Propellerhead NZ
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Propellerhead NZ

Recognising Employee Skills With Our Own Digital Badging System

From mid 2018, we’ll begin to start assigning skill-based ‘badges’ to our employees. It’s an experiment designed to recognise the ability of our team, help ensure a transparent system, and is something that allows employees to take charge of their professional development.

We thought we’d share a little about what we have planned, and why we think it’s so important.

What’s A Digital Badge System Exactly?

The idea of a digital badge has been around for a while now, and a quick search on Medium will bring up plenty of articles listing different people’s experiences and thoughts. Technology giants around the world are using Digital Badge Systems to drive professional development — companies such as IBM, Microsoft and NASA.

The badge system we’re building will list out a set of skills valuable to your job. It will allow you to very clearly prove what you know, earn new badges (up-skill), and will increase your salary in the process.

Open Badges: A History

The Mozilla Foundation’s Open Badges.

In 2012 the Mozilla Foundation built the original Open Badges Framework we’re using as the base of our program. Our badges are still individual entities that can evolve with the framework; we’re anticipating 2.0 in 2018.

According to Mozilla’s Open Badge Wikipedia:

“The Open Badges standard describes a method for packaging information about accomplishments, embedding it into portable image files such as a digital badge, and establishing an infrastructure for badge validation.”

Since it’s inception in 2015, IBM’s Digital Badge Program has issued over 500,000 badges, with 87% of IBM employee participants saying they are more engaged with the company as a result.

You can take a look at IBM’s list of badges on their website.

Badge Set Details

Our badge sets will be earned by, and issued to, our employees based on the skills which relate to their job.

Earning a badge means you have evidence of your ability in a particular area. Badges include both technical and ‘soft’ skills, as we believe many individual skills often go unrecognised, but are still immensely important and can also be the difference between an ‘intermediate’ and ‘senior’ salary level.

For our own badging system, a Software Developer Badge Set might include these two badges as compulsory for the set:

  • Agile Fluency
  • Software Technology

As developers are people too, they have other skills we want to recognise that are relevant to being an excellent developer:

  • Communication (If someone is very personable and it helps them in a role)
  • Attention to Detail (If someone is very careful and it’s helpful for others in their team)
  • Getting Things Done (Keeps a list of projects and next actions up to date with weekly reviews)

‘Goal’ Skill Sets:

An employee can select a goal skill set to see what existing skills they can improve on, or what new skills they can learn. The selected set is a basic template needed to fill their job, or what a more senior person would need in their current job. They can then negotiate the details of this goal set and request additional, non-compulsory, badges relevant and valuable to their job.

This gives us the ability to identify skills needed for the next level of an employee’s job (i.e. junior, intermediate, senior) or the next step in their career path.

Issuing Badges:

Employees will likely be assessed by two people that already hold the badge. We can be clever with this and create a Badge-Assessor Badge that reviewers have to earn to ensure trustworthiness in the system.

Salary Increases:

While not finalised, we’re planning for employees to not only earn salary increases when full badge sets are earned, but when individual badges are earned too. Increases can also be weighted per badge type, and review cycles could happen every 3 or 6 months, and/or per badge set earned.

Why Do We Think This Initiative Is So Important?

Recognising ability in a transparent way:

We are absolutely committed to recognising the individual skills people bring to work. A badging system allows us to do this. It also allows us to see what is actually needed for a person to do their job well.

Annual reviews as we know it will also change, which will bring many benefits. “What did you do a year ago?” turns into “we value these skills that you bring to your work!”

Helping to eliminate discrimination:

Propellerhead is an equal opportunity workplace regardless of race, gender, national origin, colour, ancestry, religion, sexual orientation, disability, age, marital status, or gender identity. Talented people come in all forms, and a badging system helps to eliminate potential discrimination by focusing on your qualities as a person.

Professional development:

At our company, the largest motivating factor for staff is to do our jobs well. A badge system like this will clearly show how a person can grow and become better at their job. It will also demonstrate what additional skills they need to progress or change their career path.

Development plans are critically important, but often companies don’t put enough emphasis on personal development plans for their staff.

Salary increases:

This badging system means we’ll easily be able to reward employees for professional growth. It’s not a controversial idea that if people get better at their jobs, their company benefits from that.

The Technology We’re Using

Two separate components are needed for our badging initiative — a web app we’re building ourselves which can be integrated into our existing systems, and a third-party repository which is tied to each employee personally.

Propellerhead Badges Web App: Internal

A page in the very first version of our badges app — the platform still has a long way to go!

We found that there are no applications or skill databases that can manage our badge system the way we want, so we’re building our own. It’s currently in development, and will allow employees to log in via an online portal. We’re planning for it to display the following:

  • An employee’s current badge set with all earned badges, and the skillsets required to achieve those badges
  • An employee’s goal set or a bunch of badges they’d like to get
  • Any badges applied for, or waiting for review
  • Badges which may apply to their role, which they might also like to get: someone with a service owner badge will also see that they’ve got the skills for the product owner skillset
  • Multiple pathway maps — each one showing their own badge sets

We’re planning on integrating the app with at least BambooHR and GlassFrog (the Holacracy management platform we’re using).

Backpack: External

Mozilla’s Badges Backpack

Because it’s an open standard, employees can display badges however they like. Mozilla Backpack, for example, is the first ever developed Open Badges Backpack, and very easy to use. The backpack we recommend will depend on how we integrate the Open Badge Platform into our system. Platforms to issue badges already exist so we don’t need to reinvent that, just implement it into our system.

Backpacks are free, open-source web apps that allow users to store and display badges they’ve earned. They can share them between platforms and anywhere on the web, giving users complete control over their own achievements by allowing them to organise and display badges anywhere they want. Many people display their badges on the likes of LinkedIn as it comes with evidence of the skills they’ve earned.

Badging Systems and Holacracy

For the past year, we’ve been working on implementing Holacracy. It provides a set of roles and policies supporting a badging system.

Our Badging System Roadmap

We are planning to begin migrating our 50+ staff onto the system in early 2018, and hope to provide updates as the journey unfolds.

Building Your Own Open Badges System

We couldn’t find exactly what we were looking for, so we’re building our own Badging System, but there are multiple cloud-based issuing platforms available. Take a look at this list Mozilla has put together.

We’re interested in hearing from any other Kiwi technology companies currently using a badging system, so if you are, let us know.

We’ve also had interest from other organisations to access this system. The system we’re building will be able to do this and can accommodate other standards, so we can build one for you. If what we’re doing is of interest, please reach out.


*The content of this article was a collaboration between Propellerhead team members Jonathan Cupples and Elyse Wyatt.




Our software powers some of the largest ideas in Government, Commercial and Non-Profit Institutions in New Zealand.

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Jonathan Cupples

Jonathan Cupples

Operations Lead @Propellerhead.

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