#196 – Career trajectory & promotions: What it takes to get to the next level | Nicole Miller & Sam Corcos

Episode introduction

Show Notes

Team members at a company want honesty, transparency, and a clear progression path to know how to get to the next level in their careers. It’s reasonable for people to want to see progress and want more money and recognition, and so here at Levels we want to make career paths explicit to encourage growth and limit staff turnover. This chat between Nicole Miller and Sam Corcos is about high trust between managers and team members, avoiding promo culture, performance reviews, and giving and receiving feedback.

Episode Transcript

Nicole Miller (00:06):

I don’t want it to be checklisty, but maybe there is a sort of, “I see you within three years, if you’re able to master this skill, or this programming language, or this competency, or show more EQ in this area, these are the things I would want to see in order to feel really confident recommending you for a promotion.” There is a level of checklisty things, but keeping it nebulous to the fact that there is a little bit of room for serendipity or for them to take on a different project that comes up that we can’t predict, and so it fills in to some extent.

Ben Grynol (00:45):

I’m Ben Grynol, part of the early startup team here at Levels. We’re building tech that helps people to understand their metabolic health, and this is your front row seat to everything we do. This is A Whole New Level.


When people join companies, they always want to know what the path is to a career trajectory. It’s always hard if it doesn’t feel like it’s visible or transparent, maybe if they don’t have the insight into what it takes to get to that next level. Essentially, everyone always wants to get better every single day. And so Nicole Miller, head of people ops, she sat down with Sam Corcos, co-founder and CEO of Levels, and the two of them discussed what it takes to have a very visible or very transparent way of creating levels within the org. What do people need to do to get to that next level? What are some of the skill sets that they need to have? And how can they think about the different criteria? Essentially, everyone wants the same thing. People want feedback, they want honesty, they want transparency. And, at the end of the day, they want a path to progression. Anyway, it was a good conversation to go into people ops. Here’s one on culture.

Sam Corcos (02:08):

On the topic of leveling in promotions, it’s the main topic that I’ve been thinking about, it’s a tricky one. I did a little bit of exploration in the document that you saw. There’s definitely a tension, and I’m pretty sure this is another one of those things where there are no good answers. There’s only knowing what trade-offs you’re making and then being okay with them. I ended up reading a bunch of articles. Some of them were actually quite popular articles about people railing against promo culture.


Google’s the quintessential example where people who work there complain about how much of the culture is just about getting that next promotion. And it’s not really about providing value to people, it’s just about the internal politics. But what’s interesting is that when I hear or read about what some of these people propose to solve promo culture, they’re basically proposing an adjustment in human nature. It’s like people just shouldn’t want that, and they shouldn’t want more money, and they should just be happy with their role and not want to be promoted. It’s like, well that’s probably a losing proposition if that’s your starting point.


So I think it’s reasonable for people to want more money. It’s reasonable for people to want to see progress. If you make it too rigid or you make it too goals-based, then I think this is one of those categories that inevitably runs into Goodhart’s law where, just, if you try to quantify it too much, you’re going to have people who maximize those metrics but totally miss the point of the entire role. And I assume that there is a way to align promotions with positive outcomes, but I struggle somewhat to figure out how to do that in a first principles way rather than just an amalgamation of arbitrary criteria that I think are important. So I don’t know. Those are just some of my top-level thoughts. I don’t know what your experience has been.

Nicole Miller (04:38):

Yeah. I’ll give some background, because I saw at Buffer we started out with very generally universal frameworks and then it got very detailed and very specific based on each department. And for example, our customer support team, they had a framework that was very granular. It was so specific of like, “You have to complete 35 tickets in one week,” or very specific amount for each level. And then we also broke it out with steps. So there were six or seven levels and then five or six steps in between. And so normally you would get two steps as a promotion, but that was four or $5,000 a year, which is very small and it was very tricky in some way. And we did have that really dense promo culture where every time someone a got step increase, we announced it. We eventually stopped doing that.


Then we did levels, like announcements, but then we even got away from that because it just… And titles were all misaligned. It was very strange. It was almost more work to keep up on that than it was to actually review promotion documents. It was just very different. And what we also saw were a lot of people getting so fixated on the exact step they needed to do just to get to the next step that, again, yeah, exactly, they totally missed what the company actually needed. And then when the company was responding to slower growth or if we had a lot of departures and so people had to fill in different things, our frameworks became instantly out of date and instantly wrong. And then when we updated our frameworks, we got a lot of complaints and frustrations around people feeling like we were moving the goalposts for them to get a promotion.


