A New Framework for Career Development and Growth
CEO Tiffany Farriss and Chief of Staff Maggie Lewis discuss Palantir's unique peer coaching and skills-based career advancement system, which aims to reduce bias and give employees more agency over their growth.
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Hello, and welcome to Plus Plus, the podcast from Palantir. net, where we talk about what's new and interesting in the world of open source technologies and agile methodologies, I'm your host, George DeMet.
At many organizations, career advancement and promotion can be complicated. Particularly in smaller companies, opportunities for advancement can be limited, and there might be unclear rules about how promotions happen. As you advance, different skills come into play, and professional development needs to be aligned accordingly. In some workplaces, promotions are often dependent on your connection with your manager, which can lead to bias and favoritism. A few years ago, we at Palantir decided to take a different approach to career development to help ensure that team members receive fair and equal treatment when it comes to career advancement and promotion.
Today you're going to hear how we created scaffolding for individualized career development across disciplines that establishes a set of shared expectations for growth and advancement that's not subject to the judgment or biases of a single person, manager, supervisor, or otherwise. But first, as you may have heard, Dupal 7 reaches end of life on January 5th, 2025, which means it will no longer receive any security support after that date. Palantir is a Drupal Association Certified Migration Partner for both enterprise and mid-scale projects. So if you're still running a Drupal 7 site out there, drop us a line and we can help you start planning your migration today.
So I'm here today with Palantir's CEO, Tiffany Farriss.
And Chief of Staff, Maggie Lewis.
Tiffany, I'm wondering if you could kick us off with some background for what motivated you to change the way we approached career development here at Palantir.
Thanks, George. There's three different components that essentially prompted it. One was the notion of equal pay for equal responsibility. I thought it was really important that regardless of the experiences people came into Palantir with, that they had a sense that what they did here, the skills they demonstrated here, would be compensated appropriately. So having a leveled pay grid, that was something that could clearly establish that link between an individual's demonstrated level of responsibility within the company and their compensation, I thought was really important.
The next piece of it was really around how might we support people as they grow. You need someone to help you understand what might be next. So any one of us benefits from having that kind of a sounding board. What we don't necessarily need is someone who directs it for you.
Over the years, I've made a million mistakes as we've grown Palantir and one of the mistakes that, like many, are well-intentioned, but ultimately still mistakes, is deciding what you think would be best for the other person. We need to respect the agency of every person here. So what we did is we combined those two pieces into what we call our POD structure. It's an acronym for professional and organizational development.
What it does is it creates a peer coaching framework rather than that kind of traditional manager-supervisor relationship. It essentially creates a mesh structure that is supportive as a net for those within Palantir. And then you have the RBS itself, which stands for a role-based structure. It is essentially a career path framework that combines some of the engagement ladders you may have seen other places that really help us articulate as a company and help us understand as individuals that operate within that framework how different behaviors and different demonstrated skills add value to the company.
So a key driver of designing the system as we have has been this notion of discretion elimination. When you think about setting pay, when you think about who's ready for a promotion, when you think about any kind of advice you might have gotten from a supervisor, those are all really laden with judgments and with certain perspectives. And as a company that has a high degree of representation from those who are from historically marginalized communities, one of the things I think that was most important was creating scaffolding around what advancement might look like.
I think it's really important that people know in any community what to expect and what is expected of them. And so the RBS helps us to articulate that in a way that's appropriate to where we are now and certainly appropriate as a next step for where we were coming from.
Maggie, I'm wondering if you can talk a little bit about, like, what actually is the RBS? How does it work? What are some of the skills that it recognizes?
When I start to tell people about it, I often say it's a philosophy and a tool. Tiffany spoke very well to what the philosophy behind a role-based structure is and where the rubber hits the road, if you will, is in this tool that we have created. It's a mechanism that lives markedly on the internet. And we literally go in and review our behaviors and score ourselves zero to five in a behavior category and there's lots of math behind it. And it weighs different skills more heavily than others.
And at the end, you get a score which places you at your level, which then is aligned with a salary level in our tiered salary structure. And we talk about at each of those levels where you're having impact, how you're learning your skill, those kinds of things. Impact is really key as a beginners: I'm having impact on myself. I am able to structure my work, but I'm probably still learning my craft. I may not even know what I don't know.
And then as you move through the levels, you're working a little more independently, always part of a team. And so we start to take into consideration how you're impacting your team. So am I showing up for work every day and executing on my tickets? Terrific, doing a good job, delivering value to the client, great. Well, as you grow, how might you be introducing, say, a new practice or play? How might you be taking a look at work differently and what impact that has on a team? How can that impact extend beyond a team to your colleagues on other teams? How can that start to impact the system level?
