How Focusing on Outcomes led to a Progression Framework

Gareth Bragg
Dec 15, 2020 · 6 min read
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Photo by Jordan Opel on Unsplash

We’ve recently shared about Redgate’s new Progression Framework, and how it’s helping folks at Redgate develop their skills and careers.

But we also want to share how we got to pulling that framework together.

It all started by looking at lightning talk attendance…

Back in the mists of time

Redgate has always prided itself on supporting people in their learning and development (L&D). We run internal sharing and training sessions, have regular lightning talks, host internal open space events, encourage attendance or speaking at conferences, invest in Personal Development Plans (PDPs), and even encourage folks to spend 10% of their time on personal development. But something felt wrong.

The proportion of Redgaters with an active PDP was slowly declining. That’s not the end of the world if people are developing otherwise, but it’s a smell we wanted to investigate.

Step one was to understand that smell, and that meant collecting some data.

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Engagement with Level Up activities

We spent a few months monitoring engagement levels with our different learning and development activities, which we took to be a leading indicator of people engaging with their PDPs. That data helped us see a few things:

  • All our L&D activities were being engaged with, to varying extents
  • Engagement was erratic
  • Some roles were engaged more than others

Interesting observations, but nothing that tells us what we can do to change it.

It did give us our first desired outcome, though: “Engagement levels with L&D activities should increase”, hopefully leading to more engagement with PDPs.

Embracing failure

This would mean doing things we were uncomfortable with, and a lot of things that would fail to get results, but it would help us understand our problem better.

We spent six months attempting a raft of experimental L&D approaches:

  • Arranging day-long events to give uninterrupted personal development time
  • Advertising a list of curated, world-class conferences for folks to attend
  • Updating and advertising our internal library
  • Supporting the establishment of internal Communities of Practice
  • Marketing work, including setting up our internal “Level Up” L&D brand
  • Appearing on a podcast to talk about L&D
  • …and many more things besides

Most of our attempts didn’t show any impact on people’s L&D engagement. Interest in conferences was minimal, the podcast got almost no internal attention, and a day spent on personal development even caused disruption to other teams at Redgate.

We’d braced for some failure but could have been overwhelmed by the sheer volume of failed experiments. Thankfully we weren’t only here for results. We needed to go through these failures so we could learn about our work.

Other experiments, like Communities of Practice, did show some encouraging signs, while our “Level Up” L&D brand has spawned a hugely engaging annual L&D event.

We also gathered intelligence by talking to individuals about their approach to L&D. What styles of learning worked best for them? What activities appealed, and what didn’t? What drove them to learn?

What did all that teach us?

Reflecting on those few months, we presented this summary in Redgate’s quarterly review:

  • L&D opportunities are varied.
  • Engagement with events is mixed, but positive.
  • Direction and drive are lacking.

It was a painful conclusion to come to, but a key part of our journey. We could look at the L&D activities on offer all we liked, but we wouldn’t really change engagement levels unless we could give people a reason to be more engaged.

It was around this time that Redgate took an interest in the research behind the book Accelerate, which conveniently supported our thinking. According to that research one of the driving forces behind successful companies in Transformational Leadership, and this includes intellectual stimulation.

Intellectual stimulation is what we needed to focus on, building an environment where people want to learn because they’re stimulated.

D&D: Drive & Direction

First, we wanted to stimulate people Redgate to learn known, important skills, together. This led to establishing our internal Engineering Academy, and more recently the Design Academy.

These academies give a powerful vehicle to our more experienced practitioners to teach classroom style courses for colleagues, covering topics from the git command line, to Kubernetes, to effective user research.

These courses have been hugely popular, allowing much easier sharing of crucial skills for beginner through to advanced levels. They can be expensive to develop, and identifying valuable courses can be difficult, but these academies are still going strong.

Secondly, we investigated gamifying our L&D structure. Level Up Achievements have proven to be a fun way to advertise and encourage common L&D milestones, including attending those academy training courses, and have given useful structure to our L&D approach.

Did that all help?

A positive reaction to this “push-based” system was superb, but we needed to take another step back to understand what would generate “pull” — people going after their own L&D goals.

We realised, once again, we were pulling on the wrong lever. We may have been looking at part of our L&D approach, but still not the whole system. We needed to look again at what motivated people, and how to tap into that motivation in a more sustainable way.

More research and conversations led us to the most eye-opening message of all.

People didn’t know what they should be learning about.

…what should we be learning about?

We’ve had guidance on career progression for many years, but it had fallen into disrepair and was difficult to consume. We were asking people to invest in their personal development but expecting them (and their line managers) to figure out what that development looked like with very little real support. That’s why only the supremely self-motivated people were investing in L&D. We weren’t giving the right support to the people who needed it!

What does this have to do with outcomes?

  • Find: Identify a problem to solve, and understand your current state
  • Leading indicators: Take a step back from the signs something is wrong, and find signs things will improve
  • Experiment: Be brave and accept failure while you learn to impact those leading indicators
  • Ensure: Keep a focus on having an impact, by whatever means necessary
  • Toast: Celebrate having an impact, not doing a task

Without that focus on the change we wanted, we’d have done a quick project on L&D practices and moved on.

Instead, we’re building a deep and engaging L&D environment at Redgate, backed by a structured approach to personal development, to give everyone the opportunity to grow their careers at their own pace with systemic support.

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