Tips For Engineering Managers – Setting & Hitting Short-Term Goals

Posted on May 26, 2022 by Bailey Crumpton. Tagged: Resources for Entrepreneurs, Software Development + Engineering, For Clients

(Updated: 12/14/2022)

The tech industry is known for adaptation, flexibility, and crushing seemingly impossible goals in short periods of time. For engineering teams and emerging companies, the name of the game is acceleration and how to balance a certain level of productivity that’s sustainable as they grow and scale.

An important part of this process is setting goals, steps, roadmaps, any term you prefer, but establishing a methodology on how to achieve goals, individually or as a team. In this post, we’re taking a closer look at specifically how Engineering Managers and other leaders in tech can better support their teams in setting (and reaching) short-term goals.

Why Is Setting Short-Term Career Goals Important?

As summarized by BJ Engelhardt, Senior Director of Career Services at Illinois Institute of Technology, “Short-term career goals help determine which skill sets to build upon and get you to where you want to be. The more you achieve your short-term goals, the closer you are to your long-term goals ... The more you declare your long-term goals, the easier it is for you to determine your short-term goals.”

His comment reflects on the process of goal-setting and practicing accountability, and how it’s like a muscle we can train and get better at using over time. Even if your direct reports are not sure of what direction they want to take their careers initially, helping them create a plan to explore career options would be considered an achievable short-term goal, a first step in the shaping their path of career development.

Our research found more industry leaders echoing the same sentiment, that you cannot achieve larger goals without laying out the steps to get there first. CMO at tech company Zynga, An Vu, told Built In that for her, “a series of small wins generate the momentum to propel you toward a larger aim. Being successful with a few discrete and doable goals helps build confidence to continue the journey, and if you happen to not crush one or two goals, it’s totally okay.”

High Team Morale Stems From Clarity & Achievable Goals

That is to say short-term goals serve as the roadmap, the brick-by-brick breakdown of how to get from Point A to Point B with the least resistance. On getting goals just right, Vu added, “I think people can often run into decision paralysis in trying to define and prioritize the right goals. What’s more important is to actually begin putting your intentions into action — any short-term goal that moves you in the general direction of where you want to be is a viable step in your roadmap.”

This one small piece is key to accomplishing goals within your organization. Short-term goals take the stress out of big problems, creating bite-sized pieces and a natural flow for solving issues that everyone can get on board with. Research shows that morale and productivity are highest at companies where employees not only know exactly how to define their role and impact in the organization, but also have a clear idea of how they can develop professionally. The simple act of providing role clarity and goals increases engagement and retention, in turn helping companies grow.

So, how can Engineering Managers help their teams take action? To reiterate, it’s a matter of capturing goals that are clear and achievable, fostering a support system to complete those steps, and creating a process of accountability for monitoring how goals are progressing over time.

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Build Accountability Into The Goal-Setting Process

A study conducted by the Dominican University of California asked 149 participants to set goals, but go about them different ways from not writing anything down, to checking in with a buddy that had a copy of their action plan. As you can probably guess, the group who wrote down their goals, shared with a friend, and had touch points where they spoke towards their progress saw a higher success rate, or a 44% increase, in achieving their goals than the group that did not write anything down.

What we can take away from this study is that accountability is an essential aspect of goal-setting and professional development because it allows us to see how far we have (or have not) come within a set timeframe. As a manager, you can empower employees by keeping tabs on their professional career goals, helping them stay motivated and excited to drive that growth.

Here’s a quick list of tips for managers to help employees set and achieve goals:

  1. Identify Strengths & Passions
  2. Help Them Create A Personal Development Plan
  3. Understand Individual Aspirations & How To Use Them
  4. Advocate for Skills Training & Provide Educational Courses
  5. Maximize Your Team’s Efficiency To Save Time & Energy

If you’re an Engineering Manager, would you say you feel in tune with your employee’s individual strengths, passions and long-term aspirations? If you answered “ehh…” or “yes, some of them!,” there is no better time than the present to invest more time in one-on-one meetings, with everyone on your team. Not only will this increase the level of comfort and trust with your direct reports, but also shows you value being an empathetic and flexible leader.

Once you open up the conversation on how employees picture themselves contributing to the organization or in five years from now, you can lean on that insight in the future, especially when it comes to re-setting expectations or rewarding employees for reaching important stages in the development.

In this, establishing a Personal Development Plan for all employees, advocating for company-provided skills training and educational opportunities, fostering mentorship programs within your team, and constantly re-evaluating workflows are all productive avenues for accelerating short-term goals. Furthermore, scheduling check-in meetings where you specifically discuss your employee’s goals and career without other distractions indicates that your company has a vested interest in individuals growing into the best version of themselves.

You’ve Set Your Goals. Now What?

If your team has honed the goal-setting process, utilizes detailed roadmaps or project management systems, and maintains regular manager-to-employee check-ins, is there anything left to do?

The short answer is yes, always! We hear it on our calls with clients often, that at a high level, forwarding big dreams boils down to having clarity for what you are trying to achieve, breaking down the steps to get there, and executing with as little friction as possible. If you feel you're ahead of the game on road mapping, you can spend more time on soliciting feedback from your team or trying new ways to upskill your developers, as long as the effort is there.

Last year, 60 percent of managers listed recruiting and retention as their biggest struggle points in a changing world. Due to this, showcasing your professional development programs and providing examples of how your company follows through on promises made during the interview process are vitally important to an organization’s health and ability to grow. Pathways for career growth are still one of the highest valued factors in the decision-making process to take a new job for tech professionals.

Going even further, if your team feels they are growing their knowledge base and learning new tech skills on an ongoing basis, they will also be less open to moving positions. All of the techniques we have mentioned today are ways to emphasize the value someone brings to your team, while also helping them and your organization grow. By providing resources, communication, and involvement in their personal goals, you clearly show that your company wants to keep them onboard, thriving, and achieving their goals.

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