In August, TXI launched phase one of a redesign of our internal structure and growth path with two major changes: a flexible career grid and a manager-supported organization. Ellen Brast, Talent Experience Lead, and Claire Podulka, Chief Delivery Officer, share their approach to organizational change at TXI.

Going from a flat organization to a manager-supported one should shake a company, but here, people's first impressions have been largely positive.

How did that happen? When we restructured our organization, we treated our company like the products we develop for clients: we tested, learned and iterated in order to deliver value to the TXI team. 

Per the principles of design thinking, we view this reorganization as an ongoing endeavor—we’re still learning new things about what our team members want and need to succeed. But as part of the process, we’d like to share three operating principles that we’ve found valuable. 

Background: Why TXI’s old system didn’t work

Before our organizational redesign, we identified three broad issues preventing our employees and our company from reaching their full potential.

The first problem was that we used a “ladder” model for internal advancement. Many people are used to moving up or down at their company, but this vertical, rung-by-rung progression implies a single, linear direction for growth and success.

The second problem we encountered was with our feedback processes, which were infrequent and cumbersome. Our formal reviews were onerous to complete, and we had insufficient internal mechanisms for delivering and receiving feedback between those reviews. 

The third major concern we uncovered was that internal recognition and promotion were too dependent on people’s gut feelings. No one was specifically tasked with gathering and distilling feedback or determining promotions. Instead of being data-informed, these decisions were based more on consensus: if your peers said you’d leveled up, you got a promotion.

We knew about some of these problems from exit interviews over the years, but they became very clear when our engagement survey results came back in January. The need to find an effective and inclusive solution drove us to introduce new models for career growth and manager support.

You can’t build a product without users

In our client work, we employ principles of design thinking and agile development. We took a similar approach to building our new organizational structure.

What does that mean? For one thing, it meant we started by talking to our users (i.e., TXI employees).

A few things we learned from those conversations:

  • Both junior and senior people wanted managers for guidance.
  • Senior people wanted the opportunity to grow by managing others.
  • People wanted clearer expectations for promotions.

Based on those conversations, we built a prototype of how the reorganization should work, tested it out and got feedback. We then repeated the process to refine our solution.

But the reorganization of a company comes with special concerns. People rely on their companies for their livelihoods, and you can do serious harm if you make big organizational changes too suddenly or without gathering enough input.

We aimed to make incremental changes so we could understand what worked and pivot as needed.

In August, we rolled out our career grid to our delivery practices. We’re now in the process of gathering feedback and plan to tweak the grid for other teams based on what we learn.

Orient your work toward outcomes, not outputs

With our product development, we focus on delivering outcomes, not outputs.

What do we mean by that? When you focus on outputs, you deliver on a list of features. Focusing on outcomes, however, means solving real problems and delivering value.

When applied to our company reorganization, our outcome-oriented approach meant we needed long-term solutions that addressed both our business objectives and our team members' pain points.

After analyzing the results of our engagement survey, we determined that our desired outcome was to diversify the available paths for career advancement, supported by clearer and more inclusive mechanisms for achieving success. 

It wasn’t until after we determined the outcomes that we were aiming for that we started thinking about what the outputs of this process might look like. The specific accountabilities of the managers, the format for gathering feedback and the tools we use to support people’s growth were not the outcomes themselves; they were only in service of the outcomes we wanted to achieve. 

Remember: the devil’s in the details 

When we started the process of redesigning our organizational structure, it was actually relatively easy to come up with the broad strokes. It wasn’t difficult to decide the Practice and Influence axes on the career grid, and we knew we wanted managers who were focused on a loose set of outcomes.

We found it more challenging once we got into the specifics. For instance, consider some of these questions:

  • What is the manager’s exact hiring responsibility? Do they make the final call, or is it the head of practice?
  • What specific behaviors go into our career grid? What percentage of these things does someone need to demonstrate—and how consistently—in order to progress? 
  • What are the mechanics of the promotion process? How do we gather additional input when the data we have in front of us conflicts?

Ironing out these details will take longer than you think. You have to plan for the time and stamina to complete these tasks.

One thing we found helpful was plotting out the long-term roadmap, and then revisiting it regularly to be sure we were still prioritizing our time well. At first, it was easy to be overwhelmed by the big picture. We wondered sometimes how this enormous undertaking could ever take shape. But when we started planning week by week, the possibilities began to crystallize: we would be able to do this as a team.

Reorganizing your company is an iterative process

A few months after rolling out the career and manager changes, we’re still learning what TXIers need. One area we’re working to improve is the review process: in their current iteration, the reviews aren’t as connected to the career grid as people would like.

But that’s why we’ve approached this reorganization as we do our products. Design thinking is baked into our DNA: We want to test, learn and iterate. We’re excited to see what we discover next.

If reading about our experience has been helpful, get in touch with a team member today. We’d love to hear from you as we continue on this journey.

Read
How Docker and Kubernetes make infrastructure almost instant