In Tech, Do the Needs of Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few?

Managers from standout LA tech teams discuss the challenges and rewards of aligning individual and company-wide goals symbiotically.

Written by Robert Schaulis
Published on Sep. 09, 2022
In Tech, Do the Needs of Many Outweigh the Needs of the Few?
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At the climax of 1982’s Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Commander Spock enters the radiation-flooded engineering bay of the badly damaged starship USS Enterprise. He’s racing to restore the ship’s warp capabilities and escape impending disaster. 

Spock is able to restore the ship’s warp speed, thereby saving the crew from destruction. But he succumbs to radiation poisoning, leaving Captain James T. Kirk with the last words: “Logic clearly dictates that the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.” Spock’s voice falters. Kirk adds: “Or the one.”

It’s a compelling line. That being said, the mantra would be an extremely poor mission statement for a real-life engineering team, where the needs of the individual are vital to the continued success of the many and the stakes are, thankfully, rarely if ever life-and-death. As many who have worked in toxic workplaces can attest, it’s not enough to subsume oneself tragically under an impossible workload. We all must ensure that the needs of the individual and the organization are in harmonious alignment. 

Personal growth and professional development are essential for an engineer. Staying abreast of new technologies, achieving fluency in programs and languages, earning certifications and developing soft skills are all crucial parts of continuing a career in engineering. What’s more, a team is only as good as its individual members, and a good team leader needs to be able to help team members grow their skills in service of the many. 

What does that alignment process look like on Earth? Built In reached out to leaders from three engineering teams to learn more about managing individual and company-wide needs and objectives. 

 

Yanan Valencia
Data Engineering Manager • Telesign

 

Mobile identity solutions firm Telesign has helped its customers secure more than 3.5 billion accounts worldwide. As the company’s data engineering manager, a big part of Yanan Valencia’s job is to create safe space and a harmonious accord between the personal and professional needs of the individual team member and company goals.  

“The relationship between an engineering manager and a direct report starts by building a psychologically safe place for individuals to express their ideas for personal growth and voice their concerns,” Valencia said. “Managers can then better understand an employee’s perspective and explain priorities, which in turn can help that employee be more open to change.” 

 

In your experience, what are the best ways to create and maintain alignment between an individual’s goals, hopes or expectations and the broader goals of the company?

One critical way for a company to create and maintain alignment is to ensure that the company has clear goals that are both thoughtful and measurable. Visions and higher-level strategies describe a future with a value proposition that’s necessary to help folks think beyond their role’s constraints and challenges and act as a direction to align teams toward continuous progress. 

Company goals also need to relate back to the individual to ensure a direct connection. Company goals have the potential to affect an individual’s focus even when they are far away from a direct correlation. While company goals inspire people to believe that they are part of something much bigger, it’s only when we’ve highlighted their roles and responsibilities within that bigger picture that we can truly clarify their impact and contribution.

The relationship between an engineering manager and a direct report starts by building a psychologically safe place for individuals to express their ideas for personal growth and voice their concerns.”

 

How can managers get more proactive about ensuring misalignment between individual and company goals doesn’t develop?

Managers should build a relationship with their direct reports. Regular feedback should be given in both directions. 

A feedback loop — not just a top-to-bottom feedback process — is also crucial to ensure misalignment does not develop. Management should carefully consider any individual’s feedback regarding existing goals, processes and progress. That feedback should also receive a timely response to address any gaps in expectations.

 

Why is it important to ensure individual and company goals remain aligned?

We all have the psychological need and desire to be part of a common goal that adds positive impact and value to an organization. For employees to be truly motivated in their day-to-day work, they need to have a sense that their goals are aligned with helping the company and its users meet their short- and long-term goals. Aligning individual and company goals keeps employees inspired and engaged at work.