And then at level five, we are thinking about things outside of Palantir.How is your expertise recognized in the world as a professional? What impacts are you having? What professional credentials outside of Palantir might you have? So it's a little bit of a machine that allows for self-reflection and a score that aligns with your current level at Palantir and what your salary level equivalent would be.
So I'm essentially kind of scoring myself using this web based tool and then at the end of it, I'll get a number that corresponds to my level within the organization.
You'll hear us talk about foundational skills and those correspond to what we call a cohort at Palantir. So a cohort might be developer, project manager, UX designer, UX strategist. And then we have a cohort for people that do more work on the operations side of the business. And then within each of those are skills that align with those cohorts. So thinking about developer, you might have DevOps. You might have front-end coding skills that are very specific to the natures of those roles. Same thing with UX strategy. You're able to design an information architecture. You're able to use leading edge tools.
And then we have system and consulting skills, which applied everybody in the organization. We're all evaluated against those behaviors. And those things can be from mentoring and coaching of others to contributing to new business development, communication, managing your own work and those kinds of things.
And then this all comes into T-shaped skills. So our depth of the T are those first things I talked about, the foundational skills. But our system and consulting skills go across the top of our T. So we look for people that we call T-shaped. So deep knowledge in an area of practice, but broad knowledge and able to have an impact across all areas of working in a complex organization such as ours.
Got it. So when I'm thinking about a T shaped person, say they're a software engineer, they're going to have a depth of knowledge in, say, the different programming languages that they work with. But then the top of the T might be their interpersonal skills, how they contribute to new business development, or just sort of general things that everyone at the company does a little bit of in their day to day working with their colleagues, mentoring, communication, all of those sorts of things.
In a traditional organization, people might call them soft skills. We choose not to call them that because they're not soft.That can imply that they're not as important or they're easy to learn, they're easy to do, and they're not. They impact our system and they impact how we consult and work with our clients and each other.
So there are three categories, delivering, strengthening and consulting. And in delivering, we talk about the way things get done. So planning, estimating, how you make decisions and those kinds of things. Strengthening: strategic thinking, dealing with complexity and guarding and improving Palantir's culture. And in consulting skills, it's how we work with our clients, delivering value and contributing to new business development are some of the things in that category in those system and consulting skills.
So a little bit earlier, Tiffany, you mentioned peer coaching. For those who might not be familiar with what that is, can you can talk a little bit more about that and how it kind of plays into this POD structure that we have.
Peer coaching is one of the cornerstones of how Palantir supports each other, but also how we grow, how we learn, how we get better. Peer coaching is in contrast to professional coaching. which is in contrast to therapy. All of those are very different things.
And in the context of a peer coach, you have someone that is skilled in some of the practices of coaching and is there primarily to support you. So the tool that we typically use comes right out of professional coaching. It's the ACE method. It's around awareness, commitment, and execution.
So your POD Reps are there as a sounding board for you so that you can improve your own awareness of what's going on. They can help you round out your perspective in terms of how you're showing up for others and how others experience you.
I think it's helpful to have those conversations in a way and in a space where you don't feel like your job is on the line. So your POD rep doesn't have any influence over your continued employment here that relates to your team. They're there purely to support you and to help you grow as a person in the ways that you want to grow.
Peer coaching is in contrast to professional coaching. The folks who serve as peer coaches often have a professional coach working with them. And then if you're really struggling within this environment, we may bring in an additional professional coach to help support you in that way. But the peer coach is there on a really regular basis just to check in to be an accountability partner or a thought partner depending on what your needs are in that moment.
So we really practice understanding kind of what hat you're wearing in that moment, asking for consent to switch hats. So many of us who are peer coaches are also senior practitioners. So just bringing the awareness as a peer coach to am I wearing my coaching hat right now? Am I helping this person solve their own problem? Or am I wearing my mentor hat and I'm providing some direction or some education in that moment?
But the foundation of peer coaching and of coaching in general is that each of us are a whole and complete human being capable of solving our own problems. And sometimes we need help. Sometimes we need heard and sometimes we need a hug. And your peer coach can provide all of those things as you need them.
So the peer coaching takes place largely, though not exclusively within the context of a POD and the POD is a professional and organizational development team.
