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How to Help Your Reports Grow and Pursue Their Goals

Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Career Path

27 September, 2020

Himanshu Gahlot, Director of Engineering at Lambda School, shares how he used his own learnings to support his direct reports and help them grow in their careers.

Problem

As an engineer, several times in my career I had felt that my career could have been managed better had I been given more opportunities, mentorship, and career guidance. Having worked in many teams, I got to experience the management style of different managers. I also got to see their approach to managing the career growth of their team members. When I became a manager, I became resolute to use my experience with different managers in formulating a strategy of my own towards managing the growth of my directs. I picked up the things that I appreciated about my managers and improved the ones that I thought were not great.
 

Actions taken

I started out by creating a document called a Career Development Plan (CDP) which is an iterated version of a template I came across in one of my previous companies. To make it more impactful I developed a process that would support that document and decided to make one-on-ones a central piece of the whole process.
 

During one-on-ones, I would discuss with my reports if they had made any progress in their CDP. Their CDP would detail all the criteria required to move to the next level, including specific tasks they should be working on to get there. As a manager, I was responsible to provide them with those opportunities, and if I didn’t, they could hold me accountable for not providing enough guidance for them to fulfill those criteria. At any given moment they could question if I was assigning them the right projects or tasks and if those have been aligned with their career goals. Most of the time my reports were unable to achieve noticeable progress within two weeks and if there were no updates on their progress, we would discuss other career-related matters (for example, if they were considering other roles, long-term goals, etc.).
 

I would be as encouraging as possible during those conversations since I had noticed that most people were hesitant to discuss their careers, particularly promotions and compensation. People often feel uncomfortable because they don’t know what would be the right time to bring up these conversations. They would be overly concerned about what their manager would think of them or if they are already performing at the level that would allow them to initiate these types of conversation. Therefore I would encourage them to speak up freely and question if the timeline they targeted for promotion aligns with the timeline I projected.
 

If someone would express their intent to transition to a different role I would use a document called a Transition Development Plan (TDP) to track their transition. For example, if an engineer would want to transition to a PM role, they should initiate the process by connecting with a PM mentor, and then work to acquire some PM-specific skills and become involved in the completion of some PM-related tasks. The process should be time-bound and goal-oriented and their TDP should list specific tasks (writing a requirements document for the upcoming project within the next four weeks, for example). When a person completes most of these tasks, the transition could happen. My role would be to help my reports own their career. Instead of telling them what to do with their career, I want to provide them with all the opportunities, including those that would allow them to prepare for a transition to a new role.
 

I also made sure that everyone had an opportunity to have a mentor. I would encourage it by including a section in the CDP that states the name of a mentor. Though optional, it is highly encouraged and if they were unable to connect with a mentor I would suggest several names and help them connect with their mentors. One of my direct reports, after a few months of mentorship, successfully transitioned from an IC to a manager role.
 

Lessons learned

  • Being a manager means being responsible for your team’s happiness. If someone aspires to be promoted or to transition to a new role, you should create opportunities and enable them to do so. As a manager, you should help your direct reports to make the right career decisions even if that means that some would leave. Retaining people is just one of the choices.
  • When I became a manager I became resolute to use the right kind of processes for the right kind of things. For example, I would update a project status sheet myself on a regular basis and cover project status during stand-ups. That allowed me to use one-on-ones to talk about different things -- their agenda items, how they are doing, what they want to work on, etc.
  • I wanted to normalize the talk about career -- every time is the right time to talk about your career, promotion, or transition -- and people should not be afraid to talk about these things whenever they want.

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