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Engineering manager: Growing your team is your job

3 steps to actively grow your team.



As a software engineer manager you wear many hats:

  • a technical advisor to guide complexity and tradeoff discussions

  • a project manager to track delivery of work

  • a coordinator to streamline non-blocking cross teams dependencies

  • a negotiator to fend off unrealistic requests from the other departments or founders

  • a company promoter to sell your organization to recruit talents

  • a pre and post-sale supporter to ensure potential and existing customers are happy with your product

  • a coach to ensure all your team members are happy and motivated

  • a mentor in your organization

  • a performance evaluator on a yearly or ad-hoc basis


One important role that is usually overlooked and often gets offloaded to HR organizations is that of actively growing your team.


Many have come to believe that employee learning & development, career management, and performance management are responsibilities of your HR organization. We are here to advocate the belief that the most impactful investment you can make as a manager is that of providing an employee growth framework.


Now...you already know that growing your employees is pivotal to the company's success.


David Cancel, a serial entrepreneur and current CEO at Drift, provides the following summary:

I've concluded that 99 percent of what makes businesses successful comes down to people.

https://www.inc.com/david-cancel/i-led-companies-through-2-downturns-heres-what-i-learned.html


David here does not say anything new. At some level we all know and are constantly being told just that. And yet, what level of effort have you put into actively growing your employees?


When asking engineering leaders How do you grow your team? the typical response we get is that growth-related discussions happen once a year and are always connected with the review process. Almost always this is triggered by the yearly promotion cycle.

There are a couple of key points from this response:

  • Employee growth discussion happens once a year

  • Employee growth is part of the review process

  • Employee growth = promotion

  • Promotion opportunities are annual cyclical.

Evidently, we don't agree with these take aways.


In the rest of the blog post we'll give you a step-by-step guide for how to turn employee growth into a continuous process you can implement into your organization to unlock its potential.


SO HOW DO YOU DO IT? How do you include employee growth into your work?


It's a simple 3 steps process, very similar to how you execute your other deliverables:

  1. Create and define goals

  2. Set a baseline and remove assumptions

  3. Create a plan to achieve the goals and review the plan regularly


Create and define goals


You already do this regularly. Before you start a software project, you define what outcome you want. So the first step of the process is to define the scope of ownership and responsibility for your engineers.


Extract from example growth profile


We call these Growth Profiles.


Sign up below to get notified on another blog specifically outlining the tips on defining these Growth Profiles.


If you are in a large corporation, your HR team may already have similar structures sometimes referred to as the career ladders. It's important that 1) you agree with them, and 2) you can internalize them for your team and explain each criteria with an example.


If you don't already have a set, Actagan provides templates for both individual contributor (IC) and manager roles you can adapt for your unique needs.



Set a baseline and remove any assumptions


Once you have a working set of Growth Profiles, the next step is to bridge an individual contributor's perception of work performance with yours, their manager. We call this process a Perception Exercise, where both an individual contributor and manager write down their own perception of an IC's work performance.


Consider the Perception Exercise between a manager and an IC:

  • Manager assigns their perceived performance level for an IC

  • The IC assigns their own perception of their performance.

  • Both manager and IC perceptions are done independent of each other.

  • Once the perception exercises are completed, the manager and IC meet to discuss symmetry or asymmetry in perception.

  • The perception exercises are an ideal opportunity for a manager to learn what employee growth means for their IC and establish the basic building blocks for employee growth conversations.


Create a plan to achieve the goals and review it regularly


The next step is to establish a growth plan comprehending of an ICs vision of growth, business impact, and viability.


Typically, after the Perception Exercise, the areas that a team member can work on are very apparent:

  1. areas where manager perception is lower than employee perception

  2. areas where employee perception is lower than prescribed by growth profiles.

  3. areas where an employee is very strong at and aims to continue and improve upon those strengths

During this phase it is important to guide an employee towards growth opportunities that best align with business impact. We find that this alignment delivers the best incentive to succeed.


Once the plan is identified it is best to use a tool to track progress and have regular conversations about it.


A lot of software teams use a version of the Kanban board to track software project. We find a Kanban board to be an effective tool for tracking career growth progress as well.


It's also important to review the growth plan regularly, similar to how you review a project's Kanban board. We recommend performing this career growth review with your employee during your 1-on-1 meeting on a monthly cadence to ensure that you both are still aligned towards that vision of growth and opportunities.


We also recommend you to have more effective 1-on-1 meetings that go beyond getting status updates from your team. Status updates can be done through email or slack messages before the 1-on-1 meetings. And both the managers and team members can drop down topics as agenda for 1-on-1 meetings so both parties can prepare for the meetings.




Follow the 3 steps process and build growth into your organization.

  1. Define the growth profiles

  2. Complete perception exercise

  3. Establish and regularly review your team member growth plans

Building growth in your organization is a responsibility that you wholly own, and you can't delegate because it uniquely defines you as a manager and leader.



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