Seniority levels

That’s one topic we hear almost daily in every company: seniority levels. There are many situations when this topic arises. Hiring, performance evaluation, raises, promotions, bonus, etc. The more senior and employee, the more you expect from her. After all, she has experience and knowledge to deal with the toughest situations at work. My experience has shown me that we need to analyze seniority based on 3 dimensions:

Time

We normally assess seniority based on time. For instance, if a person has 10+ years of experience, she is senior. However, time alone is not enough. If she did the same thing during those 10 years, without questioning herself and continuously searching to improve, to get better and to try new things, she didn’t evolve as a professional. She didn’t put new tools in her professional tool belt, so she won’t be able to face new situations and use her tools, acquired through her experience, to face the new situations.

Knowledge

So, besides time, we should also consider knowledge. We can translate knowledge as the set of tools a professional has in her tool belt. If a person as only one tool, she will only use that tool to solve all problem. Is like that saying that for a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

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The more tools someone has, the easier it will be to face new situations and find solutions. That’s the reason why consultants are so versatile. They work for short periods of time in different customers, facing different problems and they have to come up with ways to solve new issues since every new customer they work at has different problems and contexts.

Sometimes, a consultant with 3 years of experience, working in 6 different customers, will have much more tools in her tool belt than someone that stayed in the same company for 10 years. The consultant will most probably be more senior than the person who stayed for 10 years at the same company, doing the same job and solving the same problems without questioning herself and continuously searching to improve, to get better and to try new things.

In order to evaluate someone’s seniority – including when we are self-evaluating our own seniority – we need to look into years of experience and the quality of the knowledge accumulated during those years. However, that’s not enough.

Behavior

Behavior is one dimension of seniority that is normally not discussed when we are evaluating someone’s seniority, but it is as important as time and knowledge. Sometimes I have the impression that it is even more important than time and knowledge.

Behavioral seniority means that the person knows how to behave appropriately:

  1. being ethical, being a person of integrity and having the right intent;
  2. having alignment with company’s core values and culture;
  3. having alignment and commitment to the company’s purpose;
  4. having alignment and commitment with the company’s strategic objectives.

I’ll give some examples and counterexamples of behavioral seniority to make the concept clearer:

  • Targets: all companies have targets. All companies have objectives that are quantified and targets are defined to help hit these objectives. A very well known method to set objectives and quantify the results is the OKR. Some companies even use these targets to set the variable remuneration of their employees, a.k.a, bonus policy. Invariably after targets are set, thing changes. And even when all is stable, there may be a need to do work not related to the target. Someone with behavioral seniority understands that things change and that her work is not limited to the targets previously agreed on and will do what’s needed. Someone without behavioral seniority will say that she can’t change or do anything else beyond what’s defined as her target.
  • Whining: as we all know, things go bad sometimes. This is the way life is. And there’s always some people who complain. And the fault is always someone’s else and there’s always lots of excuses to explain why things do bad. Complaining without doing anything to help solve the situation is a typical behaviour of someone who lackw behavioral seniority. A senior person when faces things going bad, try to understand what happened, without looking for culprits, try to fix it and to understand how to prevent the issue to happen again.

Hopefully, with those two examples and counterexamples, it is clearer what behavioral seniority means.

In my view, this is the most important dimension of seniority. If you have someone with knowledge seniority and many years of experience, but lacking behavioral seniority, not only she will have greater chances of being a bad performer, but she will also mess with her team’s performance.

Seniority levels

So next time you are evaluating someone’s seniority level – including when you are self-evaluating your own seniority – you need to look into years of experience, the quality of the knowledge accumulated during those years and behavioral seniority. Only then you’ll be able to fully assess the seniority level.

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