How to Encourage Your Direct Reports to Do Their Best Work

Manu Gurudatha

Head of Engineering, Incident Management at PagerDuty


Encouraging Growth Among Direct Reports

How can a manager build a workplace where the best ideas can give birth and flourish?

During my time at one of the previous companies, one of the lead engineers talked about having an idea for a new product. The person had a strong reputation for having excellent technical knowledge, but we did not have a good structure to give this person the time and flexibility to test it out.

Create an Environment for Good Ideas to Surface and Flourish

I asked the engineer to reduce their regular sprint workload for a few weeks before an upcoming hackathon, to give the person a little more time to build and validate their idea. I proposed to them to take it to an upcoming company hackathon, where they did a great job of putting a much more comprehensive product idea.

Initially, I had to encourage and do high-level brainstorming on how we could potentially craft something creative 一 establishing the floor to explore, and putting a stronger emphasis on building the end-to-end feature. It was a tailored approach that worked for this person because of their strong technical background and proven delivery.

I placed my trust and confidence in this lead engineer, even though it might have been a loss of productivity for a few weeks. As we did not have a structure to let everyone in the teamwork on exploratory ideas, in this case, I could take a chance because of the previous work history of the person.

The person was ready to go above and beyond for the project, which made me believe that even if we fail, we would still end up learning something valuable.

The lead engineer won the hackathon, but instead of just accepting the prize money, they requested to have lunch with the President of the company. They pitched their idea, and it got funded to build a new product. Today, this product is a substantial revenue-generating product, which grew out of a 1:1 meeting.

Trust Your Engineers and Trust Your Instincts

  • Identify the raw horsepower in your teams, and they exist in various forms. Identifying them and allowing them to bring their best to reality is the difficult and fulfilling part of engineering leaders.
  • Create an environment where your team members can stretch their knowledge, try new ideas, and even possibly fail. The worst-case scenario could be some loss of productivity out of that person, which is okay, but on the brighter side, they will have higher morale, build a growth mindset, and an opportunity to innovate.
  • Trust your instincts and take the risk of doing something different. Betting on your trusted employees might end up surprising you in ways you had never imagined.
  • Once you have established guidelines for them, get out of their way because the person working on the project would know how to get through the hurdles to make it possible.

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Manu Gurudatha

Head of Engineering, Incident Management at PagerDuty

Engineering LeadershipLeadership DevelopmentCommunicationOrganizational StrategyDecision MakingCulture DevelopmentEngineering ManagementSprint CadencePerformance Metrics

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