Levelling Frameworks

How we develop talent and support career growth at Dune

At the point I joined Dune, we were 20 people. Less than a year later and we are now ~60 people, across 20+ countries. Some meaningful growth, that stirred up some meaningful challenges!

Something we wanted (needed) pretty quickly, was data. We launched Dune’s engagement survey to understand how people were feeling. Delving into the comments, some clear themes became apparent. The team were asking:

  • What is expected of me day to day?
  • What progression is there for me at Dune?
  • Why am I paid what I’m paid?

We certainly had some confusion around roles and expectations, plus managers didn’t have anything to refer to — this meant conversations were going round in circles. We had issues with candidates where we couldn’t set the role expectation clearly enough — we lost someone, in part, due to that. Progression wasn’t clear but still wanted and again, that was putting extra pressure on our people managers.

It was, it seemed, time to implement levels and career frameworks at Dune 😲. At 20 people it wasn’t necessary, then what felt like overnight we were 60 and it made much more sense. Levels need to be in place by the time you reach 100 people imo, max. After that it becomes much harder to implement, harder to embed and you’re already in a bit of a mess when it comes to clarity and structure (looking back now, we were well on our way there).

🤔 Why

Sharing the themes from the engagement survey and explaining the ‘why’ was important context setting as a first step with the team. We shared that levelling frameworks:

  • Give clarity and set expectations for us all: A career framework defines the required competencies and behaviours for each level. This helps provide clarity on what is expected of us all in our current roles.
  • Provide the foundations for meaningful career progression: Enabling career progression is key to engage and retain our team. A framework by level can demonstrate career paths by defining what is required at the next level as well as showing what strong performance looks like in the current role.
  • Enable fair evaluation of performance and promotion: Defined levels mean we can assess people fairly and promote people based on the same criteria. It’s critical for removing subjectivity and bias — key for D&I and to our value of integrity.
  • Allow more transparency around pay and helps answer “why am I paid this”? Role + level + Dune’s compensation philosophy = your pay.

Below I’m going to share how we did it at Dune. It wasn’t perfect, but after a lot of hard work from many, we are in a much better position than we were a few months back. We have some strong foundations to move forward, to grow from. It’s just the start of getting the most out of these frameworks.

1. Agreeing the levels across the org

Before career frameworks, we needed to set distinct levels. We are only 60 people, numerous levels were unnecessary. At the same time, we wanted to design a level structure we could grow into and provide enough progression opportunities for our Duners. Other considerations were also to ensure we remained fast, nimble and non-hierarchical.

We agreed on 7️⃣ levels with defined Individual Contributor (IC) and Manager (MN) tracks.

2. Research and gathering examples to draw inspiration from

Once levels were established, the frameworks could be built. Starting point — Google. There are detailed and thoughtful frameworks available out there, the key was finding one that resonated with us. Some resources we found most useful: Engineering: Etsy, Dropbox, Monzo / Product: Dropbox, Wise, OpenTable 🙏

And for the rest, well, there is much, much less out there. I took a lot of inspiration from Juro’s career maps as well as other USV companies (which is such a great support network). We took a lot of inspiration from others who shared theirs; it feels only right to open up ours.

3. Key people to write the content

Leaders had the hefty task of drawing up the framework for their area of the business. I underestimated the effort that goes into that, and how overwhelming that task can feel to busy leaders. I tried to make it as easy as possible by sharing relevant examples, proposing a format and creating a template. Some deviated from the template (because it didn’t work for them), that was ok, the mission was just getting thoughtful content specific to Dune written down.


  • Speed, yes you shouldn’t rush it: We rushed a little as we had promised the team a pay review (and felt it was important to follow through with what we promised). The consequence was excess pressure on the leaders (the content writers) and not enough time given to the team to review the framework before they were levelled. This was a mistake.
  • Start with a company wide view. We dived right into functional career frameworks; which means we have good definitions and expectations set by function, but we have no overarching framework sharing a common set of competencies companywide. E.g. We don’t have a shared view on how people are expected to communicate across the business for example. Important in a fully remote org.

4. Input and feedback from the wider team

Critical. We created a team per area to review and critique the content. For engineering, it was our Engineering Managers and some Individual Contributors.

This part was invaluable. The EMs applied the framework to how it would work in practice; running through how it would land when they communicated it with their team. Comments such as “there isn’t enough distinction between L2 and L3” or “ do we really want to encourage X competency, don’t we want X instead at Dune” made the frameworks unique to Dune and reflect how we operate.

5. Communication and context setting

We shared multiple emails, opened discussions at All-Hands and shared an internal Notion page explaining what was coming, why and how it would impact the team. I recommend making your frameworks accessible, don’t have them hidden beneath links and folders. Have it on your central wiki so people can easily refer to it regularly (and feedback on it).

📎 Notion page here


  • Language matters. We got the most feedback in this area. It is hard defining ‘entry’ or ‘junior’ roles without inadvertently describing them as less important than the other levels (which of course isn’t correct). We changed the language we used but I’m sure we still haven’t got it right.

6. Levelling the team

The controversial bit. We approached this by asking both the manager and function leader (i.e. our CTO for engineering & product) to separately level each individual, based on the framework. When there was a disagreement, we got together to align.

To calibrate against teams we shared the initial company-wide levelling with each manager and gave them the chance to challenge each other. There were a handful of cases where we made adjustments based on these challenges — an essential step for equity across teams.

Frameworks create clarity, and force meaningful discussion around expectations. They can unearth potential unspoken misalignment between manager and individual. If the framework is written effectively then it should force these difficult conversations. I would say this was probably the hardest part of the process - we are talking about people’s careers after all!

Sharing the framework in advance, asking for feedback and explaining it was the first version seemed to help.

We combined the levelling conversations with pay discussions, with the aim that each person would have both clarity on their level, the associated expectation and what that means in terms of their compensation by the end of the process.

📎 Dune’s Career Frameworks (imperfect and still being iterated on but I hope helpful for some of you) : 👉Engineering 👉Product 👉Community 👉People

We haven’t finished and have a way to go. We have the V1 frameworks on Notion, the team are levelled and now have pay reflective of that level. However, we are far from done. We need to embed the frameworks into our performance and recruitment processes, we need to create more alignment across functions and we need leadership frameworks - some good projects for 2023!

💭 Thoughts and feedback really very welcome. Please share here

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