Individual Contributors play an essential role within a development team and organisation. Engineering managers are in charge of leading and managing Individual Contributors to successful outcomes while ensuring workplace happiness. More importantly, as most engineering managers were once Individual Contributors, they are uniquely positioned to relate and empathise with the individuals working in their team.
As each contributor brings their personality to the table, engineering managers sometimes need to adjust their approach to motivate and inspire them when workload increases or pressures build up.
This article will explore five strategies engineering managers can leverage to inspire and motivate Individual Contributors.
Setting Clear Goals and Expectations
Individual Contributors must know what is expected of them. This helps people feel secure and gives them a purpose within the organisation. Once expectations are set, individual contributors can begin to understand their roles and determine how they can contribute to the entire team’s success.
Using SMART goals: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound can help guide Individual Contributors to deliver real value on time.
While project goals are important, personal goals are equally important. You must always be conscious as an engineering leader that individual contributors have ambitions to learn and master technologies that may or may not be related to the current stack they’re working on.
It’s worthwhile setting yearly personal goals so that they feel like they are working towards progressing their career objectives, not just the company’s business goals.
Providing Ongoing Feedback and Support
Continuous and positive feedback helps individual contributors thrive in their position.
Feedback can be given daily, weekly or monthly through several activities such as:
- Async check-ins on Slack
- 1:1 Meetings
- Quarterly Goal Realignments
Creating a solid rapport with Individual Contributors can help make this process smoother. Ongoing support can help Individual Contributors better understand their strengths and weaknesses and allow engineering managers to step into mentorship positions when and if needed.
The most important part of this process is keeping your word as a manager. Don’t commit to helping Individual Contributors meet their goals if six months go by and you haven’t spoken about it once. A level of trust and dependency should be held in the utmost regard. When things get tough, Engineering Managers must remain calm and guide Individual Contributors to the best possible outcomes.
Furthermore, sometimes Individual Contributors have bad days. Support, in this case, may have nothing to do with work and business goals. It may require you to show more empathy and understanding than usual.
Encouraging and Supporting Career Development
It should not be taken for granted that Individual Contributors’ have their own career goals. These goals may often not, or potentially never, align fully with the purposes of the company they work for. Engineering managers must respect that. Showing genuine interest in an individual’s career development can naturally motivate them.
Company policies can go a long way to aiding engineering managers in such goals:
- Professional Development budgets
- Paid / Sponsored conferences and trips
- Encouraging up-skilling in fields that benefit the individual and the company
- Assigning them responsibility on projects that will help them develop their skills.
Whereas having conversations about career trajectories outside the current company may feel awkward and inappropriate, Individual Contributors will likely move on at some point in the future. Their position under your supervision will provide them with skills and experience that will encourage them later in life, so you should treat any Individual Contributor in a way that their tenure with you contributes positively to their career.
Recognising and Rewarding Contributions
Recognising and rewarding an individual’s hard work can increase morale and motivation. Recognising is more important than rewarding. Public recognition in front of peers or non-technical stakeholders of the company can go a long way. It should be noted that recognition applies to more than just great code:
- great teamwork,
- going above and beyond,
- and making a concerted effort to improve, can all be recognised in a meaningful way.
Hard work and that extra 10% should always be respectfully valued as it highlights Individual Contributors who are passionate about their roles and responsibilities.
Fostering a Positive and Inclusive Work Environment
Attempt to keep dialogues and hard conversations positive and inclusive. Transparent communication across teams and hierarchies can ensure individual contributors feel respected and included in everyday business and technical decisions. It brings team members closer together and breaks down cultural and personal barriers.
Encourage an environment of making mistakes that can be learned from and address team feedback as often as possible. Perhaps most importantly, if you, as an engineering manager, can establish a well-knit and robust community within your engineering team, it will encourage Individual Contributors to work hard and want to work.
These are the beginnings of great, grass-root company culture — something which is highly sort after in the tech industry and often separates good companies from great companies.
By ensuring Individual Contributors are inspired and motivated to come to work with a positive attitude and a willingness to work hard, the entire business can experience successful delivery of value. Setting SMART business and personal goals for Individual Contributors can help them navigate what’s expected of them. Providing ongoing feedback and support can help them feel secure and that someone is on their side if they encounter a challenge.
Furthermore, creating a positive work environment and celebrating success can help Individual Contributors feel recognised and valued.