How SmugMug Built a Structured Approach to Employee Promotions
A conversation with:
Our top company value is ‘Grow together,’ and Lattice has helped us bring that value to life by telling our employees exactly what they have to do in order to get to the next level of their career.
Principal People Partner
Photo management and e-commerce website SmugMug is at an interesting place in its company lifecycle. Despite the fact that SmugMug was established 20 years ago, the company’s Principal People Partner, Raman Bola, describes the company as, “a really mature, but awkward teenager.” SmugMug acquired image hosting site Flickr in 2018 and is about to reach the significant growth milestone of 200 employees, and yet, the business still has the close-knit People-first feel of a recently-founded start-up — a feeling the SmugMug team is working hard to maintain even as they grow. “While we still want to maintain our company culture, prioritize work-life balance, and ensure our employees do work that's both enjoyable and challenging, at the same time, we know we have to build formal structures and processes so we can properly scale,” says Raman.
The company’s nine-person People team unanimously agreed on what needed to be at the top of that list: formalizing the company’s performance management system. When Raman joined the company in 2019, one of his first projects was to create formal job competencies and levels – neither of which previously existed at the company. Before that, career growth opportunities were solely up to the discretion of an employee’s manager or department head.
As the company scaled, this was neither a practical nor objective way to approach employee development, and many employees expressed their frustration over wanting to be promoted but not knowing how. The People team quickly realized its employees needed more than job competencies to help their employees understand their career options; they also needed formal processes that encouraged managers to have ongoing career conversations and share constructive feedback with their employees.
When the SmugMug People team began their search for a people success platform, Lattice quickly stood out. With Lattice’s Grow and Performance tools, the team knew they could simplify performance reviews, build a culture of continuous feedback, and give employees agency over their professional growth with competency matrices, career tracks, growth areas, and more.
Building a company culture that prioritizes continuous feedback and career growth is a huge undertaking, so the SmugMug team got right to work by partnering with Lattice. In order to encourage employees and their managers to have more meaningful professional development conversations, the team decided to build two career tracks — one for individual contributors and one for managers. With these tracks, employees gained a clear understanding of how to grow their careers within the organization, and managers gained more insight into how to coach their reports and help them reach their career goals more efficiently.
“I think there's always this idea that, as an employee, you are responsible for your career, but that’s not entirely true. At SmugMug, we believe managers are also responsible for talking with you about your career and understanding how they can help you get there,” shares Raman. “A big part of this work was getting both our employees and managers to just talk about career growth.” Now, with Lattice Grow, managers can have ongoing, objective career conversations with their teams and even highlight specific competencies that an individual needs to improve upon before being eligible for a promotion.
In order to further motivate managers to engage and motivate their teams with career conversations, the People team added a new question to each of the company’s quarterly review cycles. In Lattice Reviews, each employee is asked: "Are you looking to be promoted in the next 12 months?" while their manager receives the question: "Do you intend to promote your employee in the next 12 months?" Each participant’s answer is made visible during their performance evaluation to drive conversation and ensure both individuals are on the same page. If a manager and their report aren’t aligned on a promotion timeline, they can use the review conversation to create an action plan and ensure there’s nothing holding the employee back come the next review cycle.
Now, managers can build a compelling case for their direct reports to receive a promotion, a raise, or bonus leveraging Lattice Feedback and Updates. “We’ve let our managers and employees know that the more feedback they put into Lattice, the easier it will be for our People team to approve career growth,” says Raman. “When we go to approve a promotion, for instance, I immediately go back through Lattice assessments. If your assessment history shows that you're eligible or ready for a promotion, you're getting promoted.” This is a big shift away from the company’s previous approach to career growth and has helped the company properly reward and recognize its top-performing talent.
Leveraging Lattice, the SmugMug team has built a more structured and objective approach to employee promotions and advancement. Now, every employee is empowered to own their career growth, and every manager is set up to coach their teams to success.
Implementing Lattice has also helped the company’s People team gain real-time documentation of and visibility into every employee-manager conversation held on the platform. This gives them a comprehensive record of any feedback and updates shared between employees and allows them to easily reference any of these records come review season. “We are pushing any and everything performance-related into Lattice because it makes it so much easier for our managers to have these conversations and gives our team transparency into these conversations,” explains Raman. “Plus, our managers can easily revisit their notes so they don’t forget anything come review time and our employees can benefit from having all of their achievements properly accounted for.”
This additional transparency is what won over the company’s senior leadership team. Raman shared that SmugMug’s CEO and COO love Lattice and regularly remind employees to complete their performance review assessments. That executive buy-in paired with Raman’s use of Lattice’s outstanding review reminders has helped boost employee evaluation completion rates. With the highest feature adoption rate of any job level, the senior leadership team has also become a big proponent of Lattice Updates which helps them quickly and easily share tactical status updates with their teams.
So what’s next for the SmugMug and Flickr team? Raman says the company is encouraging managers to use Lattice 1:1s and Updates to help improve communication with their direct reports. The team also wants to add company values to Lattice Feedback so employees can highlight when a colleague embodies one of the company’s five values. “Our top company value is ‘Grow together,’ and Lattice has helped us bring that value to life by telling our employees exactly what they have to do in order to get to the next level of their career,” beams Raman. “In the coming months, we hope to incorporate even more of our values into Lattice to help our employees live and breathe our core values every day.”