Growing Your Career When Everything You've Ever Learned Before no Longer Works

This is the fifth of a twelve-part series covering the sessions from Calibrate, an engineering leadership conference held September, 2015 in San Francisco.

The Three Questions to Answer for Everyone You Manage

“You are successful to the degree that you can align the right work to the right people.” - Kieran Snyder

Kieran Snyder would know, she’s been managing people for over 10 years on teams of all sizes. Identifying what the right work is and who the right people are is the challenge. Like any great leader, instead of telling us exactly how to do it, Kieran, now CEO and Cofounder of the text analytics startup Textio, provides a framework for managers to get to know their team.

Every engineer has a story, and knowing their story will help you align the team for maximum happiness and productivity. Answer the following three questions about each of your reports, she recommends. Be specific, be explicit, write it down!

1. What do they do better than the other engineers?

Consider other engineers you’ve worked with in your career and consider what each of your current reports does exceptionally well. Examples Kieran offers include:

  • Melissa stays calm in a crisis
  • River’s code never causes regressions

Now you know that Melissa can handle production bugs and River can manage the next refactor. Knowing what makes each engineer strong will help keep you, and them, happy to be doing the work that they’re doing.

2. Where do they find their happy place?

Discover how your reports best work and communicate. If it’s not your style, Kieran notes, “that’s not important. As a manager you meet people where they are.”

3. What does stress look like?

Understanding the different ways people deal with pressure can minimize the fallout from a misaligned workload. Maybe one team member moves really fast, maybe another halts working completely. A proactive approach to identifying your reports manifestation of stress will help you as you align and load balance the team’s efforts.

We’ve compiled a document to get you started: The Three Questions to Answer for Everyone You Manage

Being able to answer these questions was only one of the takeaway’s from Kieran’s talk at Calibrate. For more insight, watch the entire video: “Growing Your Career When Everything You’ve Learned Before No Longer Works”.