What's your manager bus factor?

As organizations grow, manager churn increases. Your team might grow large enough that it needs to be split into multiple teams, calling for a new management layer to be inserted between you and your previous manager. Or a pivot in the business might shuffle the organization, landing you on a whole new team. Or maybe your manager decides that the organization has outgrown them, and heads off to join another startup.

If your manager changes right before you're due for a promotion or a raise, what are the odds that your new manager will be able to accurately assess your performance?

Own your career

If you depend entirely on your manager for your own career progression, then you're vulnerable to variables beyond your control. I call this the "manager bus factor".

Manager bus factor: The risk of your career progress being derailed if your manager gets hit by a bus. Or leaves the company. Or if you move to another team. Or (insert change in circumstance).

You can minimize this risk by developing the ability to competently assess and articulate your own performance. This will enable you to grow confident about where you are in your professional journey, where you're headed, and how you're contributing at work. And you'll be able to communicate these thoughts to your manager and secure their support, regardless of who your manager happens to be.

Methods of ownership

The phrase "manager bus factor" might be novel, but the concept of owning your own advancement is not. Here are some of my favorite methods for putting this theory into practice.

Self-reviews

This is just what it sounds like. Instead of depending on your manager to review your performance, you review your own performance for your manager. Gergely Orosz provides an excellent guide on why you should do this and how to pull it off in his blog post "Writing a Performance Self Review for Software Engineers". My favorite part is the detailed example and template that Gergely created to help you kickstart your own self-review.

Neha Batra also writes about this in her engineer's self-review guide on LeadDev. I found that Neha's article provides a more holistic perspective on self-reviews, with a greater emphasis on reflection and research. I suggest following her guidelines when gathering the material and context for writing your self-review, and then referring to Gergely's template when compiling everything into a logical structure.

Brag documents

As defined in Julia Evans's "Get your work recognized: write a brag document" blog post, a brag document is a means of tracking your accomplishments and guiding your own growth. As it just so happens, this also come in handy when it comes time to write your self-review. Take your brag document for your review period, condense and edit it down to convey a clear narrative, and you're left with the foundation of your self-review.

Level  self-assessments

A level self-assessment is an item-by-item comparison of your capabilities against the expectations your organization has for individuals at your level. Neha refers to this as a "level review" and Gergely incorporates it into his self-review process. I've found that self-reviews tend to stand on their own as structured narratives of one's contributions over a given time period, and they don't necessarily adhere to the generic expectations outlined by a level definition. At the same time, reserving a specific self-assessment document for this type of content can provide an objective, standardized means of evaluating whether you're qualified for a promotion.

Strive for a factor of zero

With self-reviews, brag documents, and self-assessments, you can minimize your manager bus factor and take control over for your own career progression. Circumstances might change, but that doesn't need to change the trajectory of your career – or the timing of your next promotion!

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