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"It's likely the biggest project the business lines and HR have ever undertaken." That's how Hans-Ole Jochumsen, president of global market services at Nasdaq, described the initiative to develop a global career framework as part of Nasdaq's talent management strategy. While talent is the lifeblood of any successful company, it's especially critical to Nasdaq, the creator of the first electronic stock exchange, and today a global financial services organization whose diversified portfolio includes the Nasdaq exchange in the U.S. and eight European exchanges.

The need for a global career framework arose at a time when Nasdaq was redefining itself strategically. "Nasdaq was on a diversification journey, having transformed itself from a U.S.-based equities exchange to the leading technology and information services provider to the capital markets," said Anna Ewing, executive vice president, corporate solutions, and formerly CIO of Nasdaq, who initially spearheaded the project. Between 2008 and 2011, Nasdaq's employee population had almost doubled in size due to acquisitions. Nasdaq management and HR recognized that to strengthen the company's high-performance culture, they needed to take a globally consistent approach to career development.

A Convergence of Issues

The career framework project was initiated partly in response to the results of an employee engagement survey. "At first, we thought the low scores on certain survey questions indicated a problem with inconsistent job titles. But Towers Watson helped us further analyze the data and understand that we had a career road map issue," said Rebecca Arnold, vice president and head of global talent management. Employees globally wanted a clearer understanding of potential career paths, and the requirements for moving from one level to another and to other roles within the company.

Other challenges combined with the survey findings to make the development of a global career framework a top priority. Nasdaq leaders needed to:

  • Set expectations for the company's global workforce. "With the explosive growth of our employee population, it was crucial for employees to understand what was expected of them in different roles," said Arnold. But to set clear, globally consistent expectations, Nasdaq required a methodology and structure for developing detailed job descriptions and competencies, and ultimately, a common language around talent.
  • Enhance internal mobility. As Nasdaq expanded globally, leaders wanted a broader cross section of employees to work outside their home countries than in the past, when for the most part, only senior executives at headquarters had been sent on international assignments. "The old expat model is costly and limits the possibilities for employees to work worldwide," Jochumsen said. In addition to improving geographic workforce mobility, Nasdaq wanted to more efficiently move employees across functions and business lines. For example, a programmer with the right skills and competencies might move from a corporate technology function to a business unit and then back again, depending on the organization's needs and the employee's preference. To realize such a flexible model of internal mobility, Nasdaq needed to better understand the skills and competencies of its global workforce.
  • Clarify opportunities for individual contributors. "There was a big misconception among some employees who thought opportunities for individual contributors would cap at a certain level and that the only way to advance was by going into management. This is not the case at Nasdaq, especially in technical and professional subject matter expert roles," Arnold said. A global career map would show that individual contributors have ample opportunities to advance without pursuing a career in management.
  • Strengthen Nasdaq's ability to compete for talent. As Nasdaq continued on its diversification journey, it needed to strengthen its ability to attract and retain talent. Leaders sought a tool that could precisely delineate the requirements for a range of technical and business roles, and present potential career paths to prospective hires. This was especially important in recruiting younger employees who, Jochumsen noted, tended to be more independent than older workers and have higher expectations of employers.

An effective global career framework would help Nasdaq address a broad range of talent-related issues critical to its aggressive growth agenda.

Getting the Prerequisites Right

From the start, Nasdaq viewed this project as a collaboration between the business lines and HR. "Teamwork was a prerequisite for achieving good results," Jochumsen said. Because the key to understanding and mapping jobs in an objective manner is to involve those people who know the roles the best, employees from the business lines would play a prominent role. In fact, this initiative was viewed not as an HR program, but as a company program led and developed by the leaders of each function, sub-function managers and employees. And because managers are such a vital link to employees, early manager buy-in would be especially important.

Recognizing that the project's complexity called for customization, Nasdaq leaders decided against using an off-the-shelf product to create a global career framework and chose instead to partner with Towers Watson. "Because Towers Watson had worked on market surveys with our compensation specialists, its consultants understood our jobs and global compensation structure as well as our culture and values. The company also had an extensive background working with companies that had jobs and functions similar to ours, which would help our benchmarking efforts," said Bryan Smith, senior vice president and head of global human resources.

