Atomic’s most valuable resource is our people (whom we call Atoms). It’s our goal to provide them with meaningful work, pay a fair salary, live our values in how we treat them, help them learn and grow, and give recognition to their efforts. We think that’s the secret to a company that’s going to last 100 years.
Unfortunately, the larger Atomic grows, the harder it gets to consistently help people learn and grow in their careers.
The Career Challenge
Our Grand Rapids office now has nearly 50 people, which has created some challenges for us Managing Partners (MPs). We weren’t finding the time to help Atoms with their career planning. Between important sales work, helping with project issues, and managing the day-to-day activities of the office, career planning was not happening consistently.
This was very difficult for us since we care deeply about each Atom’s employment experience with Atomic. It was leading to feelings of failure about some of our relationships and the job we were doing. It also was not giving individuals Atoms the career attention they deserved. And it wasn’t good for the long-term health of their office.
A solution already exists for our Accelerator program to help new developers. But if an Atom was not part of the Accelerator program, how could they get help with their career growth? And was there a way to leverage senior Atoms while also helping them grow?
Career Development Managers
The solution we created was the Career Development Manager (CDM) role, which distributes the important people work that we MPs were doing to a group of senior Atoms.
Each CDM mentors between 3-5 makers. They lead weekly check-ins, help with annual and quarterly goal planning, and perform annual compensation reviews with their assigned Atoms. The CDMs themselves report to the MPs.
The Atoms who take on the CDM role need to be passionate about helping others to:
- Develop strengths and manage weaknesses.
- Navigate their professional and career development as a consultant and in their craft.
- Connect their individual work to company goals.
- Overcome challenges.
- Understand and live Atomic’s Value Mantras.
- Understand and follow Atomic’s Rules, Policies, and Guidelines.
Each CDM still has to perform their original duties as either a Developer or Designer. The expectation is that 5-10% of their time will be dedicated to the CDM role and the other 90-95% will stay focused on their craft.
MPs support CDMs in handling exceptional issues or situations. CDMs are not responsible for hiring or firing decisions. That authority still lives with the MPs of the office.
Implementing the CDM Role
Having CDMs is a big structural change for Atomic. It meant moving some control and power from the hands of the MPs into those of other Atoms who have (often) never managed people before. There was a danger we might create a lot of confusion and end up hurting the relationships we were trying to improve.
To make this change happen, we assigned an MP to work with our Accelerator Manager and create an implementation plan for our office. We carefully thought the details of the role, how we would communicate the change, the process for selecting the CDMs, how they would be trained, and which Atoms get assigned to each CDM.
When we announced the role, we opened it up to all the Atoms to apply. We handled the selection with a mini-hiring process to make sure we were being fair to all the Atoms in our office. In the end, we selected five senior Atoms to take on the CDM role. We then assigned the individual makers in our office to each CDM and distributed the remaining Atoms to our leadership team.
We brought in external coaching to help our new CDMs work on the interpersonal skills needed to succeed in the role. And we created some simple, lightweight tooling to help the new CDMs with the career planning aspects of the role. Finally, our Accelerator Manager pulled the CDMs together as a team to help learn about the role from each other as well as provide a support structure outside of the MPs.
Where We Are Today
While it’s only 18 months old, the CDM program has been a success:
- The implementation went well.
- The MP job became more sustainable.
- We learned some of our policies were not as clear as we thought.
- Our CDMs have grown as they’ve begun caring for and leading their peers.
- The response from our makers has been very positive.
As our Accelerator members have graduated from the program, we’ve moved them under a CDM. And we’ve added another Atom into the CDM role as a result.
I see this as a natural time to do a review of the CDM program, learn where we are, and make any necessary adjustments. And I’m excited by all the grow happening through this important people work.
- Encouraging Professional Growth with the “Career Development Manager” - September 9, 2019
- An Infinite Game – How we schedule teams without losing our minds - March 7, 2019
- Why we don’t “delight” our clients – and what we do instead - December 19, 2018