And the idea for me, and it’s something that I’m very sensitive to, is the idea of moving the goalposts, because I think that that really makes people feel like they don’t have control over it. And yet there also should be a healthy amount of, “No, you don’t really have control over it because it has to relate to business goals and business progress.” And so there needs to be that sort of very blatant paradox of, “We’ll give you some guidelines, but at the same time a lot of this is even outside our control.” And so that’s my inherent frustration around really concrete levels. And so, generally, I loved the fact that we have six here, or I think seven might be max in general. I do think it might be worth looking at steps in between or one step in between, like a half step, so that there’s a little bit of progress and then some flexibility with saying you’re level 3.5, but the next step would be a four with this sort of time and general concept.


So maybe it’s a little bit of a change in that direction, but I think anything further just I’ve seen become very checklisty and just tick the box. And that, I think that it gamifies it in a bad way. Then people tend to become obsessive about it. I think that having it more opaque is good for the individual. It’s harder for managers. And so then the burden goes back to managers and arming them maybe with the knowledge and the confidence to know and rate people without that checklist. So, yeah, there’s a lot there, but I think it’s definitely right for at least clarifying and maybe adding in that one extra step. I know Wei said that the three and four is a big gap and so perhaps there’s something in that respect or maybe a half step, but I would just suggest really small changes right now and then seeing if we can’t see where that takes it.

Sam Corcos (08:47):

Yeah. The background of how we ended up with the system that we have, which is, it was originally just five levels and then we had a theoretical sixth level, but we didn’t have anybody that really met what we had for the criteria there. And then as the company grew, once we hit about 50 people, it became pretty clear that we actually do have a sixth level and people do match that, and so we moved people into that capacity. The way that we ended up here, and I think there’s some truth to it, this was largely Andrew’s idea, his idea was that you want to make sure that promotions between the levels are sufficiently large that there’s no ambiguity between the two. It really prevents people automatically getting promoted.


There are examples that I can think of within our company where somebody thinks that they should get a promotion and we look at the criteria and it’s like they’re on track for it, but they’re not there yet. And it’s kind of obvious. Maybe they don’t see it, but it’s kind of obvious from the outside. And the reason is that because the jump is so large, it’s pretty easy to see the difference. I had a really good conversation with somebody who was early at what is now a very large tech company. One of the things that he said, he regrets not giving people a clear understanding of what a career path looks like at this company. And they lost most of their best engineers from the early days because they felt like they just hit a ceiling. And he didn’t think that they did because he knew behind the scenes what actually happens, but there was no clarity.


And so he said if he could go back in time to when they were 50 people, he would have made it really explicit what the career path is and how people get to each level and approximately how long that takes, making sure people know what the trajectory is. So I took some notes in the document with some theoretical ideas. Maybe working backwards from human behavior is, how often do people need a feedback loop of, “Yes, I’m on track to the next thing”? And how often should those promotions to the next thing happen?


Often is kind of an arbitrary thing. Years of experience is a very rough proxy for people’s actual abilities. So I don’t want to index too heavily on that, but maybe if we just say if on average a level three has five years and on average a level four has eight years of experience, then we can say on average it takes three years to get from a level three to a level four.And coming up with a way of telling people like, “You’re halfway to getting that,” or, “You’re three quarters of the way towards the next promotion.”


I don’t know what the best way to articulate that is, but the system that we have now, people basically feel like they have no feedback on, “How far away am I from my next goal?” And if that feedback loop is, call it, three years, people say, “Yeah, you’re doing great,” and you kind of have to take on faith that the system actually works when you’re at a company for three years and then you get a promotion. Because in tech, most people are only going to be here for two years. That’s the median tenure of people. So I think we should take that as the assumption.


So saying, “It takes about three years to go from a level three to a level four,” is almost the same thing as saying, “You’re never going to get promoted here. You’ll probably leave to get your next promotion.” So figuring out how to make it really clear in a way that is high trust of giving that progress indicator. Because this is one of those problems where nothing happens… If you have the current levels that we have now, there’s nothing. You have verbal feedback, but nothing actually changes until something very large changes and that might be a year after you’ve left. So, that’s the articulation of the problem space. I don’t really have a good sense of what the solution should look like.