Towers Watson assigned talent management consultant Sharon Hardy to serve as the onsite project manager. A group of subject matter specialists provided ongoing support in a range of areas, including job architecture development, job leveling and defining competencies.

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An Iterative Process

Developing a global career framework would require an ongoing dialogue between HR and the business lines. "It was an iterative process whereby the HR business partners collaborated with business managers in the line and then presented a unified perspective on an issue to the senior HR and business leaders, who'd validate and fine-tune this perspective," Arnold said.

To help guide this work, Towers Watson provided a benchmarked career framework based on industry best practices. "We were especially concerned about getting the job organization or career architecture right. The overall goal was to organize and align all roles across the organization using career tracks (e.g., executive, professional, technical and administrative) and career levels (e.g., entry level, intermediate)," Hardy said.

The framework development process included these steps:

  • Establishing core and leadership competencies. Senior executives were asked to delineate the company's core and leadership competencies for all employees in the firm. "It was extremely important to have a common expectation and competency requirement for each role, aligned to our cultural values. These competencies are a core component of the framework that allows us as a firm to attract, retain and motivate our talent and to align them with our talent programs." Arnold said.
  • Assessing roles. All managers were asked to review their employees' roles in terms of responsibilities and levels of contribution. "It was challenging for some managers to think about roles separately from the individuals in those roles," Arnold said. This approach helped managers step back and evaluate what was required in a given role based on business needs rather than individuals' capabilities.
  • Defining career families. Next, roles were grouped into career families — such as risk management, strategic planning, payroll and data center operations — based on the nature of work or technical skills required. HR took a first pass at this task using the benchmark data provided by Towers Watson, and then management validated that work.
  • Identifying skills and competencies in each career family. Using a Towers Watson starter library of functional competencies, managers ranked required competencies for the career families with which they were associated. In follow-up roundtable discussions, managers agreed upon the top four to six competencies per family.
  • Determining career levels. Each career family would include steps in a progression of skills, expectations and responsibilities from one career level to the next. The levels varied from entry level to experienced professional. HR determined how many levels each career family required, and that work was validated by managers and compensation leaders based on business needs and benchmark data.
  • Scaling competencies for each level. Towers Watson next scaled or defined the competencies for each career level. This work was validated by the global talent management team in conjunction with the HR business partners and managers.
  • Drafting position descriptions. Using the above information, the managers drafted position descriptions with guidance from the HR business partners and the global talent management team. These clearly delineated the skills, expectations and responsibilities of each role. The managers then validated this work. Towers Watson also reviewed the job descriptions to ensure consistency in the determinations regarding families, levels and competencies.
  • Creating tools for employees and managers. Synthesizing all of the above, the framework design team developed workbooks and reference guides to help employees plan their careers and help managers have effective career conversations with their team members.

A number of best practices guided this work:

  • Implement a phased approach. The project team first launched a pilot program focusing on roles in two groups: Global Technology Services (GTS) and Market Technology. Given that Nasdaq had just made several technology acquisitions, issues related to job alignment — which had surfaced during the onboarding of technologists from the acquired organizations — and career development were prioritized. "GTS was our most geographically dispersed group, and creating career families across the globe required global input," Arnold said. This pilot was successfully implemented in 2012. The rollout to the rest of organization occurred in 2013 and 2014.
  • Keep employees in the loop. It was essential to maintain ongoing, transparent communications with employees. "The entire time we worked on the global career framework, we communicated with employees and gave them status updates," Arnold said.
  • Provide flexible function titles. It was critical to ensure that employees would understand their new internal titles and be able to adjust them for client-facing use.
  • Prioritize change management. Communication and change management support was important during the pilot and the companywide rollout. The internal communications included monthly emails, town hall presentations, senior leadership presentations, HR and manager training, and manager and employee guides. An intranet site provided online tools that enabled employees to easily access information about job families, roles and career paths.
  • Involve senior leadership. Senior leaders were enlisted to serve as project ambassadors, which helped reinforce the project's importance in employees' eyes.

myCareer Framework

The diligent collaboration between the business lines and HR, first in the pilot and then in the rollout phase, resulted in myCareer: a globally consistent career framework with career families, levels and position descriptions clearly defined. "It was an amazing accomplishment," Arnold said. "All Nasdaq roles fit into the framework."

Employees can now chart various career paths not only within a given career family (e.g., within the software engineering family, from software engineer specialist to software engineer vice president) but also across families (e.g., from software engineering to technical account management) and career tracks (e.g., from management to professional).

