Originally published at https://www.leadingtheproduct.com on October 8, 2019.
SEEK is one of Australia’s greatest tech success stories, with a 20-plus-year history and a presence in 19 countries. Such a large company requires a large team and there are now over 40 product people, including Heads of Product, Product Leads, Senior PMs, PMs and Associates. This large team ensures the business can stay ahead of the technology and customer service curves. However, having so many members can mean difficulty with consistency when it comes to recruiting, developing and promoting staff.
Product leaders at SEEK realised that without a clear model outlining the responsibilities and expectations of the product team, scaling is tricky. It is also a challenge to identify exactly where people are at in their careers and help them build their skills with a promotion in mind.
To resolve this problem, two of SEEK’s Heads of Product- Timo Hilhorst and Andrew Knibbe — worked together on a Product Capability Matrix. This continually-evolving model is now referenced during SEEK’s hiring and performance review process.
More than roles and responsibilities
When developing SEEK’s Product Capability Matrix, Andrew explains that “We wanted to be clear with the people on the team what ‘great’ looks like.”
As well as demonstrating the different responsibilities between roles of varying seniority, Andrew and Timo looked to incorporate SEEK’s culture into their document. “The practices we believe in include having a positive impact on society, focussing on business fundamentals and customer outcomes rather than short term financials, and always striving, challenging and remaining productively paranoid.” says Timo, “These values and beliefs feed into the structure of our staff evaluations, and they’re highlighted in the Product Capability Matrix.”
To take their Matrix beyond the basics, Timo and Andrew referenced behaviours, not just responsibilities. These behaviours are broken down into areas including judgment and decision making, passion, professional skills and leadership. Each level of PM has different expectations of how they should reflect SEEK’s ingrained behaviours.
For example, a Senior Product Manager should be able to facilitate cross-stream workshops, ideation, and alignment at the highest level. They should have a qualitative and quantitative understanding of customers’ needs and behaviours, and be spending structured time with customers every week. In addition, a Senior PM is expected to recognise their own emotions and personal strengths and limitations at a high level, and know how this might impact on others.
Leveraging the matrix
With a range of skillsets and individuals across a product-based team, it can be challenging for leaders to identify who is ready to progress to the next level of their career, or where to place a successful candidate within the team. It can also be hard for Associate Product Managers and Product Managers to have context around what the next level of their career will look like.
Having a reference point helps keep everyone on the same page. For employees, it can give them a clear pathway of progress. “Promotions should never come out of the blue and they shouldn’t feel long overdue either,” says Timo, explaining that with the Capability Matrix, a PM will know exactly what to work on during the three to six months between performance reviews.
SEEK’s matrix also means talented staff aren’t stuck with a job title which doesn’t justify what they deliver. “When we launched the matrix, we actually quickly identified staff who were absolutely ready to be promoted,” explains Andrew.
Communicating the Matrix
Providing clarity around behaviours and responsibilities is an ongoing process at SEEK. After developing their matrix, Andrew and Timo shared it with Chief Product Officer Nicole Brolan, before workshopping it with the wider team.
“We made sure to workshop it to the team at all levels,” Timo shares, “We asked, does this make sense and do you recognise the values?”
Junior staff members were asked if the matrix reflected the level they were at and managers had the opportunity to use it as a reference for where their staff were at. “It would have taken a lot longer to identify the people already doing a next-level role without our new model,” says Timo.
SEEK’s Product Capability Matrix is kept brief across two straightforward spreadsheets so that it’s easy to access and understand. Every update is regularly shared with the team. They can score themselves against the responsibilities and attributes that are expected of them, and be aware of the areas where they can improve.
For a culture-driven company like SEEK, a framework like this takes instinct and guesswork out of career management and progression. It makes leadership roles easier, particularly for those who have not come from a people-management background.
“The Matrix helps everyone get on the same page at all levels,” says Andrew. “From a product perspective, it articulates how we do things, e.g. spending time with customers and validating assumptions. From a coaching perspective, what we have created lets us ‘lean in’ on a deeper level.”
As well as looking to SEEK’s existing and previous models, Andrew and Timo’s research for SEEK’s Product Capability Matrix included some of the following posts: