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Personal Development Done Right: The Spotify Way

Pim de Morree
Written by Pim de Morree October 31, 2018

Spotify has been a progressive workplace since its foundation. It challenges traditional approaches in many ways. The most hyped aspect is how their engineering department is structured via squads, tribes, chapters, and guilds

But beyond this are other inspiring practices: for example, the way they focus on feedback and development. Here’s how:

Spotify 1

Don't overestimate the power of technology

Many organizations update HR practices by searching for perfect tools. It’s no wonder HR-tech is booming. There are heaps of start-ups developing apps, tools and platforms to support those organizations.

And in searching for the “perfect app”, they often make a painful mistake. They underestimate the power of people and overestimate the power of technology. They focus too much on the latter. Once found, they adjust internal processes to match.

To us, and other successful workplace pioneers, this is back to front. First, you should figure out what process works best for your organization. Then, and only then, and only if truly needed, should you find (or better, design) technology to support it.

No heavy tooling

Unlike these companies, Spotify doesn’t like heavy tooling. During our visit to their HQ in Stockholm, Johan Sellgren (Director of Staff) told us: “We don’t like heavy tooling so we tend not to use it. There is no performance management or anything similar.”

Recently we shared how Netflix replaced annual performance reviews with a simple and elegant practice. There are striking similarities to Spotify. Check out the Netflix approach: Ditch Annual Performance Reviews. Here’s How Netflix Did It.

On Spotify’s HR Blog Johanna Bolin Tingvall says: “We don’t have any reporting back to HR, or any heavy performance management system with boxes to tick. […] Our performance and development approach is loose. It contains few mandatory elements.”

Below, we share two crucial elements of their approach to feedback and development.

1. Coaching sessions

First, the majority of feedback is exchanged during regular 1-on-1 employee coaching sessions. Johanna: “This is the most important pillar in our performance development approach. Everything...revolves around great conversations. There are no mandatory schedules, nor standard agendas. It’s all based on the employee and manager agreeing on the setup and frequency of meetings.”

2. Development talks (70/20/10)

Development talks are scheduled twice per year. They focus on employee development. In traditional organizations, such conversations (if they take place), are typically a review of the year past—and what succeeded or failed.

We don’t have any reporting back to HR, or any heavy performance management system with boxes to tick. Our performance and development approach is loose. It contains few mandatory elements.
Click to tweet

At Spotify they challenge this convention. Johan Sellgren: “We try to hold individual ‘development talks’ twice a year where we address the future, the now, and the past.” Their guideline is “70/20/10”. Spend 70% of the time on the future, 20% on the present, and only 10% on the past.

(The 70/20/10 approach at Spotify is not to be confused be with the 70/20/10 approach of Jennings. This (controversial) theory says people learn best when 70% of learning is via on-the-job experience, 20% via social learning with colleagues, and 10% via formal, classroom training.)

Why the relentless focus on the present and future? Well, to target future personal development rather than assessing what already belongs to the past.

Forward thinking

Spotify’s employee development process says a lot about how they behave as a company. It’s about personal conversations. It’s about future improvements. It’s about minimal bureaucracy. It’s based on guidance, not forced by rules.

Many organizations update HR practices by searching for perfect tools. And in searching for the “perfect app”, they often make a painful mistake. They underestimate the power of people and overestimate the power of technology
Click to tweet

In our opinion, that’s what progressive and rebellious organizations should be about.

Written by Pim de Morree
Pim de Morree
As co-founder of Corporate Rebels I focus on: researching, writing, speaking, and building our company.
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