 

 

Adam Spector
Engineering Manager • MobilityWare

 

MobilityWare’s Adam Spector is no stranger to maintaining engagement. As the engineering manager for an online gaming company, it’s Spector’s job to build engagement from his team as they help the company engage with mobile gamers.

Spector’s advice on aligning individual and company-wide goals? Constant communication. 

“I like to utilize one-on-one meetings when it comes to keeping alignment on goals,” said Spector. “Too many times you see goals only get talked about when it comes to end-of-year reviews. Goals and expectations should be discussed and revised throughout the year.” 

 

In your experience, what are the best ways to create and maintain alignment between an individual’s goals, hopes or expectations and the broader goals of the company?

As a manager, I work with my team members to come up with a list of what is expected for their role. This comes in all different shapes and sizes because it should be driven directly by the employee and highlights what’s most important to them. Of course, the manager can guide these expectations if something important is missing that is required for the role. 

This manifesto then becomes a living document that can change as the employee grows. Ultimately, it can provide a guiding light to questions that may come up in the future when an employee asks if what they are working on aligns with their expectations and goals. The answer becomes so much clearer when you have a common vision that you’ve both agreed upon.

 

How can managers get more proactive about ensuring misalignment between individual and company goals doesn’t develop?

As a manager, you will want to make sure the individual has a clear understanding of what is most important at any given time. So, during your one-on-one, if you feel that the individual’s tasks are veering off course, you can use this time to pull them back in by pointing to their goals. 

Now, a task could not be in alignment on paper but might be critical to the company’s success. That would be a good time to make revisions. Another important step in keeping alignment is to write down your own mission statement — what you are trying to accomplish as a manager and leader. You will find yourself continually coming back to this in times of need.

By having the individual come up with some of their own goals, it will inherently give their goals added value.

 

Why is it important to ensure individual and company goals remain aligned?

It’s important to think of goals as a two-way street. If the individual is only working toward fulfilling the company’s objectives and not their own, they are less likely to feel valued. A perceived lack of appreciation is one of the core issues that can cause a company to lose vital members of their team. 

Of course, the individual will still need to fulfill the goals of the company. But in order to keep your talent, you need to make sure they are engaged in what they are doing and that it’s meaningful to them. By having the individual come up with some of their own goals, it will inherently give their goals added value. This leads to high engagement which creates an environment where an individual can produce some of their best work, which is a win for both the company and the individual. 

 

 

Peter Fichtel
VP of Engineering • Promenade

 

Engineering team leaders from the e-commerce platform Promenade make it a point to ensure that individual goals add up to a broader organizational mission.

“It’s in all our best interests to help each other succeed in our individual goals, which helps the company achieve its objectives,” Peter Fichtel, vice president of engineering, said. “It is also important to honor individuals’ personal goals and to ensure that these do not conflict with achieving company goals.”

 

In your experience, what are the best ways to create and maintain alignment between an individual’s goals, hopes or expectations and the broader goals of the company?

The most important thing for me to keep in mind is that individuals’ goals should not be conceived in isolation from the broader organization. A manager and their direct reports’ goals should be symbiotic. Just as importantly, we should never have goals that are at cross-purposes from our partners on other teams. It’s in all our best interests to help each other succeed in our individual goals, which helps the company achieve its objectives. It is also important to honor individuals’ personal goals and to ensure that these do not conflict with achieving company goals.

The most important thing for me to keep in mind is that individuals’ goals should not be conceived in isolation from the broader organization.

 

How can managers get more proactive about ensuring misalignment between individual and company goals doesn’t develop?

This should never happen if the company is transparent in its goals — even if and when those goals change — and managers are frequently revisiting progress with their team members and resetting goals when necessary.

 

Why is it important to ensure individual and company goals remain aligned?

We want to empower individuals to make decisions, not just follow instructions. By ensuring the alignment of our goals, we’re ensuring day-to-day decisions made by individuals keep us moving in the right direction.

 

 

Responses have been edited for length and clarity. Images via listed companies and Shutterstock.

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