How to Develop an Employee Progression Model

Personal Development

Heather Lyon highlights some items to consider when developing a model that will fit your organization’s unique needs.

If you’re like most call centers, tenure is typically the largest factor when determining frontline representative merit increases. Reviews of performance are held annually and though they may include thoughtful remarks on performance, quality scores and living the company’s “mission statement” or “vision”, they are rarely tied to financial gains.

The issue with this model is that employees are often left wondering what they need to do, specifically, to get to the next level.

Employee perception of advancement opportunities has become a critical factor when assessing job satisfaction and intent to stay with an organization. In an industry that typically experiences anywhere from 24% to 200% turnover annually, anything that can be done to decrease attrition is a win.

So how do you create an environment where employees not only understand how to get to the next level but also put effort in doing so? You introduce a multi-faceted employee progression model that rewards employees for tenure, performance and new skill acquisition. Below are some items to consider when developing a model that will fit your organization’s unique needs.

How many levels are needed?
The answer to this question depends on whether or not your employee’s are specialists or generalists. If they are specialists, the number of levels will be minimal, perhaps 3 or 4 total depending on whether or not you will include a “mentor” level. If they are generalists you should review your training curriculum and divide the job into broad categories. Once this is done, determine if there are multiple levels (i.e. beginner, intermediate, advanced) within each category.

In a sales environment, for example, you should have 3 to 4 levels without steps within each level. In a customer service environment you could have three main levels, for example, with three sub-levels within each level for a total of nine steps.

How quickly should employees advance from level to level?
You want your model to accomplish three things with respect to time in position:

1. Identify underperformers quickly and remove them from the business

2. Allow enough time for employees to learn required skills to be successful at the next level (i.e. training, seminars, self-paced learning)

3. Ensure improved performance can be maintained (or prepare yourself for a payroll and HR nightmare)

With those guidelines in mind, the first movement from Level 1 to Level 2 should be mandatory and should occur within the first 6 months of employment. After that, depending on how much time your organization can allocate towards continuing education initiatives and also how many levels you have within your structure, movement from level to level should occur around 12 months.

By what margin should performance expectations increase for each level?
There are two things to consider when determining how much of an improvement you should require for movement.

First and foremost, where are your employees performing now? Of course you’ll be introducing training to support an increase in performance, but even the best training programs improve performance by 15% – 20%.

Second and arguably more importantly, what’s realistic? Play with a few different scenarios and apply the improvements across your employee base, extrapolating what that would mean for your company. If your improvements would yield a $1B increase in revenue, and your company netted $200M last year, you may want to scale it back a bit.

What happens if someone doesn’t make it?
Let’s face it, not everyone is going to make the jump from Level 1 to Level 2. Moreover, some will get to the next level and regress. What are we to do with employees who don’t cut the mustard?

Before we discuss how to structure this part of your plan it’s important to remember that underperformers typically do not want to be underperforming. If you enter into the creation of this portion of your plan truly believing that, you will come up with an elegant solution that helps both the employee and the business.

Step One: No surprises

If your organization decides on 6 months between levels, supervisors should be formally meeting with employees to review progress at month 3. This meeting should be a continuation of conversations they have been having weekly, just in a more formal setting with all the appropriate documentation. This includes an action plan if employees are falling short of expectations.

Step Two: Follow-up

After the mid-point meeting it’s critical to follow-up on progress. The plan should set clear benchmarks for improvements and assign specific tasks to be completed. Ensure those benchmarks are being met.

Step Three: Recast

If after all of this your employee is still not performing at the level required to make it to the next level and they’ve done everything outlined in the action plan, consider moving them to a different role that better suits their skillset.

This article was designed to help you get the ball rolling as you start on your journey of creating an employee progression model. It takes a lot of work and requires the expertise of many different functional areas within your organization. It is worth it though. Increased employee satisfaction leads to increased customer satisfaction. And a decrease in turnover never hurt anyone. .

About the Author

Heather Lyon is President, Consulting Division of Straight Forward Consulting.

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