5 mins

As a new manager, you may want to push some reports into more senior positions. Here’s how to go about it.

As a newly hired lead developer, one of my first challenges was getting one of my mid-level reports promoted to a senior level. Having just joined the company, it felt a bit overwhelming. I knew how to get hired at or promoted to a senior level, but I was unclear if the same methods applied in my new role.

While some organizations have good documentation around career development, others may be less transparent, or lack a process at all, making it very difficult to navigate progression paths as a new manager.

The candidate

When I joined my new team, there was a handover process from the previous lead to transfer her direct reports to me. One of my new reports had been with the team for almost two years. By all accounts, they had been performing very well in the role and were ready to be promoted.

I had a few one-on-one sessions with them to discuss their career goals and to confirm that they were looking for additional responsibilities. The next step for me was to figure out the framework by which developers could get a promotion.

The process

I couldn’t find much documentation about the promotion process, so I reached out to my engineering manager. I found that the promotion process to transfer to a different team looked a lot like the normal hiring process, including some technical stages. If successful, this was followed by a values and experience interview. On the other hand, the process for an in-role promotion, where the candidate stays in the same team, was a lot more in-depth. 

My manager explained that we used something called the developer wheel. Other companies may call it the career ladder or career steps. This document explained the roles and responsibilities of a developer from junior to staff level. It is intended to provide a fair and objective framework for assessment and promotions. The responsibilities are grouped into categories such as decision-making, solution design, communication, and influence. 

Since I had only recently joined the team, I needed to rely on my report to write down a lot of her experiences and map them to the various categories. This documentation went through a few drafts, as we needed to be able to clearly explain the impact of their actions and decisions. 

The STAR method came in very handy for writing supporting examples. STAR stands for situation, task, action, and result. This is a common strategy used during interviews to give candidates a format for answering prompts comprehensively. The supporting answers we documented needed to explain clearly the context of the scenario, the task the candidate needed to accomplish, the actions or decisions they took, and finally the hopefully positive outcome of that action.

We discussed these experiences to come to an understanding on where the scores should be. For the weaker categories, we needed to understand the reasoning. Some candidates don’t have a clear understanding of the expectations. Some need opportunities to showcase their skill. Others may simply need more time and coaching. 

While they did not have a senior-level score in every category, I was told they didn’t necessarily have to score full points. We were more interested in if they were being consistent in their behaviors, how they were progressing, and whether or not we had plans to shore up the weaknesses. 

Most teams have a budget that’s set annually and this may be shared across the wider tribe. We needed to confirm the funds and headcount for the role. My manager said this was something I could delegate to him.

While there was team capacity, we also had to consider the team composition. Would the team become too top-heavy with seniors? Would it be better off with an external hire who had a more complementary skill set? Does the team composition allow for mentoring opportunities?

As a lead dev, I was responsible not only for my direct reports but also for the well-being of the whole team. These questions were hard, but I was able to find a community of other lead developers who had walked the path before, which helped me make my decision. 

The senior

I came back to my manager and asked about the next assessment cycle. While some companies only have promotions at the end of the year, we assessed on an ad hoc basis. 

The next step was to get additional approval from the tech lead and architect, where we showed our due diligence. They gave the green light and we filed the paperwork with HR and finance.

In summary

The growth and development of your team is a big part of leadership. If you find yourself in a position where you're responsible for the promotion and career progression of other engineers, my three top tips are:

1. Check in with your senior management and ensure that there is capacity to offer a promotion. Understand the process and the stakeholders so that you know what is expected of you and your report.

2. Have a plan for career progression with your direct report. Understand what they’re doing well and what they lack. Provide feedback. Provide opportunities to make them shine. 

3. Ensure the candidate is well prepared for the responsibilities of their new role and document meticulously how their actions and decisions match up against your company’s expectations.