In 2016, I created the first version of a growth ladder for product designers at Urban Company. It was just a list of tactical expectations from the designers, specific responsibilities that they should undertake, a checklist of weekly, monthly, yearly rituals they should practice to grow individually and as a team in their career. This version also would have links to videos, books, etc. against respective line items.
It gave crystal clear clarity to the folks in the team on what’s expected of them, how should they navigate through their journey in a team, and the company and would serve as a guiding light.
By 2021, I created an exhaustive excel sheet mapping each designer, across levels, to their respective actionable for growth — how to grow from a product designer to a senior designer, senior to a lead, lead to an associate director, and so on. Last year, 2022, I simplified it to a more concise list of items that’s expected of them — from product designer, content writer, researcher all the way up to a VP. After doing this for six years and having recommended folks do it at their orgs and teams, I realised something.
It’s absolutely useless.
While I was promoting this culture of growth ladder internally, I witnessed people grow & become better versions of themselves. However, it wasn’t because of the growth ladder. It was because of what they were working on. Every single person I know who grew as a professional had just one thing in common — they were working on super impactful, measurable, outcome oriented work. Anyone who wasn’t, didn’t grow.
While I was promoting the growth ladder framework, I was also constantly prioritising work, to filter only the most impactful work (impactful for the design, the company & business, the end users). When smart folks in the team work on meaningful, impactful stuff, they grow. They find opportunities. They find better ways. They find better questions. They find purpose. They become hungry for more. They grow.
Smart folks in the team don’t require a framework to tell them to tick a few checkboxes for them to improve and grow. They need the right platform and the right work to perform. Platform is your culture, and work’s essentially your projects.
In a nutshell, if you want to create a growth ladder for your team, don’t. Just spend the time working on getting better, meaningful work for them while creating a fantastic culture.
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