Not All Seniors Are Created Equal

Senior, Staff, Principal, Sergeant, Lead, any many more are common in our industry, as everyone are getting words added to their titles. What too often goes unnoticed is that words have meanings. At least, they should.

I always say that these titles should come hand in hand with the responsibility to be active and present in the continuous improvement of the team. A senior engineer that effectively never talks to anyone isn’t of much help.

Here’s a quick exercise: Take a second and think about your typical meetings, reviews, retrospectives, etc. As you have 3 senior persons in the room, how often to they speak up? To be blunt, they shouldn’t just be pulling their own weights, they should be pushing every discussion forward.

I expect seniors to put aside cynicism as default, and aid in guiding discussions by bridging between the different counterparts in the room and clearly stating issues and ways to improve. You know what, I’ll settle for speaking up.

Seniors that don’t speak up and participate, that don’t take ownership about decisions and the team, are a bad indicator.

Causes for ineffective seniority

In my experience with my clients these boil down to either an autonomy issue or a problem in your career ladders.

Appropriate autonomy is critical, and I talk about it a lot as one of the 3 parts of my method for achieving teams that deliver. Your people, especially seniors, should have complete ownership and buy into the mindset that they have a say in how things are working. There should also be no fear of speaking up when they disagree. These are culture issues that leadership can solve very quickly with the proper guidance.

The other cause is, unfortunately, harder to tackle. If your hiring process or career ladder advancement are lacking in a way that puts people in the wrong “boxes” – you’re going to have a bad time. Hiring someone as a Staff/Principal or other upper-seniority positions, only to realize they are not active in shaping the team is a crucial error.

You can still correct course, but it means reviewing your hiring process, expectations setting, and your regular mentoring process.

Coming back to our exercise from earlier: how do you think you’re shaping up? If you’re not satisfied with the picture you’ve got in mind, remember that it all starts with you, and you’ve got the power to change it.