Investing in Employees Through Career Pathing

The following is an excerpt from The 50: HR Leaders Reimagining the Filipino Organization. Authored by Monica Padillo, this chapter is titled, “Investing in Employees Through Career Pathing” In it, Alezander Philippe Zupancic, the Head of People of First Circle, is interviewed about how the organization executes its strategy in HR Gamification.

Most, if not all, companies tend to focus more on increasing productivity and revenue and less on their employees’ well-being and growth. And sometimes, this becomes the reason why employees leave their jobs—they feel that they are not valued and they are not heard by their managers. First Circle, a business financing services provider in the Philippines, is one such company that wanted to change this system.


As a tech startup, First Circle knew that they had the opportunity to invent the system for the first time as opposed to recreating it. Alezander Phillippe Zupancic, the company’s Head of People, recalled that when he joined them, different managers had different styles for developing and rewarding their people. When some managers tend towards efficiency and cost-cutting, while others seek to reward their top performers more handsomely, it can feel like there isn’t equality across the organization.


To fix this, the human resources team of First Circle imposed and continues to execute a number of efforts to show their employees that they are valued in the company no matter what department they come from. One of these initiatives was a structured process called Employee Development to help their employees progress in their careers and succeed even when they leave the company to look for better opportunities.


The Employee Development process starts when they hire employees. First Circle hires people who are smart, open-minded, and data-centric. They also onboard individuals who resonate with the company’s mission—which is to leave an impact on small and medium enterprises in the Philippines—and admit that they don’t know everything but are still eager to learn and improve themselves.


“That's a big thing in itself since it creates a culture for open feedback. The way we’ve been operating in a very multicultural environment is that our Filipino contingent, I would say, are less sensitive to receiving feedback than your normal company,” Zupancic said, “We’re so open to feedback because we know that this is important for our personal development.”


New employees are briefed from the start that truthful, constructive, and actionable feedback is highly important in the company because everyone once started out on a clean slate and they can always improve in their work. Zupancic added that First Circle banks on the open exchange of feedback among employees and their managers. They initiated one-on-one sessions where employees and managers throw feedback to each other. Employees were also given the opportunity to anonymously give feedback about their managers through some of the company’s resources such as Officevibe, internal surveys through Google Forms, and BambooHR.


They also organized more public initiatives such as town hall meetings where everyone has the opportunity to address the company, ask each other questions, talk about their department’s efforts, and recognize employees that did a good job or handled a big project through shout outs that were highly encouraged. Similarly, they organized a ceremony on special occasions such as Christmas or year-end parties where they awarded employees with actual trophies to recognize their value and hard work throughout the year.


The feedback system opened up a culture of openness and clear communication within the company, which isn’t always the case in other organizations.


Aside from this, First Circle implemented an objective and key result or OKR system, which was used to measure the performance of their employees. In the OKR system, employees planned out truly ambitious goals (or moonshots) and were encouraged to be more productive as they were recognized for the process of attempting to accomplish the goal rather than it’s actual completion. The team at First Circle discovered that when companies set their attention too much on actual results, employees limited their objectives because they thought that it would affect their compensation. Thus, employees created small and easily achievable objectives, limiting company growth. Hence, the OKR system.

“It’s not the end of the world if you don’t hit your targets during each review cycle,” Zupancic explained. “It’s the process of you trying to achieve a more ambitious goal that provides a better outcome, which we’re gunning for.”


Part of First Circle’s Employee Development process is also monitoring their employees’ engagement with the company, which was measured subjectively through interviews between the employee and their manager. The employee was asked if he felt valued in the company and if he had insights on what his manager can do to support him in the company. Meanwhile, the manager was asked what his reaction would be if the employee in his team were to leave First Circle to take another job.


“As a tech startup, we know that not everybody is going to be with us in the long haul but we want to make sure that the journey that we’re all on is fruitful for both parties,” Zupancic said, “We’re definitely going to make the most out of your employment with us but we also want to make sure that you also get what you want.”


They also ingrained a culture of learning into their policies to help employees be the best versions of themselves and market them for future opportunities. First Circle employees received learning allowances so that they can enroll in classes or purchase books that will help them reach their goals. They also have opportunities to attend training sessions and participate in conferences whether it’s for their own benefit or the business’.


Zupancic shared that they valued this culture of learning because the company is aware that as a tech startup, they don’t have everything figured out. “A lot of the time, we’ve never been in this environment before and we’re trying to find out the best way to go about it. We’re very open with learning; we’re very open with finding out other ways to do what we’re doing,” he added.


Aside from this, First Circle groomed its employees for other opportunities by allowing them to expand their skills outside their scope of work. The company embodies an open culture where they encourage employees to work on things that may not necessarily be part of their job description such as helping with products or working on special projects that aren’t necessarily tied to their particular role.


“With the employees, we try to present them as experts in their own field but we also give them a generalistic experience by exposing and allowing them to work with other departments,” he said.


First Circle has many other initiatives as part of the career pathing process, one of the recent

items they are working on within their Employee Development Framework is “gamification” — think about the Bridgewater baseball cards and then cross it with the level and reward system of games like Dungeons and Dragons. Zupancic explained that when an employee reached a higher-level, they received a salary increase and extra benefits. They take a career snapshot of where the employee is currently at, what position that individual will reach, and how that can be compared to what a “Level 3 Ranger” and “Level 4 Ranger” has like powers, responsibilities, and improvements.


They thought that gamifying the system was a great idea since they had a fairly young team and most of their employees enjoyed playing board and computer games. Having a D&D-like system would make them see how the system could be fun as well.


With already a number of activities in place, First Circle continues to devise new ways of making the company a place where people can grow and be productive. This goes to show that aside from all the numbers and results they achieve as a company, they also valued their employees’ progress and skills—a focus that only a few companies worked on.

 

To get more insights from other HR leaders like Alezander Phillippe Zupancic, please check out the full book, available for purchase here


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