PhonePe removes titles, focuses on flat structure for tech team

The Company has tried to build a culture where organisational hierarchies have no role to play in the day-to-day functioning of the business

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How do we usually perceive growth? It is through the achievement of titles, which bring about increased responsibilities along with an increment in compensation. The management at PhonePe has decided to take a different approach towards individual growth for its technology team. The Company has removed titles from the equation altogether and has proceeded to reward and recognise people, based on their skills and contribution, and not by conferring titles that depict seniority in any sense.

Aptly called ‘The PhonePe Engineering Journey’, it began in the month of April this year. Within the 2000-strong company, the technology team consists of close to 500 employees amongst whom around 300 are hard-core engineers.

The goal here is to ensure that titles are not the motivation for individuals anymore. Rather, increasing skills to command more responsibilities, and being fairly compensated for the same are the aims now. Therefore, if an employee wants to join a particular team or work on an exciting new initiative, she or he is allowed to participate on the basis of merit and performance, rather than title.

What PhonePe has essentially tried to do is, build a culture where organisational hierarchies do not have a role to play in the day-to-day functioning of the company.

Manmeet Sandhu

“Our ability to connect with people — specifically on the value they are creating, the complexity of problems they are solving and the learning they are obtaining on their functional and technical capabilities — is so clear that we are able to design a journey of growth for them. This journey is entirely about scope, complexity and functional improvement.”

Why do away with titular recognitions?

Manmeet Sandhu, chief people officer, PhonePe, says that aspirations of titular recognition are mostly superficial. People aspire for those because that is how they are conditioned.

“The best way to attract, engage and retain talent is to enable them to create value and contribute to the best of their capability. The core idea behind the Engineering Journey at PhonePe was to ensure that people feel a sense of belonging and value through the work they are doing,” says Sandhu.

How does the PhonePe Engineering Journey work?

Employee growth for the technology team at PhonePe is measured through the impact they deliver on a role. For instance, for an engineer here, growing as a professional would mean moving from working on small tasks under supervision within a team, to working on larger platforms and owning end-to-end product deliveries.

Sandhu explains that they have identified a set of dimensions for engineers, such as technical competence, domain knowledge and operational excellence among others. These are laid out for every engineer and a roadmap is created, which allows them to identify where they stand as professionals. She adds that these dimensions serve only as a guide and not as an overly indexed checklist to tick off. All the engineers are able to self-regulate their individual journeys of continuous improvement and determine in which areas they need to invest more effort to grow as an employee within the Company.

“Our ability to connect with people — specifically on the value they are creating, the complexity of problems they are solving and the learning they are obtaining on their functional and technical capabilities — is so clear that we are able to design a journey of growth for them. This journey is entirely about scope, complexity and functional improvement,” explains Sandhu.

Aspiring engineers, for instance, need to improve their designing and development skills and their understanding of the systems around them. Going forward, they will need to be able to plan and prioritise to deliver on projects of increasing complexity.

It is an added bonus if the individuals are able to grow their skills as managers and lead successful teams. However, that is left entirely to them. Sandhu says that if employees’ functional capabilities are strong and they do not have any interest in management, they are guided on how to take their current abilities to the next level.

Moreover, titles that currently exist for the engineering team are merely functional and define the role rather than seniority. For instance, employees who are involved in solving vertical problems, are defined as engineers, while those whose responsibilities are more horizontal and include high-level design, setting technical standards and focussing on organisational-level goals of reliability, performance and data-centre cost optimisation are defined as architects. Both roles have parallel growth paths along the way, and employees do not feel the need to switch from one role to another for learning or compensation reasons. Fluid internal mobility of individuals and a broadening of skill sets and perspectives are the end goals of the Engineering Journey at PhonePe.

Currently, the initiative is limited to the technology team only. Sandhu adds that in time, they may look towards implementing the same in other functions and areas as well.

Rewards

Employees are given financial rewards, based on the increase in their skills and contribution to the organisation. At the end of the yearly performance review, employees receive a 360-degree feedback. By removing hierarchies among employees, it is possible to reward them solely on the basis of individual skill sets and contribution. Both aspects are taken into consideration, before delivering fair compensation. An increase in skillsets without an increase in contribution will not qualify an employee to receive a reward. Managers sit down with their team members every quarter to discuss individual performance as well as progress.

In addition, the Company offers an education allowance of Rs 5 lakhs for any structured course an employee wishes to pursue. The determining factor for reimbursement is the alignment of the course to the individual’s work at the organisation.

In terms of hiring, PhonePe has continued to recruit fresh talent, and till now has hired a 100 people in technology and about 300 in the non-tech side.