So there's actually three levels of coaching. At Palantir, the first level is the one you're talking about where you have individuals who have the peer coach through their POD. Then we have a role on each of our teams, an agile team coach. And so we approach that differently. And then there are also some of us who serve as kind of enterprise agile coaches who look at the system and examine how we're functioning. And so the enterprise agile coaches are the ones who are supporting those pod reps, who are supporting the system, which impacts our organization, our structure, our culture, things like that. So there's really these three different levels that exist.
But when you're talking about the individual level of peer coaching, each of us has an experience rep who's very much focused on the day to day of the work that we do and asking us about how that's going and being sounding good for that. And then you have a company POD rep who's interested in how you participate in the system at large and the company making sure you understand what opportunities are there.
It's an interesting relationship. And I have described it to some people as like an academic committee who's rooting for you, who's supporting you and challenging you throughout your journey at Palantir, but not telling you how to get your work done, what to do, those kinds of things. It can be a very personal relationship, like Tiffany said, when you need a hug. That does happen.
For me, it's been about self reflection and how am I having value and impact at Palantir? What does that look like? How can I continue to improve and get better? How do I make sense of my work and my relationship with my colleagues at Palantir? Those kinds of things, as well as helping me think about, well, what do I want to do next? How do I want to grow at Palantir? Where can I have the next impact in the organization?
I think it relates to the RBS when it gets back to that idea of the academic committee. Now, we can, as a POD rep, support my podmate and what they're trying to do at Palantir, and we use the behaviors in the RBS to help shape that as we move forward. But I think it's important to say that the POD reps are not driving your promotion. They really aren't. They might suggest, hey, have you considered? Or you might want to consider thinking about what you want to do next at Palantir and how that might look in the next 12 to 18 months in terms of a promotion for you.
They're not saying, Maggie, it's time. I think you're there. If you only did X, Y, and Z, you could be there. They're not anointing you. They're just supporting and encouraging your growth. And you might ask them to keep you on track and honest in what you want to be in that kind of a way. But it's a special relationship. It's one I've never seen in the workplace, to this extent that we have it, especially with having two pod reps per person.
So I'm somebody who works at Palantir. I have a POD. I have an RBS score. What if I want a promotion? What does that process look like?
For most people, they will have an ILP, an individual learning plan, and have listed a few goals on that plan with metrics for how they're going to achieve those goals. And we might go back as your POD and look at what you've said you were going to do and see how you've done it. And if you've achieved those goals and we think that they have impact.
So let's say we did that, you've taken a look back, then we literally do that scoring in the RBS and go through and look at the behaviors. I think it's really important to note that in this RBS tool, we have listed behaviors as guidelines. They're suggested behaviors. So they're used as a guideline, not a checklist. So if you are seeing that, you know, I had a real impact in mentoring in these kinds of ways on my project team, and then that branched out to me doing some mentoring in my cohort, or mentoring and across another team. That's really cool. That might not be something we listed in the RBS as a behavior, but it's something that's really important to take a look at when you're self evaluating.
So we literally have each person in the POD scores a person. For POD reps, if we don't have day to day insight into someone's work, we will go and interview other colleagues about their work. And then we come back as a full pod and do a score together and talk very openly. Here's what I thought as your POD rep. Here's what I heard. Here's why I scored you this way. And we find sometimes that we're not aligned. And quite often, it could be that the pod made has scored themselves lower than a pod rep has.
So when we're having those kinds of conversations, we're not saying, I don't think you got it on this go around. It's more like, let's talk about what behaviors we're seeing and how that is impacting your score. What's evidence for that? And what is behind all of this? So to make sure that the pod main is aware of why their behaviors are what they are, and are they operating currently at a new higher level?
The RBS is based in this genuine belief in human development, right? We have this growth mindset culture. And we understand that all skills are learnable. Even those ones that Maggie talked about earlier, the consulting skills or the interpersonal skills, those may be hard. I know personally, those are harder for me than any academic skill I've ever tried.
What it does is it allows us to create this expectation that it's a commitment to learning and to perseverance, that it's not about your innate genius or your innate talent or what you were allowed to do someplace else. We know that the experiences that we each bring to Palantir may not have been evenly or equitably distributed, and they represent what opportunities individuals had. So the RBS and this entire pod structure is about giving feedback in a way that promotes learning and future success.
It's the reason that your pod reps aren't your supervisor, that authoritarian relationship undermines any sort of psychological safety you might be able to cultivate. But instead, it creates these coaches who are really resources for your learning.
