Scheme E: “Crushable Work Goals”
Published (gregorian) (ornellember)
Tags: schemecareer series
Right off the bat, two things.
First, I am writing this on 3E. Meaning I did not wait until the very last day of the month to do this task (please clap.)
Second, this one is definitely a scheme, and it is one that gets pretty close to career advice. I want to clarify that again, like with every post in this series, I’m talking about a strategy I’ve used. I’m not advising you to do the same, or saying I invented it (and I’ll give credit when/where I know it’s due). This is my personal experience.
Anyway, let’s talk about how I set and cRu$H g0alz at work!
Write goals about structure, not result.
I used her method and set 4-week, specific, measurable goals. They looked a bit like:
speak to all my coworkers 1-1 at least once (this was a startup)
build at least one new React component
pick up at least one CSS-focused ticket
I think these were pretty good goals. But looking back, there was already an issue with the second one.
Let’s look at it again: “build at least one new React component.” With this goal, I meant to prove to myself and others that I could write a complex React component and understand its structure. However, I don’t really think I did that in that job. Maybe I wrote a small sub-component, but what I did instead was refactor a large component in a significant way. This had fulfilled my motivation for the goal, but didn’t accomplish actual goal itself. It was too specific.
Shortly after, I got a new job at Disney. With the benefit of hindsight, I went about setting my 3-month, 6-month, and yearly goals goals a little bit differently. For one, I was a junior engineer in a huge codebase, there were talks of moving me to a different team, and really didn’t want to pigeonhole myself into a specialty.
I had a few constraints:
Specificity. What I wanted were goals that were both specific enough to be looked back on as “oh yeah, you did accomplish this, no question!”, so no goals like “get comfortable with CSS.”
Fuzziness: I needed goals that could be accomplished regardless of the product roadmap, so no goals like “work on React components” (what if the company decides to migrate to Vue mid-year?)
Control. I also am a big fan of the principle “you control the input, not the outcome” — so I wanted my goals to be focused on what was within my control, meaning what I could do, not be.
Progress. I wanted to accomplish goals that proved I was ready to be promoted.
The last point was fairly easy — we didn’t have an official level ladder yet, but I set 1-1s with multiple managers and peers who’d gotten promoted, and sussed out what the bar was for a mid-level engineer.
My goals ended up looking like this:
Pick up 5-10 tickets that are above a 5-point estimate.
Give at least one talk to the rest of the org.
Lead an initiative that has me interfacing with other teams.
Write at least 1 RFC/design document.
Pick up at least 3 non-trivial tickets outside my technical comfort zone.
Mentor at least one engineer.
Set 1-3 coding standards or practices at the scale of the team.
You’ll notice a few things about these goals:
they are binary: we are talking in with specific numbers, so each goal is either done or not done.
they are product-agnostic: they do not contain one specific name or technology.
they are tasks: all these goals are things I want to do. They are all within my control. My assumption is that if I do those things, I will become what I want to be.
they are mid-level: I think I’d get in trouble if I shared Disney’s this particular career ladder docs, but all of these were directly related to criteria that make an engineer considered a P2 there.
Throughout the year, I had one-on-ones with my manager, peer mentor, and skip-level, and specifically referenced those goals, talking myself up re: the ones that I’ve done, and confirming I was on track for the ones I hadn’t.
It was decided I’d be promoted shortly after.
My plan was to crush every single goal I’d set out to do, and let those goals prove that I was due for a promotion. The roadmap that year was actually full of surprises, and I couldn’t have predicted what I concretely ended up working on; yet, I was able to neatly achieve everything I said I would.
JK. Here’s one. If you stalk my website, you may notice this was only put up in late May. I, however, did write this in early April, but then I was feeling anxious and took it down.