Avoiding Surprises: Employee Career Management

“All of a sudden he came to me and told me he thinks it’s time for him to move to another team”

“She left us to be a manager, but never told me she wanted to be a manager”

You’ve probably heard quotes like these, and if you’ve been in management long enough, it’s likely something that happened to you It’s easy to be angry at these employees for “springing” their career goals on you. Paradoxically it’s the junior engineers who expect to advance and change roles more often than more experienced engineers. Nowadays it seems like these cycles are getting shorter and shorter

Yet it’s not their fault, at least not entirely. Your great developers, those with the most potential, are usually great mainly because they are motivated to keep advancing themselves. Those are the people that make it their business to know where the industry’s headed, read, experiment, go to meetups, participate in open source, speak at conferences, etc.

Can you really expect these people to be exposed to the firehose of advancements all around and not eventually feel like they’re not moving as fast as they should be?

The fact is this: if you were surprised about these career goals as a manager, it means you’ve neglected some of your managerial duties. You should always be actively thinking about the personal development of your team and where they should be headed in the organization (or out of it).

You should bring up their personal improvement regularly on 1-on-1s. Ask them to describe their progress in the last couple of months, triggering introspection instead of having them focus on not using the latest library Hacker News is raving about. Describe in your own words what changes you’re seeing.

And discuss their goals. Is there more responsibility they’d like to take on in the team? Are they interested in trying management? This is your spot to provide external feedback as well. A junior developer that talks about moving to a new team because they already mastered iOS, yet you don’t agree they’re there? You should have been providing them feedback months ago about how you see their progress.

Someone is less likely to leave or surprise you if you provide a platform to share these thoughts and grow, trigger these broad picture discussions, and show them that you are genuinely thinking about this with them–vested in their success and progress as well.

Start now by creating professional development plans for your employees. Put it on your calendar to regularly review and adjust these as needed. Doing so will reduce surprises, improve your own team structure planning and create a more healthy relationship and culture all around.

A big thanks to Yon Bergman for his help with this article