Nicole Miller (13:52):

Yeah. I think that’s interesting. A lot of the engineers that I’ve worked with, I’d say most all of them expected promotions within one year too. And so I think that’s an interesting piece of it, and that’s where we had a million steps to try to give them incremental pieces in between. And so I toyed around a lot with the idea of the performance or project-based bonuses where it’s not adding to that framework in that way or that levels or there’s other ways to monetarily or values-based, like give them a value of something in the midst of that. Because it is really interesting, and I think you’re right.


It’s funny because I think this comes back a little bit to the ego thread that Miz was mentioning in the books. And it’s not that you have high ego if you want a promotion. It’s absolutely natural to, again, move forward. You want to feel like you’re recognized for your efforts too. But there’s that weirdness of coming across too egotistical for asking a promotion or someone who doesn’t have enough confidence to ask, even if they should. And that’s such a tricky thing in and of itself. It’s like addressing that or calling that out is another potential piece of it. So should you build the system to where it catches everyone on both sides of it? Yeah, I think that’s really interesting.

Sam Corcos (15:28):

I would note that when I think about the type of culture that we want to avoid, call it promo culture, like you said, I think where people get mixed up, they think that anytime people talk about promotions it is therefore promo culture. I think that’s just not correct. I think everyone wants recognition and money. And so to design any system that assumes that is not true is folly. So there’s a famous quote from The Federalist Papers, I think this is one of James Madison’s where he says, “If men were angels, we wouldn’t need government.” So you shouldn’t start with the assumption that everyone is going to be nice to each other. And if you build a system like that, you end up with a lot of these utopian ideologies that end up killing tens or hundreds of millions of people because they’re based on a set of assumptions that are not true.


I think maybe a fair definition of promo culture is one in which the promotions themselves are an external signal of recognition and validation and they are publicly celebrated and that title change is received as part of that status symbol as opposed to something that’s more internal. And I think in our case, because titles are private, people’s levels are private, somebody’s title on LinkedIn is something like… It’s just the department. It’s like, “Product.” It doesn’t say, “Staff product manager,” or, “Senior vice president,” of something. It’s just the department. It is internal. It is an internal signal of the recognition that they do really high quality work.


And we don’t want to build a culture that… This ties back to a conversation that I had with Mark Randolph from Netflix. And one of the things that he mentioned in the podcast that I did with him is that people notice what you celebrate. And so if you celebrate, “Look, somebody just got a promotion,” now everybody wants that thing. And if you celebrate people taking responsibility, if you celebrate people who have difficult conversations, if you celebrate different things, people notice that and then they reflect that back to you.


So I think we are less at risk of promo culture just because we don’t have that same sort of status signaling, but there’s still something, it feels like we’re still missing something in the feedback loop of the… I was talking to somebody on the team not too long ago who said they’re frustrated. They don’t care so much about what their current level is, but they’re frustrated in that they feel like they’re in a Kafkaesque system where they don’t know what they need to do to get to the next level and they don’t know how far along they are on the progression to get to that next level. They just feel stuck.


And so I think there’s a big difference between saying you’re a level two and it usually takes two years to go from a level two to a level three… I’m just throwing out arbitrary numbers. And maybe each performance cycle we do, we can give them some indication on how far along they are towards that path. And if those cycles are every six months, then that would be something like, “You’re a level 2.5. You’re halfway there. It’s only been six months. You’re already halfway there. That is how much confidence we have,” or, “It’s been six months and you’re still a level two. You’re actually not on the path towards getting a promotion.” And I don’t know if that’s incremental increase comes with a compensation increase or if it’s more of like just a recognition. I’m actually kind of fine either way. But I think what people are really seeking is recognition that their contributions are valued and that they have a path forward. Is that a fair statement?

Nicole Miller (19:55):

Yeah, absolutely. I hear this a lot. And one of the things we built into performance reviews was a very explicit, “This is the level you’re at, and this is what you need to do to the next point.” I also asked teammates in their self-review during the performance review cycle, “What level do you feel like you are at?” And it was interesting because those would come in independently. And so the manager would say, “I think they’re at a level three,” and the person would say, “I’m a level four.” And it’s like red alert, alarm, “Let’s talk about this.” That sets up your difficult conversation framework right away. So, “My identity is this, and your identity is this.”

