One of the trickiest conversations I have to have as a team leader is when there’s no path left to run for good engineers. We’ve probably all been there at some point in our career - a few years into a job - successfully progressing ourselves and learning more and more. Rewards following recognition like spring follows winter - pay increases, maybe even a promotion.
But then the rewards stop. Sure, we’re still getting the recognition, and our great managers continually encourage and praise a job well done, but our subtle, and sometimes not so subtle requests for more tangible rewards seem to fall on deaf ears. What did you do wrong?
Well, probably nothing. Remember, your team leader is your mentor – they vouch for you, sure – but they also represent the business, and sometimes the demands and needs of the business may not always align with your demands and needs as a contributor to that.
This is not to say they don’t respect and value the work you do, but sometimes, for example, finances and profit margins can leave very little room for bonuses and extraordinary pay reviews. Sometimes the belt needs to be tightened, and your rewards are thus limited to kind words and platitudes.
“Take a look around – is there anywhere to go?”
Another problem, especially on smaller teams, is promotions. You know you deserve one, you’ve worked hard, you’ve taken on mentoring the junior developer, you’ve introduced those cool static analysis tools that helped crack the tech debt – yet nothing is forthcoming?
Take a look around – is there anywhere to go? You’re a senior developer, on a team of 5, with a lead developer firmly bedded in. How many leads can that team really accommodate? Sometimes, the lack of finance or growth might be a temporary situation. In terms of growth, there may be no immediate plans for the business to grow your team. Growth begets promotions.
To some people, the path is obvious. But to others, the signs are not always clear. If the need for more financial compensation or promotion is more important than whatever you’re still taking away from the job, then you need to consider that it’s time to leave.
You may love the company and the people, and it’s important not to undervalue that, but equally important to measure it against the more tangible benefits that you require in your life and career - such as more money or greater flexibility.
As a manager, I find this very difficult terrain to cross. I also represent the business, as well aiming to be a mentor, and encouraging our best senior developers to quit their jobs would land me in some pretty hot water. On the other hand, I feel a duty to always be honest with my reports, and sometimes people just don’t see that it might be time to explore new opportunities. The last thing you want is for someone to misunderstand the reasons for the inertia, and start to feel unappreciated.
Whether you choose to stay or go, it’s important to remember that it’s not personal. People can and do outgrow businesses, and your wants and needs will change as you progress through your career. You might feel sad, and you might feel like you’re betraying your team.
Sometimes though, progression needs a leap of faith. It’s time to go.
30th September 2020
One of the trickiest conversations I have to have as a team leader is when there’s no path left to run for good engineers.
29th September 2020
John Arundel, software consultant and writer, asks me about helping troubled teams.