What Is This Course About?

Get introduced to the nondeterministic art of performance management.

“Barbara, you got a second? We need to talk about your team’s performance.”

“Joshua, we need to meet to talk about your work this past quarter.”

“Team, I have bad news—we missed our deadlines several weeks in a row, and now the VP wants to meet to talk with us.”

Of all the things that the engineering manager will face—and be expected to do—the subject of “performance management” stands out as uniquely anxiety-inducing. As an individual contributor, you control your own actions. When it’s the team reporting to you, though, it often feels like your performance lies in their hands. This is the very definition of “stress”: anxiety about something over which we have little to no control. That stress can often lead an engineering manager to react in numerous different ways—most of them bad.

It’s great when the team performs well, and all you need to do is… nothing! Let them keep going the way they’re going. They’ve obviously got it all figured out, so your role is to just “keep on keepin’ on,” maybe buying pizza every so often to help keep the team motivated and in tune with one another. Sometimes you’ll need to go to your boss to ask for something on your team’s behalf or go through the procurement process to buy a new software tool the team is looking for, but these are pretty administration-centric and, honestly, just require patience and attention to detail.

It’s when the team starts grumbling or falling behind that the stress kicks in—suddenly, the weekly pizza doesn’t seem to be having the same effect. Or along comes the annual review, and suddenly the team doesn’t seem all that interested in work anymore. You gather the team for one of those inspirational speeches that will get everybody fired up again. You try a group social, and they spend more time talking amongst themselves than they do you. You even go so far as to authorize some gift cards for the best performers. Nothing seems to make a dent. And then, suddenly, your best team member hands in their two-week notice, and within months your team is missing half its members. What happened?


More often than not, performance management is the part of the job that leads people to swear off ever managing a team ever again. Like many other topics in engineering management, it’s maddeningly nondeterministic. What works for one employee will often have the opposite effect with another or none at all with a third. But like it or not, it’s a core part of being an engineering manager, and always will be. If you’re leading a team—or if you have aspirations to do so—feeling comfortable with the tools and options available to you as a manager is a crucial part of the job.

Every manager hates being the manager who has to tell people they’re not measuring up. Every manager wants to be the manager who can hand out huge bonuses and promotions and rewards. What many new managers don’t realize is that the former is often what leads to the latter, and the sooner the new manager comes to realize this, the faster their team will get to the “fun” parts.