Sam Corcos (20:38):

Right. That’s good.

Nicole Miller (20:39):

And so I liked that because usually the way it came in, it was independent, the manager wouldn’t see that person’s response and vice versa until you hit the button or whatever. And so that could be a useful check-in even just to have you self-report what you feel at or why. And then you can always add in as part of that self-reflection, part of the performance review, “And here’s why I think that.” And it might bring up things that the manager didn’t know or wasn’t aware of or something too. So we can build in that part of the process. I think what I’m hearing is that there’s just some good… I think there’s some potential extra structure in manager training to get to the point where it’s easier for managers to communicate because they feel confident in that assessment, and then it’s easier for the manager to communicate that to the individual and for the individual to know or where to go to look for that sort of an update.


I think at least every six months is good, if not quarterly. Some people want it more often, others don’t. So there might be a case for managers, maybe for teammates they know need it more often, maybe they do it on a quarterly basis, and maybe others don’t. There’s some preference I think you can build in there until it gets to a certain scale. But I think that just really having that explicitly stated in some form of documentation that’s shared, that’s viewable, that can solve a lot of things. And then being able to have people ops go in there and audit it and check and make sure and follow up on those conversations I think is another follow-up step to that.


I think another piece of it is probably helping mediate those instances where someone does feel like they were misleveled or that they really just aren’t saying eye to eye with the manager in that sense. But, yeah, I think there’s some definite pieces we could add into the existing performance rating system too, difficult conversations and ratings and leveling and all of that in manager training. And manager training is definitely the highest on my list right now because I think that that is what scales. If you concentrate on that group of individuals, then that really helps.

Sam Corcos (22:53):

Yeah, for sure, especially if we can do as much of it as possible in the form of content, because that scales really well.

Nicole Miller (22:59):


Sam Corcos (23:00):

I do wonder, just putting on my product hat, assuming that I’m building a leveling and promotions product for people who work on a team, if I’m doing user research, imagining I am interviewing people, and what is it that they want out of a leveling system? I think a lot of it has to do with reducing ambiguity. I think this ties back to the earlier comment I made about knowing what the career trajectory is and not feeling stuck and not feeling like you don’t know how to get to wherever it is you want to go.


I imagine some people are probably perfectly comfortable in their roles and are not seeking to get a promotion, and that’s totally okay. But I think for people who are more ambitious, that’s totally reasonable. Ambition is not something that is bad, and getting promotion is not something that’s bad. I would love for people to meet the criteria that allows me to give them a promotion. If people continue to deliver, I want to give people more money and responsibility. That would be amazing. So there’s no misalignment there. I think the misalignment is only when somebody has a set of expectations that are either unrealistic or not based in reality.


And like you said, surfacing those is a big part of manager training. It’s like if somebody says, “I think that I’m performing at a level X,” but they’re actually an X minus N, and I wonder how much of that also could be handled by some sort of incrementality, which is somebody who’s a level two saying that, let’s assume we split it into quarters, so like, “I think I’m a level 2.75,” meaning they think that they’re pretty close to getting a promotion because they’ve been delivering consistently what is expected of a level three for some time. And their manager says, “No, you’re a level 2.0. Perfectly happy to have you here as a level two, but you’re still quite a ways off from getting that promotion.”


So I don’t know if you talked to Miz about this at all, but at Uber they had a rating system that on the one hand it was your… I forget exactly what mechanism they used. But imagine you have a one to five scale on performance, so you’re a five on performance, and a letter scale for your trajectory at the company and your growth. So you might be a 5C, which would mean, “You’re performing really well and you’re probably going to stay in this role because a C is pretty good.” C’s in the middle. Or you’re a 5A. 5A means, “You’re performing super well. You’re growing really fast. We’d love to give you more scope. And you’re likely going to get promoted to something.” There’s some nugget of wisdom in that sort of a system because it gives people a sense of trajectory. But when I think about it from the recipient of something like that, it still feels kind of ambiguous in as much as it doesn’t give me any sort of timeline towards when I’m actually going to get promoted.