And from the business perspective, or my CEO hat, when people are better able to realize their own potential as they personally see it, Palantir benefits. So again, it's just one of these bedrock beliefs that we have as an organization in people. And it's not because of a person here, it's just because of our shared humanity.
And I think one of the coolest things that happens in the promotion process is that when the individual decides that they are going for the promotion and they submit a promotion packet, which has all those RBS scores in it, the cool thing it has is the self-reflection piece. Most often it's in written form, but we've come up with other structures such as a recorded interview. Another structure we have is a Miro board. We're really open to how people self-reflect and so that it's in a manner that's most comfortable to them and allows them to showcase themselves at their best. But it's prompts about here's my growth, here's how I changed.
And a lot of the self-reflection isn’t I learned react, I learned how to use JIRA better in my role. It's rather I had a growth mindset around Agile and the value that I'm able to contribute to my teams because I have adopted an Agile mindset. It's those kinds of things that I think are really important and it's so that you know why you're getting a promotion and you fully own it.
And it's interesting too, once the promotion is set, we have promotion celebrations. We come together as a company and the individual presents a little bit about themselves. And then the POD reps might say a few kind words and then the whole organization talks about the impact that they have felt from this person all in positive terms. And at first it's very scary for some, but it turns out to be a really rewarding, fulfilling, sometimes very emotional experience all in a very good way. And people are very happy that they went through the process, even though it might be daunting at first. And some people might not really enjoy people saying nice things about them. But I think at the end of the day, that feels pretty darn good to have a good portion of your colleagues show up at your promotion celebration and talk about how you have positively impacted their work and lives of Palantir.
I don't like being at the center of a Care Bear Stare. So much positivity that gets reflected back at you. It can be a little overwhelming, but I am grateful.
We first rolled us out at the beginning of the pandemic, and having those celebrations created this amazing outlet for joy and for celebration and connection that was so missing. And I had wondered because of those unique circumstances of when we rolled it out, if it would still feel the same and still feel as meaningful now, we have people who've had multiple promotions and who have done them a couple different times. And we all do see each other in real life now.
But they still do retain this quality of connection in an online remote environment that I think is essential to the fabric of Palantir. Those stories about what you saw in yourself or how you grew or who you are outside of Palantir, those just knit together into this quilt that is Palantir, that is our culture. So creating an environment and a regular celebration of all of the individuals who make up this quilt, I'm amazed at just how meaningful those celebrations have been. The contrast from when an email used to go out and say someone had gotten a promotion. It's a completely different feel and a completely different culture driver.
But what if you're happy with the level of responsibility you have? What if you don't want to necessarily take on more? What happens then?
We're not always linear. In fact, I've never met anyone who is linear in their ambition or their drive or their growth. And there are times when the things we do outside of our lives need to take priority. So you're not in a pushing sort of place or you have a really good balance between what you do in your personal life and your work life and you're cool with that.
One of the reasons we moved to this RBS structure was to give agency over what was next to the person. And it recognizes that the choices you make today may not be the choices that you make tomorrow. So you can go through this phase where you're incredibly ambitious and work focused and you want to level up all these skills. Cool, that's your choice. It could be that you have caregiving responsibilities outside of work or it's summer and you'd like to downshift and enjoy more sunshine in your life. There's no judgment around why you aren't pushing right now at work and there's no expectation that you need to push all the time.
We do recognize that because we work in technology and with technology that just to stay in the same place requires learning. So we have that kind of baked in here. As part of equal pay for equal responsibility there is an annual salary increase that everybody gets at the exact same time. So you're still going to be fine. You're going to continue to pick up new skills and things just to stay at the same level of responsibility. But not everybody wants to take my job someday. So if you're comfortable with where you're at, great. No problem, no pressure. You're still going to be supported. You're still going to be learning things every day but you may not be leveling up your skills at the pace that you might be. The structure that we have recognizes that and creates a space for everybody wherever they are in this moment.
So if the POD doesn't work as a manager, who does manage the team member?
They're self-managed. We are all adults outside of work and it has never made much sense to me that the minute you show up at work you need someone to direct and guide and manage your life we do just fine with our families and our children and our communities. You can do the same here.
And it comes down to this myth that sometimes you might hear called Theory X. It's a very authoritarian frame and it's one that exists to varying degrees in most professional workplaces. And it is based on this idea that people need to be motivated to satisfy their own needs and would not otherwise contribute to the fulfillment of your organizational goals. That work is awful, that in order for people to be successful you need to be very unambiguous, that people need to be coerced or controlled or directed in terms of what they need to do when they show up at work. And all of that comes from this I think really harmful notion that people are fundamentally lazy and don't want responsibility.
