Empowering Employees by Promoting In-house
VP Engineering at Sonatype
Once, I joined an organization that was of significant size but didn't yet have engineering managers in place, so I initially had dozens of direct reports. This is an aspect of organizational debt. I thought employees and teams would get better support if engineering managers were in place and I would be more effective working with a team of managers. Establishing the role and appropriately fulfilling it would be essential in the continued scaling of the organization. The challenge involved learning about the people, culture, operations, and figuring out how to proceed without negatively impacting the organization.
My first action was to try to understand the state of things by speaking with every member of the organization, observing the teams and operations. I had a series of subsequent conversations with members that appeared to be exerting leadership related to people, technology, and projects. From these conversations, I gained insight on potential internal candidates for future roles. I learned many things in the process and validated my assumption that the engineering manager role was missing in the organization and there would be value in having this role established.
I proceeded with more conversations to discuss the potential engineering manager role with several individuals, get their feedback, and start forming a shared understanding and vision. These conversations were held with people I saw with potential for the role and people in other roles who would work closely engineering managers. Although many people would be first-time managers, I thought it was important to promote from within for various reasons, including institutional, product, technical, and cultural.
At this point, I had the outline of a plan: the need of a new role, the responsibilities for the role, how many positions needed, internal candidates to fill some of the positions, areas where we would need to look outside the organization, and an approach to implement the changes. I made a proposal to executive leadership, got their buy-in, including budget support.
The next steps involved rolling out the changes, holding discussions with each group to explain the reasons and intent for the changes, ongoing support to the engineering managers and the groups to ensure the organization adjusted successfully. Patience is important, often times many conversations have to be had to get alignment in understanding, but eventually we all assimilate.
Adding new roles in an organization can be challenging, one has to consider the current context and culture of the company, what the consequences will be, and be ready to devote the energy to institute and support the change. Leveraging existing members in an organization is often a good approach; it enables leveraging existing talent, allowing them to grow, and it signals to others that growth opportunities exist. It can reduce the risk of the organization rejecting a change. Make sure roles are clear and well understood and the new managers are well-supported so they can successfully transition and grow to a high level of maturity.
"Establishing the role and appropriately fulfilling it would be essential in the continued scaling of the organization."
"Adding new roles in an organization can be challenging, one has to consider the current context and culture of the company, what the consequences will be, and be ready to devote the energy to institute and support the change."
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VP Engineering at Sonatype
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