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Taking care of your direct reports’ career growth.

Managing Up
Managing Expectations
Scaling Team
Career Path

6 December, 2017

Heemeng Foo
Heemeng Foo

Head of Quality Engineering at Rocket Lawyer

An engineer on Heemeng’s team had been at the same level for a very long time. Heemeng decided to be proactive and rolled out a plan for his career growth.

Problem

I once had an engineer in my team who had been working at the same level for a very long time. He was performing well at that level but companies look for people who want to grow and he was not proactive moving forward. If I asked myself "Who should stay, who should go?", he would not be one of the ones I'd keep, as he did not have what it took at that time to be promoted to a senior engineer.

Actions taken

We have 4 levels of ICs, from "Fresh Graduate" to "Senior Engineer". He had been IC2 for seven years now. I cared about him and wanted him to succeed, so I decided to "wake him up" and to help him realize that he should think about his own career growth. I told him my concerns regarding his current level for his future in the company and clearly explained to him why he could not be promoted. As I was older, I used my experience to open up his eyes to the fact that at his age, he should seriously consider his career growth. It was a really difficult conversation but he also came to the realization that he needed to focus on his career. Starting from there, I told him that "I want to work with you to IC3 and to do so, I'll shoot for IC4 expectations" and we rolled out a plan together. I gave him a project that he'd be solely accountable for: preparing a test platform prototype so it would be production ready, and I made sure my expectations were clear. There were many times when he was discouraged, but I explained to him that it is part of growth. Growth is always uncomfortable and sometimes we need to fall down to run fast. Slowly, he has been picking up steam and is currently on track and will most probably make it.

Lessons learned

The first lesson I have taken from this is that managers must take care of their team. Whenever you feel like a team member is not at the level they should be, it's your role to be proactive and to trigger their growth. Also, giving an engineer a challenge to prove themselves can only be successful when done in the proper way. This involves:

  • providing clear expectations, where the engineer understands they have full ownership, are personally accountable, and are aware of the impact their project has.
  • making sure the engineer can focus on that challenge, by ensuring they are free from other tasks.
  • regular one-on-ones to keep track of their progress.

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