Life At DigitalEd

Culture of Leadership at DigitalEd

Sandra Allison
Sandra Allison
VP, People & Culture

The need for a leadership capability framework

As DigitalEd approached the end of 2021 we were growing our team in a few departments, which ended up creating new leadership opportunities. To meet that need we either hired someone outside the company to share their leadership experience with us or, in some cases, we were able to promote a team member to fill that role.

In either case we had a group of people who were new to leadership at DigitalEd, and we began discussing ways to nurture and align them. A lot of the information transfer is around process and corporate onboarding, but there’s also a company culture that leaders have to be aware of and uphold.

This process wasn’t solely concerned with our expectations for managers, but also built around the kind of support we want to provide to leaders. We wanted to make sure we spent the time here to communicate these roles clearly, and have that clarity and confidence flow out to the teams from that source. We think of a framework like this as the roots of our efforts, and we see the fruits in each leader knowing the competencies to focus on and flexing them in the unique setting of their team and challenge.

We gathered in a small group during December 2021 and hit the whiteboard. Using Korn Ferry’s leadership book—For Your Improvement—as a foundation, we selected 15 leadership qualities that we felt were important to our company and brought those to the team to collect feedback.

Framework structure

Breaking leadership into these 15 categories takes an intimidating, nebulous concept and makes it digestible and approachable.
One of the valuable things about the dozens of competencies listed in For Your Improvement is the separation of habits into categories: Underskilled, skilled, talented, and overused.

The bumpers on either end of underskilled and overused, combined with tangible examples of what those behaviors look like, helps team members understand where to focus their learning. For example, you think you’re a perfect communicator because you’re very frequently sharing with your team. However, after reading the overused column, you may realize that in some cases your abundant communication may distract from meetings, or maybe you focus on style over substance of communication. You’re still an accomplished communicator but could it be fine-tuned?

From there we wanted to break down the 15 competencies further into tiers of leadership. Does a team lead need to be perfect in all 15 skills that an executive practices? Or can we focus their attention on skills that affect small teams the most, and thereby build out a progression that leaders can work through as they learn more skills.

For our organization, we separated the framework into individual contributor, first level people leader, mid level people leader, and executive people leader.

Chart showing our tiers of leadership: individual, first level, mid level, and executive, and various skills we value.

Individual contributors

The increasing tiers of team leadership caters well to employees that are seeking that career progression—they want to grow into team lead, manager, someday senior manager and so on.

This process also made us think more about those folks who are technically an individual contributor but a leader within their realm. One of our company values at DigitalEd is Ownership, and especially being a small company, individual contributors are often asked to own their domain and act as a leader to their peers when the conversation relates to their role.

2023 and forward

The leaders at the company take their team’s individuals or their area’s potential into their own hands, and we take that responsibility very seriously. When team members want to take the next step towards that role, this system acts as a roadmap for how they can approach and take on that expectation.

We’re excited to work more with these ideas to continue building up the team at DigitalEd. We first used this framework in our Employee Check-in in 2022 and it’s going to continue to grow with us as we define leadership at DigitalEd.