I imagine a lot of the times it’s best to think about the ideal system, and I think the ideal system is a video game XP bar. You have all of the levels, they’re all right there. It’s like, “Oh, I just collected three XP on that thing.” And it’s like, “Oh, I’m 60% of the way there. I know that in order to get to 100%, I’ve got to complete these two quests and I need to kill a couple more monsters and then I get to level 28,” or whatever it is. I think that’s the ideal scenario. There’s no ambiguity. It’s really easy to understand. There’s no misalignment because it’s in real time right in front of your face. I don’t think it’s possible to have something like that in a work context, but I do think working backwards from that as the ideal system with almost no ambiguity, how do we get something that’s closer to that in how it allows people to recognize where they are and where they’re going?

Nicole Miller (27:58):

Yeah. I think if we’re able to break out the levels and put some general guidelines in around the years or time that it would look like, and maybe it’s time plus these certain competencies, like, “We want to see absolute really solid competency in leadership before you’re at a level five or six. We need to know you’re leadership in this space externally or your leadership within the company around these things and where that works.” That could maybe potentially give managers more guidelines to be that explicit within performance review check-ins. I always think performance reviews should not just be about performance, but they should also be career check-ins, like, “Do you even want to be here in five years? How can I help you go somewhere else within five years?” Because that’s also a reality in a lot of cases too, and that’s not something you want to penalize in any way. So even knowing that I think is totally good.


So if you’ve got that performance review and career check-in and then maybe there’s that path forward or a really clear menu. I don’t want it to be checklisty, but maybe there is a sort of, “I see you within three years, if you’re able to master this skill, or this programming language, or this competency, or show more EQ in this area, these are the things I would want to see in order to feel really confident recommending you for a promotion.” And then there is a level of check-in or checklisty things, but keeping it nebulous to the fact that there is a little bit of room for serendipity or for them to take on a different project that comes up that we can’t predict, and so it fills in to some extent. That’s something I think we could probably give guidance around.


And again, train the manager so that they feel confident in it. And then when we get cases of promotions coming up and then it does meet that, seeing that through and having that communication and following through and really being able to live up to what that pathway looked like from the manager promising it to the person delivering on it. I think there’s probably a way to do that. And I think competencies and even talking about the nebulous culture thing. So, “Well, you’re actually attending and living out these levels of values, and you’re doing podcasts,” and there’s things like that that could even be worked in. Again, it has to be genuine. It can’t just be, “I did it to do it.”

Sam Corcos (30:30):


Nicole Miller (30:31):

So there’s always that.

Sam Corcos (30:34):

I often come back to narrative as a really good way of solving these kinds of problems. It takes a lot more work on our end. It’s a lot easier for people to model something than it is for us to come up with a checklist. So I included some examples in the doc. And one of the things that I really appreciate, and it’ll be different in different roles, so in engineering in particular, but this definitely applies to product, definitely applies to design, it applies all different parts of the organization, but it’s especially true in engineering is showing active efforts to reduce scope and complexity and coming up with good examples of that. It’s really important.


So I included one here that Maxine did on the case for canceling e-commerce. It’s a really great example where she just said, “Hey, let’s take a pause on this, figure out do we want to keep investing in this? We’ve already invested a lot. Can we reduce the scope of this?” And so things like ability to solve systemic problems, which are people who can think up a level and they solve the thing that’s creating the problems. I don’t want to call it a bad example. It’s just this is a person who is a really good performer in his current role, and that’s great, but he’s somebody that I often need to check in with. And I discover systemic problems in the org that maybe he hadn’t recognized as a systemic problem and he just sort of accepted it for what it was.


And it’s not a bad variant of this is people who feel… I don’t know if complacent is the right word, but they just aren’t interested in fixing things. It’s more like they just didn’t think about it systemically. They were just like, “Oh, this is how I solve these problems.” And so this is somebody who is performing perfectly well in their current role, but if they wanted to move to the next level, we’d need some evidence that they know how to solve systemic problems. They can think, they can see around corners, they can solve things one level beyond what they’re currently operating on.


For leadership roles that are substantive leadership roles, I think requirements around long-form writing and strategy is probably something that I want to make explicit. I was talking with Scott about this. He said that, “It seems like the only form of thought that I really respect is writing.” And I thought, “Yeah, that’s probably right.” And even though it might just be a personal preference, I do actually think there is something to long-form writing as a form of thought. But even if it’s just a personal preference, it turns out that is a reality. And so maybe we should just make that explicit, that people who will be in substantive leadership roles need to write. That is something that is important.


