Focussing On Skills Rather Than Only Titles

Honey Bansal

Engineering Manager at Google



During performance reviews, some of your direct reportees are anxiously waiting for their promotion, and you are bracing yourself for a few tough conversations. Some of your reports feel that they had great performance in the previous cycle and yet they didn't get rewarded the "next level" title. It is important to work with them to make sure they really understand what is "their" next level of growth.

Actions taken

I invest a lot of time in connecting with my team members, trying to understand where each of them is coming from. What are their "life stories" and what motivates them. I work with them in a mentor-mentee relationship than just their manager. It allows me to highlight their strengths and values that sometimes they themselves may not be aware of.

"I challenge my team members to think about their 'personal brand'. This brand should highlight the uniqueness that they bring to the table."

Different people can have different skills, and in a team setting, these skills can complement each other, making the team collectively excel at their goals. I coach them to not get lost in a race of getting to the "next level" at the expense of building their core skills or worse, not being what they really are. If the skills required for the next level don't align with their personal brand, it is time to do more thinking about what does 'next level' really mean to them.

While mentoring my team members, I also explain that every company, depending on the size or industry, may have a different career trajectory. The titles may not be transferable, but skills are always transferable. So if you have the right skills, titles will come.

I focus my conversations on what skills they tried to build in the past year and what skills they want to build in this coming year. Thinking of skills not from the company's perspective but also from an industry perspective. Building that unique personal brand is a very fulfilling journey and gives a great sense of achievement with every step. Once you get your folks on that journey, titles and promotions will follow.

Lessons learned

Once people start thinking about their brand, they're able to think of themselves in a much bigger context, and they start to build value for themselves and the company. They stop competing with each other on the team and start to add value with the uniqueness they bring. This does take a significant investment of time and energy but at the end creates happy and motivated employees. Who would not want that!

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Honey Bansal

Engineering Manager at Google

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