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How to Create a Tailored Growth Plan For Your Teams

Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Career Path

10 June, 2021

Shruti Venkatesh, Engineering Manager at Capsule, talks about her inspiring journey to help engineers leverage the career ladder to grow in their role.

Problem

It is no surprise that most companies have a career ladder. The question is: how many companies have a well-defined career ladder? When asked, many employees say that they are not sure if they are meeting expectations at their level as defined by the career ladder, and what they need to do to reach the next level. Sometimes this lack of detail in the ladder and the difficulty in mapping their own work to the expectations laid out could hinder a promotion. Joining a company with only 25 engineers and an unclear career ladder was the first time I had to deal with this situation.

In a younger startup, everyone paves their own way and enjoys wearing different hats. However, this makes it doubly hard for a manager to understand what level an engineer is performing at and what the next level for them would be. I faced this myself at the beginning of my career and I did not want history to repeat itself once I became a manager. At the time that I joined the company, we couldn’t do much about making changes to the ladder itself but I wanted to make sure that my engineers had enough clarity on what constitutes progress in their career.

Actions taken

The first thing I did was get to a baseline. I thought about the engineers who directly reported to me. What were their strengths and weaknesses? What is it that they were working towards? The next step for me was to identify areas where they might get better and find opportunities for them to hone these skills. This analysis helped me figure out my goals for them in the next 6 months.

Post this, I worked with them to set some clear goals at the start of every performance cycle. My mind was racing with thoughts about future opportunities, and I found four questions that they could answer to help me narrow these down

  • What skills did they want to master as an engineer?
  • What experiences did they want to have?
  • What type of activities did they like doing the most?
  • What impact did they envision having during their career?

I gave them a couple of weeks to get back to me with answers to the questions and for us to go over them together. I was able to form an idea of what their motivations were once I had their answers. I already had my goals for them, but having their input helped me develop a targeted growth plan.

Next, I looked at the team roadmap over the next quarter and tried to identify areas where an engineer’s interests and my goals for them could best overlap. For instance, if we identified that a goal for an engineer was for them to lead a mid-sized multi-engineer project end-to-end, I would look at the roadmap and find a project where they could take ownership and run it from start to finish. If the identified goal for a younger engineer was for them to dive deeper into system design, I would find space in our R&D bucket to develop a minor enhancement to the system and drive it forward. The engineer could then brainstorm the design for the enhancement and build it from start to finish.

We also investigated some extracurricular activities they might be interested in— i.e. did they want to learn a new skill? Did they want to present one of their ideas at the company-wide level? As their manager, I could then surface or create any opportunities that would help them achieve these goals. All this while, I would try to make sure we had enough examples of their outcomes mapped to the career ladder so that when the performance review cycles came around, it was easy for me to make a push to reward my engineers appropriately for their stellar work.

The outcome of this effort was that engineers had clarity on their goals for the next six months and on how it would help them grow both within the company and as professionals. It helped with retention as they were doing work that they found interesting while making meaningful contributions to the company. Most importantly, they were able to hone some additional skills that might not have been a part of their job description. The engineers felt engaged and involved with the broader organization as they were able to leverage opportunities outside of their day to day work. It was a win-win situation for both the company and the engineers.

Lessons learned

  • At the start of a performance cycle, be clear about your goals for the team. Have a sense of what you want them to accomplish while working with them regarding what they would like to achieve.
  • Ask questions to your team members when in doubt. It helps in finding an intersection between your goals and theirs.
  • Building a specialized plan for your engineers helps with retention. They feel acknowledged, motivated and are able to track their progress as per a plan that is tailored according to their strengths and opportunities.

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