So coming up with these sorts of things and things like conflict resolution, people who do a really good job managing conflict between others, people who solve problems rather than create problems, there’s so many of these kinds of things and we can come up with a good narratives for each of them. The podcast that Casey did with Jackie is a really good case study. I don’t know if you’ve seen that one, but-

Nicole Miller (34:16):

All right. I haven’t seen that one yet. I will look it up though, for sure.

Sam Corcos (34:19):

Yeah, yeah. Casey and Jackie did a podcast on giving direct feedback. Casey was getting frustrated with some of the performance of Jackie, and Jackie just didn’t realize this was even a problem. And Casey gave her some very direct feedback and totally changed their relationship, and now they work super well together. This actually is very similar to what Kosomo was saying around don’t assume that people know that something’s wrong. You just have to tell them. So there’s so many of these things, and I think coming up with narratives and stories is a much better way of showing people what good looks like rather than coming up with these quantitative examples of like, an engineer ships this many lines of code and reviews this number of pull requests, because that can be gamified in a way that I think solving this from the narrative sense can not.

Nicole Miller (35:24):

I like that. I think that the narrative examples also gives a version of predictability without making it prescriptive.

Sam Corcos (35:35):

Yeah, exactly.

Nicole Miller (35:37):

Because that is something you want, something that’s somewhat subjective so that you don’t introduce a lot of personal bias where only the really present people or the really loud individual that’s very good at promoting themselves gets recognized, and then the more quiet personalities don’t. And then that goes back to mandatory training too, of making sure that you’re thoroughly recognizing and looking through all the contributions. But I love the idea because, again, I just don’t like the very prescriptive 17 Things To Prove Your Worth because I think that you want people to be way more creative than any list that someone or even 10 people could come up with.


So, okay, that’s really cool. I think for sure I want to think a lot more on that and then maybe get some examples and anonymize them or whatever and use current examples and maybe examples from other companies. My plan from here on out for sure was to go and talk to other managers. And I know I’ve got performance ratings as a project to tackle and review, and that feeds into this and vice versa. And then manager training is also very high on my list, and I’ve got some initial thoughts written down on how to dive into that, but I think that also plays into this. And then I want to, of course, chat a lot with Riley to make sure we can make sure that it fits in with comp and ranges and that it’s scalable as people progress and as we are able to reward with compensation changes and things like that. Yeah, I like that. Yeah.

Sam Corcos (37:18):

I think most of the people here, if you find good examples, people will be more than happy to do it in a way that is not anonymous and potentially even as a podcast or a video.

Nicole Miller (37:31):

Yeah, awesome.

Sam Corcos (37:33):

Like Zach’s Delegation of the Week this week. I don’t know if you’ve seen it yet.

Nicole Miller (37:40):

I haven’t seen it yet. I keep hearing it, but I haven’t gotten to it yet.

Sam Corcos (37:42):

It’s amazing. And he is somebody who before working here, I don’t know if he’s delegated anything before, and now he’s a delegation superstar. So that’s really cool to see that. It is an undervalued skill of people who are in leadership roles is learning how to… And it’s a real skill that you have to learn. It doesn’t just come naturally.

Nicole Miller (38:10):

Yeah, that would be awesome. I think sharing more examples. I was going to say too, along with the long-form writing requirement for leadership, examples like this and narratives, those things are going to be amazing for recruitment and I think retention and also for giving to candidates. It’s like, “we don’t have a career ladder that’s so explicit that we can share with you, but here’s an example of 50 different toggle stories that you could read.” I think that would be encouraging. It’s going to be more engaging. People love stories in general. So I think that could be really cool as far as giving candidates a sense of a pathway. It doesn’t have to be a specific pathway and I think we want to attract the people that are a little more adventurous too, versus, “I want to be this particular title.” Well, we don’t really want to attract people that want a specific title. We want people that know they have a path but they don’t necessarily need to be this exact word. So, that could be cool too, because I think that’s another culture test that could be helpful.

