Leading Design
Published in

Leading Design

Leslie Yang

Feb 20, 2020

6 min read

Monthly Leveling for the Win

How and why I do monthly leveling with my design team

career ladder illustration

Start with levels

To start monthly leveling, a company or organization will need to have defined levels for their employees. If your company doesn’t have levels, here are examples of levels to help start the work. For this article, I won’t go into how some companies combine levels and roles and others separate them. I also won’t go into how some companies or teams don’t make levels visible to their teams. What I will share is how I run monthly leveling based on a leveling document that is visible to all team members.

Level-set on areas of growth

The first step is to review what level a direct report sees themselves. I like to give new hires two to three months to settle into their role and for me to observe them before I begin monthly leveling. When I’ve joined a team as a new manager, I’ve also used this tool to learn what experiences they’ve had that I haven’t yet witnessed.

1. Mark up the leveling document

I start by placing a hard copy of the design team’s leveling document in front of both of us. I give us 15–20 minutes to mark up our copies with four types of marks that reflect the amount of experience they have next to each skill or attribute at their level. This is important because experience isn’t either “I know how to do this” or “I don’t know how to do this”; there are degrees of experience. That said, experience should be something they can successfully complete on their own.

2. Compare and discuss

I spend the next 20 minutes with them to compare and discuss overlap and differences in how attributes have been marked. When there are differences, I listen closely to their reasoning and respond by clarifying expectations for the attributes and level. And I give them a chance to share evidence of past experience that I haven’t yet observed. For example, I once said to a direct report that I didn’t see them perform much user research and they were able to point to research they did before I became their manager. If I hadn’t said anything, I would have made an incorrect assumption of their skills.

3. Agree on areas of growth

For the remaining part of the hour, I focus on the tilda, dots and dashes, of which we prioritize five to six to be their areas of growth for the next six to nine months. I also ask if they have any other goals they want to focus on for the next six months.

Co-create the first quarter’s goals

This second step is important for two reasons. One, as a direct report, they need to own these goals and feel invested in their own growth. Two, as a manager, it’s my responsibility to help them identify opportunities to grow. With all that in mind, I spend an hour with them coming up with a reasonable quarterly goal for each area of growth. I also encourage them to revise or come up with goals on their own and then get feedback from me.

Set up a cadence for monthly leveling

I use one of our weekly one-on-ones for the month to support monthly leveling. Here’s my monthly cadence:

First week of the month

I use this week’s one-on-one for us to review the spreadsheet and go over this quarter’s goals and evidence for the past month. I try to give both positive and critical feedback on what I’ve observed in their work or how they’ve worked with others.

Last week of the month

I remind all direct reports to spend time on their own to enter evidence from the previous month for the goal.

Sunset areas of growth when goals are realized

Depending on the scope of the goals, I like to take a look at six and nine months because there have been two to three quarters of goals, which is a strong demonstration of consistency and growth. If and when they’ve hit their goals, I like to sunset the area of growth by graying out the rows in the leveling doc.

Final thoughts

I’ve been running this practice for over a year. I have loved seeing our team members engaged and focused on goal-setting and reflecting on their growth.