Career paths provide two types of movement:

  • Progression involves a movement to a role at a level the same as or equivalent to that of the employee's current role, or to a lower-level role. Progression offers an employee breadth of experience.
  • Promotion is a movement to a job at a higher level than the employee's current role. Promotion increases the employee's responsibilities and requires the demonstration of increased competence.

Nasdaq employees around the world now enjoy the flexibility of choosing various types of movement at different points in their careers. For example, an employee might seek a promotion within a career family to become a top-level specialist. At another point, the same individual might choose to move laterally to develop a breadth of skills (see box).

In this illustration of a hypothetical career path, a technology professional first moves across career families from systems support to systems engineer. The employee then continues on a path that includes promotion and progression, with a temporary move to the management track. This path eventually leads the employee to become the top individual contributor in IT in the role of enterprise database architect.

A hypothetical career path
Click to enlarge

Arnold readily acknowledged Towers Watson's contribution to the design and development of the global career framework. "Towers Watson did a lot of the analytical work that we didn't have the bandwidth to do and spent considerable time ensuring that the levels and competencies were appropriate," Arnold said. With regard to the project management component, she added, "Sharon Hardy was an amazing project leader who kept us on task. She worked directly with our managers, employees and HR business partners to drive solutions."

Assessing the Impact

One year after Nasdaq implemented its global career framework, the company's employee engagement data revealed a 22% improvement in employees' perception of professional development and a 15.5% improvement in their perception of performance management. And myCareer has delivered benefits throughout the Nasdaq organization:

  • Empowered employees. The framework's clearly defined levels, positions and competencies have empowered employees to take ownership of their career development.
  • Enhanced talent mobility. Improved visibility to potential career paths across geographies and functions has enhanced talent mobility. In this way, myCareer serves as a powerful retention tool.
  • Improved talent acquisition. The globally consistent approach to career development has created a more accurate picture of Nasdaq's talent pipeline and future talent needs. As a result, HR managers are better able to articulate to the talent acquisition team the type of talent the organization needs and the required competencies for each role. In turn, consistent position descriptions and visible career path opportunities help recruiters compete for top talent globally.
  • Strong integration with other programs. Because the competencies used to evaluate employees are the same as those in the position descriptions, performance evaluations have become more thorough and meaningful. In addition, skills and competencies required to pursue various career paths can be integrated with learning and development programs. Moreover, position descriptions are aligned with benchmark compensation data, ensuring competitive salary ranges. "It's important to know how you feel about your reward system," Ewing said. "It's not just about money — myCareer helps us balance financial and nonfinancial rewards, and career development is an important nonfinancial reward."
  • Onboarding support. The framework has also facilitated the onboarding of new employees — particularly those from acquisitions — because it enables employees to quickly understand expectations, accountabilities and career paths. From this perspective, myCareer makes it easier to assimilate new employees into Nasdaq's way of working and business culture.

"myCareer helped us achieve our overarching goal of building a more productive and engaged workforce," Smith said.

An Ongoing Investment

Nasdaq leaders don't view myCareer as a one-off initiative. "You need to think of the global career framework as an ongoing investment," Ewing said. The company plans to further integrate the framework in its learning and development programs.

Jochumsen summed up the return on this investment: "myCareer enables us to have an ongoing dialogue about talent in a structured manner. The benefits are so great — we should have developed this framework earlier."

Lessons Learned

Nasdaq executives shared key learnings and insights from their work developing a global career framework:

Allocate sufficient time. It's a time-intensive undertaking requiring input from a wide range of stakeholders, as well as the careful calibration of levels, competencies and position descriptions. You need to invest the time necessary to get it right.

It takes a team. The success of myCareer is due in great part to the effective collaboration between Nasdaq's business lines and the HR function. Engaging members of the compensation team and leveraging their expertise is essential. While HR facilitates the process, managers and employees need to own the key decisions.

Prioritize change management. To make the case for change, and to provide project updates and guidelines for implementing the change, ongoing communication and strong change management are crucial.

Provide flexible career paths. Given our era of flatter organizations and the need for employees to frequently update their skills, it's important to provide career paths that involve both promotion to higher levels and progression to equivalent or lower levels for employees seeking breadth of experience.