Uniting Personal and Professional Development on Your Team

Coaching / Training / Mentorship
Career Path
Motivation

12 March, 2020

Tim Barnes

Tim Barnes

Senior Engineering Manager at Instacart

Tim Barnes, Senior Engineering Manager at Instacart, explains his perspective on why most people leave their current company and why he now consistently invests in individuals personal and professional development.

Problem

I have been at numerous early stage companies without a formal recruiting team, and so I have been responsible for filling this need. I spent a lot of time sourcing people, conducting phone screens, and getting candidates through the hiring process. Many times, there could be 200 potential candidates for just one open role. I invested a lot of time in recruiting and learned a lot about why people start looking for their next career opportunity. A major reason is that candidates aren’t learning or progressing in their current role. I had rarely heard that people were leaving their position because they wanted to make more money. Instead, it was because of something completely avoidable-- they weren’t learning anything. They had gotten to a certain point and hit a ceiling. This realization drew me to focus on how I could prevent this from happening within my organization. If I was spending that much time trying to recruit top-talent, how could I ensure that I did everything I could to retain them?
 

Actions taken

For me it was a very easy change that didn’t require a large investment of time or money. I began to plan based on what my team members wanted to work on and what they needed to improve upon in order to help them get to the next level of their career. This was an integral part of our roadmap and became an ongoing process that was addressed weekly, if not daily. We aimed at aligning professional development with personal development. It was no longer an afterthought or something that we did through a single budget of books or conferences. Instead, this was something that each team member could incorporate into their work.
 

I initiated this conversation during six-month performance reviews. These meetings are typically organized in a top-down fashion, but I like to reverse the framework as well. I ask each person questions like: What is the company doing for you? What can I do for you? What are you learning and where do you feel stagnant? This not only let’s me know if someone has hit their ceiling, but gives them the time to open up about areas they’re interested in.
 

After these meetings, I will ask the team to get involved early in the roadmapping process. There is a brainstorming session to address the set of themes given by leadership. These themes are very broad ideas so it’s the team’s task to decide how it will all work. After, I’ll bring what we’ve come up with back to individuals during our one-on-ones. I ask what we are missing, what aspects of our product or code base are fragile, and what we should be looking for in the next six months. I put the ownership on the team, so they are involved and invested in the roadmap. Plus, it promotes the inclusion of growth and development that we discussed during the performance reviews.
 

Lessons learned

  • Learning and development are easy to address, if you think about them and keep them top of mind.
  • Put yourself in the shoes of one of your reports. Do you feel like you would need to switch companies to learn something new? If so, you are not doing enough as a leader to support the growth of individuals. If you hear that somebody is bored, stagnant, or unhappy because they are not progressing— these should be red flags that something needs to change.
  • If you’re an IC or first time manager and don’t think you are progressing, be transparent about these feelings. Don’t just threaten to leave. Bring up the issue early with your manager and discuss what you would like to see improve for your career progression. If you don’t think you’re working on the right projects or you’re not making a big enough impact, explain why you feel this way. Bring examples of what you would like to work on to help illustrate this for your manager. This also gives a path for improving the problem, instead of just complaining about the problem. Your manager may not approve 100% of your plan, but at least you have shared the changes you’d like to see.
  • To managers: Jobs are short, but careers are long. The people you meet along the way are the most important assets you have. So when you are really investing in a person, make sure they are not only progressing on your projects, but learning and progressing individually. These are people that may want to follow you to your next company because you have developed a relationship based on trust and respect.

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