Is your company halting hiring? Perhaps you even had to let some good people go. No matter the case, surely you’ve seen LinkedIn posts suggesting that you learn how to “do more with less.” I’m not into that game. It can too quickly turn into a trap that gets good people working ridiculous hours, trying to hit unreal deadlines. Instead, I’ve been telling my clients now’s the time to simply do better. You don’t have to do more, per se. Just make sure that whatever work that does get done is better. How do you do that? Let’s start by making sure your team is getting better. After all, they’re the people you have for the next few quarters if you’re not hiring. We might as well create a win-win situation and improve. Here’s what my clients have found to work best…
The Anticlimactic Reveal: Coaching!
Yeah, it’s that straightforward, though experience shows that doesn’t mean it’s easy for many. When I work with executives and ask them to rate their coaching skills and that of their management team, they always seem to rank it relatively high. However, when I dig deeper, I realize that often, “coaching” seems to mean something else to them.
The basic notion I’ve been advocating for years is that every managerial role is mainly about the team you create, not its output. Your EMs’ direct output is the team itself. Therefore, they should spend a considerable amount of time helping their team members improve. That’s how good managers function as engineering force multipliers. The prescription I provide my clients is this:
- Every employee should have personal OKRs (or goals) for improvement.
- The employee and manager come up with these together (examples below).
- These should be tracked for periods of 2-3 months. After this time has passed, you should assess their progress, speak about it, and decide whether new goals are in order. I do not recommend using the same goals verbatim for more than six months.
- During the course of the 2-3 months, these goals should be a regular discussion point in your 1:1s. This is where the real coaching happens, not in merely setting the goals and letting them off on their own. Help them come up with scenarios to practice. Do some of the more tricky things with them, or pair them with someone else (perhaps someone whose goals include being a better mentor).
- Celebrate progress.
As I said, straightforward but not necessarily easy. The beauty of this, though, is that it can really help align an entire engineering organization on efficacy and becoming better. It also creates a platform for discussing weak points without anyone feeling assaulted. Whereas many companies provide meek feedback every 6 or 12 months, your managers will provide such focused feedback several times a month. Just as with why short iterations in agile work better, the same applies here. If you stick to this process, you’ll see your people improving considerably over the next year. That’s how your team will do better and not just bang on the keyboard faster to try and get more done.
This can be hard for many people at first, especially if you’re sitting in a room with the stereotypical quiet software engineer that doesn’t seem to have any ideas. Something that could help you is to consult your peers in similar situations. That’s why I launched the Leading Edge Club, a free community for startup executives. See here for more details. Anyway, I suggest collecting a “menu” your managers can refer to to get ideas and tailoring it to your team and culture. However, here’s a list of examples to get you started.
- Technical Skills:
- Explore new development tools or libraries.
- Practice other areas of development, e.g., frontend, backend, or mobile.
- Learn how different parts of the system work or study broader architectural matters.
- Leadership and Management Skills:
- Learn to delegate tasks effectively.
- Improve communication and presentation skills.
- Mentor junior engineers.
- Help onboard new team members.
- Collaboration and Teamwork:
- Foster open communication with people in the team and outside it.
- Become better at speaking up when it matters and providing helpful feedback.
- Build trust and resolve conflicts constructively.
- Review pull-requests in a more helpful manner.
- Product Mastery:
- Understand customer needs and pain points
- Participate in customer feedback sessions
- Contribute to the product roadmap and vision planning.
- Innovation and Creativity:
- Lead the team’s intermissions.
- Try and come up with tech capital examples (for more on this and the previous item, check the free sample chapter here).
- Place a good bet that might fight but can also become an amazing leap, such as integrating some AI capabilities.
- Time Management and Productivity:
- Develop effective prioritization skills.
- Learn to manage and mitigate distractions.
- Use tools and techniques to increase productivity.
- Become better at “raising a flag” when things go awry.
- Professional Development:
- Attend industry conferences and meetups.
- Participate in online developer communities.
- Develop a personal brand through blogging or public speaking.
Lastly, all of this is connected to my upcoming book, Capitalizing Your Technology to Disrupt and Dominate Your Markets. Sign up below to stay updated about its release and get a free sample chapter in the next couple of weeks!
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