How to handle the Performance Management of a Senior Team Member

Archana Chaudhary

Senior Engineering Manager at Adobe



About two years ago at Adobe, I was managing someone who was a very senior front-end architect. Adobe was going through some transformation, where our group was becoming more integrated into the larger corporation. During this time, a senior front-end engineer, who used to have a lot of control, felt that he was losing control. This really demotivated him, and he started to be rude to others. He was was very harsh during code reviews and would snap at people during meetings. He was an excellent engineer. His work productivity started going down and his bullying continued.

Actions taken

My challenge was that the architect was at least 10-years more experienced than me and would not accept me as his mentor. I had to manage him with strategy not tactically. The first step I took was to have a conversation with him to explain how valuable he was to the team, both in terms of his knowledge and his front-end design capabilities. He responded well. This allowed me to continue our conversation. I explained that recently there had been some issues with team members complaining that his comments were too harsh and that team felt he was insulting them. He was defensive and said "I demand high quality from team members, and I am not here to be nice". I had to be assertive and stayed on the facts about his harsh remarks which were not acceptable. To keep the team intact, I expected him to change his behavior. Staying to the point and on facts helped in my first conversation. He bounced back well. Although he expressed maybe his role wasn't the right fit for him anymore, and perhaps he should look for another job. I was okay with his inclination to move out. I knew you can't force people to change. I mentioned to be that if he would be happier in a different role, he should pursue that. I did not change how I behaved with him, during these difficult conversations. Instead, I kept repeating the message that he was still valued and welcome but that he does need to change his behavior towards other team members. This strategic messaging had a real impact on him. He realized he was in a work environment where he was valued. After two weeks, I asked him about how he was doing. He told me that he was interested in remaining in his role and wanted me to help him to change and grow in the organization.
I began coaching him. He started delegating more so he would have some more free time to work on things that are important to him. Learning to delegate also helped him to learn to trust more junior engineers with the work he was doing.

Lessons learned

The architect is still working in my group, designing robust FE architectures. When you deal with more senior people, you need to give them a high-level view of what is going on, rather than just working with them on a tactical basis. They don't want to be told what to do. They have a vision and want to know why they are important to your company and why the work they are doing is important. They will take care of the rest once they know the big picture.

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Archana Chaudhary

Senior Engineering Manager at Adobe

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