Witnessing a junior team member fresh out of school gain the skills and experiences they need to be able to take on larger scoped and bigger impact challenges is one of the most satisfying aspects of being an engineering manager. As managers one of our important responsibilities is to help our team members achieve their career aspirations.

What is Personal Growth Plan?

As its name suggests, a personal growth plan is a plan which captures the direction your team member wants to advance their career towards. It contains concrete steps they can take to move in a desired direction.

You might have heard the saying "You are in charge of your own career, no one else is." This approach basically puts the team member in the driver's seat for their personal growth. There is no doubt that a team member should be the one deciding the direction they want to grow their career in, the unfortunate reality is that in most cases our team members don't even know which directions are available to them. They need their managers, their peers' and other senior engineers' help with deciding their career journey. Think about your own experience as a manager. How did you think about your own career growth earlier in your career?  Did you follow a deliberate process which helped you decide a career direction and start gaining the skills and experiences to get there one day? More likely you found yourself in a position which forced you to gain the skills and experiences organically, and that got you to where you are today.

A plan for personal growth aims to make deciding on a career direction and identifying the needed skills and experiences a deliberate process. Your team member can discuss their career aspirations with their manager both to get their manager's feedback and to gain their support in making progress toward their goals.

Enabling people to work toward their goals with the support of people who know how to help them is the best way to help them grow. Their managers, their peers, and other senior folk have the experience to help this person decide where they want to go and how they want to get there.

personal growth plan is a plan which captures the direction your team member wants to advance their career towards
personal growth plan is a plan which captures the direction your team member wants to advance their career towards

What is your job as a manager when it comes to the personal growth of your reports?

1. Create space and time to have personal growth conversations with your team member. Keep in mind that it is OK for them to be unsure about their direction. If you reflect back you'll likely remember that you were unsure too.  Be sure to create a comfortable and supportive environment where not having concrete ideas is perfectly OK.

2. Support Their Growth: Depending on the direction your team member chooses they might need support from folks within or outside of your organization. Figure out how you and the organization can help your team member gain the skills they need to advance towards their aspirations.

3. Collaborate with your team member and come up with a concrete plan to move them in the right direction.

4. Set time-boxed milestones to achieve and be sure to schedule check-in meetings to review your team member's progress.

What is your team member's job when it comes to their personal growth?

1. They should come up with a draft plan for their personal growth to discuss with their manager, peers and other senior people who can give them feedback. For instance, If the team member aspires to become a principle engineer one day, they should meet with other principle engineers in the company to find out what helped them and hindered them in their careers.

2. They need to meet with their manager to set goals, time-boxed milestones and scheduled personal growth check-in meetings to review their progress.

3. They should follow up on action items to help them achieve their milestones. This might require buying books, signing up with online or in-person trainings, and meeting with mentors regularly etc.

4. They need to keep their plans updated as they make progress towards their goals

Initiating a Personal Growth Conversation:

If you are talking to your team member for the first time about their career growth, the first thing to do is to align on what you are trying to achieve. Let them know that you want to help them identify and come up with a personal growth plan to help them achieve their career goals.

Questions to ask in order to understand where your team member is at:

These questions will help your team member identify how to gain more experience and grow in their careers.

  • Do they already have career goals for the next 1-5 years?  
  • What aspects of their job do they find satisfying and do they see themselves doing these tasks in the future?  In the future would they rather learn and grow in a new domain?
  • Are there senior engineers or managers at the company that they see as role models? Do they want to grow on the engineering track or move to the management track?  
  • What types of projects do they enjoy working on?
  • Are they interested in product or infrastructure engineering development?

Making career decisions is difficult. Be sure to give your team member some time to think things through but also remind them that none of their decisions are set on stone. They can change their direction in the future based on new experiences. Work with your team member to come up with some concrete milestones to hit over the next 3 months, in areas in which they want to learn and grow. Schedule quarterly check-ins to review their progress and support their personal growth.