The contrast to that is Theory Y. Theory Y is like, hey work is a natural part of this, right? This is what I choose to do with most of my time. It needs to not suck, right? But theory-wide says that people are motivated. They want to grow. They want to develop. They want to contribute to something bigger than themselves and that this idea that work is natural, that we will find work. We will do what needs to be done without being told or coerced. And it really emphasizes the idea of intrinsic interest and each person's desire to be very self-directed and our capacity.
Like we each are humans capable of engaging in tremendous creative problem solving and in our personal lives we see that every day and creating an environment, a work environment where that is not just welcome but expected. My colleagues are highly ambitious. They're highly clever and so structuring an organization around that feels different and feels better to what Maggie was saying.
We talked a little bit about the promotion celebrations and how they kind of bring together folks and create this connection. I'm curious what other benefits we've seen from this sort of unique career advancement structure we have.
I think one of the things we're seeing people are truly taking ownership over their own paths at Palantir and they are feeling confident in their ability to do that and step forward and set some goals and achieve them and be rewarded financially for that.
I think that there's just a greater self-awareness over your impact of your work at Palantir and questions around wait a minute how am I delivering value? Not that I just executed a checklist but was that the right checklist to execute? How am I designing my work so that I am delivering client value every day through my work and able to adapt and modulate what I'm doing based on that and so much more awareness of how you impact, how you're doing your work to make sure that you have foresight in your work so that you are delivering value back to Palantir but mainly to our clients.
Many of us don't have a mature mental model for what success within a non-hierarchical structure looks like. We haven't seen it and so although many of us do experience it we don't even recognize it in that way. We often engage in non-hierarchical ways with our friend groups, with our families but those aren't contexts in which our professional success really has an analog. We are very socialized from a young age to understand that there's this career path and there's a structure to what that looks like and so while you're in a non-hierarchical organization like Palantir that structure does open up more opportunities for advancement.
One of the things that I've seen at the system level which is where I try to look is that the RBS and our leveled salary structure is really fulfilling some of the discretion elimination goals that I had set out for it. There's always a question about who chooses to put themselves up for advancement in the same way that in a more directed environment who gets the promotions can be an indicator of system health and system equity. So I like to monitor how the different cohorts are putting themselves up for promotion, how those in different identities and different backgrounds, how are they putting themselves up in relation to their representation within the organization and one of the things I had hoped for and I'm glad to report is the case is that we are seeing statistically the advancement we would have expected to see if the system were equitable and that doesn't mean we stop our work there, it doesn't mean anything else but it is one way that I can look back and see okay how is this experiment going?
I think that part of what we talk about a lot here is this notion of complexity. Maggie touched on and George, you even touched on it before in other podcasts as well as this one. And in a complex environment you're going to try something and you're going to see how it goes and then you're going to adapt and seeing that the system does the same thing in addition to how you personally try something, see how it goes and then maybe you decide you want to do more of that or maybe you decide you never want to do that again. Seeing how the system acknowledges the complexity of not just our work but our complexity as human beings.
I think helps make that notion of complexity a little more accessible to folks here and you know really start to undo some of the some of the socialization we've all had that there is a right answer at the end that you know and I think that that idea that there is one right answer for you or for this project or for this client or for this company or one way to be successful, one way to be happy. Once you are able to start untangling all of that then I think it opens up that space for grace, it opens up that space for growth and that level of growth benefits everybody, it benefits those around you, it certainly benefits yourself and from the CEO perspective it benefits the company and our clients.
So it's a really great segue into my final question, which is that if you're part of an organization that's considering changing the way that you approach career advancement, where would you recommend that folks start?
What I recommend you start with is understanding what you already do well and what system signals you're getting already for opportunities for change. Anytime you are embarking on some change management it's important to take the temperature of your organization and in particular the folks who will be impacted and involved so understand where there's energy and where there's enthusiasm that's the most important thing.
We did a lot of research on each of those cohorts I mentioned to come up with industry standard behaviors as well as behaviors that we were seeing that added value to Palantir and those kinds of things so we spent probably a good year researching and getting us to a beta test of the tool itself and my other short answer would be email us. We'd be happy to talk to you about it and tell you about our journey a little more.
Absolutely. Well, thank you both so much for such a great conversation. We'll be back in a couple of weeks with another fresh episode. In the meantime, check out our website at palantir.net where you can sign up for our newsletter, follow us on social media, or as Maggie says, email us. Thanks for listening.