Sam Corcos (39:12):

Yeah, I think it is. And I think in some ways people mentally associate the title with some area of responsibility. And so I have found some people where when we start the conversation with they want title X, what they really mean is, “I want to make sure that I have enough scope to work with.” And if we talk about how we do titles, I share the memo we have on it. They’re like, “Yeah, totally fine. I don’t care what’s on my LinkedIn. What I care about is I want to make sure that I don’t get pigeonholed into solving this one really small tedious problem. I want to work on something bigger.” So, yeah, totally agreed on that. For each of these things here, I know offhand a ton of examples that we can create stories around. I’m sure every person you ask at the company can come up with a story of somebody else that they’ve seen who’s really done a great job with this.

Nicole Miller (40:08):

Yeah. I wanted to do a little project, a side project maybe. I loved the question from the culture survey about who exemplifies the values most and how?

Sam Corcos (40:17):

Oh, yeah.

Nicole Miller (40:18):

That would be such a fun narrative and adding that to the culture handbook. Because, again, it’s sometimes hard to understand how to live out what it means to truly assume the best in others or positive intent and a story around that or an example or the Casey and Jackie example, that shows so much more. I mean, even when talking about the book Difficult Conversations, we talked about Michael and Jack or Michael and John, the concepts. And so it’s like this, there’s something to it. So, yeah, I love that.

Sam Corcos (40:49):

Yeah, definitely. Yeah. I think one of the things that I would also think about from your perspective is I imagine increasingly a big part of your role is going to be pulling these stories. Because we did talk about this a little bit in the conversation we had earlier around, how do you celebrate people who do a really good job of having difficult conversations, doing the hard things that people don’t want to talk about, doing the really uncomfortable thing and figuring out a way of getting those people to do a podcast? When Casey told me about this conversation with Jackie and how great it was, I said, “You’ve got to do a podcast really trying to get those stories more out into the open. And that might involve bringing in Haney and finding a contract writer.” We used to do these everyone on content pieces, which we do still do occasionally, but Ben did this with Campbell Baron, who’s a YouTube content creator, where you probably saw that video series where he interviewed a bunch of people on the Levels team to talk about Levels’ culture. And that was super cool.


And so finding ways to just extending that capability and getting these narratives out there I think is going to be really important, because that makes it memorable and it can make it clearer. One person comes to mind who is a really high performer in so many things, but on one of these criteria that I mentioned is a one out of five. And I think seeing this is what good looks like, what caused this person to go like, “Oh wow, I don’t do any of that,” and that might be a moment of, “Oh, maybe this is…” I think with a lot of these things, having that narrative also gives you a path forward. If they’re not anonymized and they are real people, this person can say, “Oh, the person who wrote this thing, the person who is a good example of this is Miz. Maybe I’m going to talk to Miz, like, ‘Hey, how do you get better at that skill? What’s the path forward here?’”

Nicole Miller (42:53):

I love that. Or, “How do I time manage to make those things happen?”

Sam Corcos (42:59):

Yeah, totally.

Nicole Miller (43:00):

Like productivity sharing and all of that. That’s so good. That’s so great. Yeah, okay. That’s really cool. And all of this is such great onboarding content and external content and all of that too because, I mean, I think it really is true that just from what I’ve seen, some of the recent hires have been such strong culture values alignment, just from what I’ve seen. And I mean, it’s just incredible to see and I think that that can get stronger the more content you have out there and the more explicit you are about those things.

Sam Corcos (43:30):

Yeah. Preferential attachment is an incredibly powerful force.

Nicole Miller (43:35):


Sam Corcos (43:35):

I think Ian mentioned this on the podcast that he did with us on his path to join in a company. I think he mentioned he listened to a podcast or saw a video and his wife said something like, “I don’t think you know this yet, but you’ve already joined Levels.” Something about him, he was going to join before he even realized that he joined because it was just such a clear alignment in his values and how he wanted to approach problem-solving. That is a really powerful force.

Nicole Miller (44:08):

It really is. And it’s an amazing thing when you end up with… And we had this at Buffer. We had a lot of very avid fans that were just with us till the end and people who applied four or five times-

Sam Corcos (44:20):


Nicole Miller (44:20):

… and didn’t get a role but applied again and just were so eager. And that is a really special thing. I mean, it just drives excitement within the company and outside of the company. It’s a very special thing to treasure, and you honor it by continuing to share those stories and keep that community engaged too, so I love that.