback form for more details!), which allows regular feedback to trickle up to our People team and helps us make faster, more informed decisions.

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