Helping Your Development Team Achieve Their Goals

Does setting goals for your team end up looking like setting New Years Resolutions?

Week 1: You jump in wholeheartedly. Conversations are had. Goals are set. You even found a new Fancy Tool™ to track progress!

Week 2: Fancy Tool™ reminds you to check in on goal progress. Not too much progress yet, but we’re still moving.

Week 3: Fancy Tool™ emailed you to check in with the team. You were able to ask a few people at staff lunch how things were going with their goals.

Week 4: Busy week. Fancy Tool™ emailed, but you just didn’t have time to spend on it.

Week 5: Fancy Tool™ is getting really annoying. You archive the reminder email.

Week 6: Unsubscribe.

Week 12: Quarter is over. You sit down for Quarterly Reviews, but no goals have been achieved. Are you surprised? Somewhat. You figure the team would have accomplished something. I’m not their parent!

If this looks even remotely familiar, you aren’t placing a high enough value on your team’s growth; instead, you value their production. The effort was noble, but the follow-through was weak. In fact, you would probably have been better not even asking their goals because at least they wouldn’t be disappointed.

When you ask somewhat how they want to improve, advance their career, and contribute to your team, you owe it to them to make it a priority. Can you imagine a guidance counselor asking a Freshman where they want to go to college and then just expecting to hear they’ll be attending next Fall when their name is announced at graduation?

Goals are not something that gets checked off of a task list today. Their longer-term nature means they need tending to regularly. So, how did we fix this?

  • Prioritize: There are 40 working hours in most employee’s weeks. If every hour is filled with billable work, there is simply no room left to make progress on goals. It’s unfair to ask your team to work on their goals after hours, so when will they get done? Invest in your team by freeing up time to work on career development, you’ll see the returns through more maturity and increased loyalty to you and the company.
  • 1-on-1 Meetings: Everyone has a different level of self-motivation, especially when it comes to personal development. If you’re having regular 1-on-1 meetings (you are, right?), this is a natural time to check in on progress since last time you met. No progress? Ask why. It’s imperative that you, as a manager of engineers, know what hurdles you can remove to clear the track for your team. Perhaps the goal is too big, break it down into smaller goals. Maybe they’ve had a change of heart, find new goals. Sometimes they won’t know where to start, point them to the starting line.
  • Rewards: When your developers achieve their goals, reward them. They set a target and hit it. The reward doesn’t have to be monetary either; many appreciate recognition as much or more than money. The “Team MVP” trophy, parking in the reserved spot, or an announcement in the team chat are all great ways to recognize a job well done.

As a manager, it’s your job to lead your team. It’s your job to make their priorities your priority (while of course still running a profitable business). You must clear the path and provide the space for them to grow or they’ll find somewhere else to grow instead.