Been at company for a year and got feedback that I lack initiative. How do I change that?

Apple pixwine
Oct 29 332 Comments

I execute everything my manager tells me without any issues and get mostly positive feedback. One thing my manager wanted me to improve was to show more “initiative” and take more “ownership”. How do I do that? I am confused on this front and not sure how to take “initiative”. I have 1 yoe in the industry so far and it would be quite helpful if some experienced person can pitch in with examples of initiative and ownership.

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TOP 332 Comments
  • Roku de Vil
    Do before you are told, ask questions, seem engaged and like a true owner of your responsibilities.
    Oct 29 16
    • Adobe / Product kakar0t
      An example, as a PM, it's not great when an engineer requests anything that shows they didn't read the details of a ticket...Or asks what they should be doing when they have tickets assigned to them that are incomplete...like uhh, I dunno mate, check the list I carefully created for you.
      Also running a high level QA of your own work before submitting it goes a long way. Even if we have a QA team.
      Generally, be a team player and take pride in what you do.
      Oct 29
    • Dell JuBe00
      Have more open discussion with manager on understanding his/her expectations..look at this from positive angle.. manager might be preparing you for next level / role
      Oct 29
    • VMware FYQG04
      I think we can be sure that any value you add to the company, it has to be partially or fully filtered through your manager or tech lead. Maybe rightly so. We can rule out big contributions of 'Individual Contributor' nature from someone with 1 YOE. No offence OP. But then again, if you provide options for the team to take ownership on, I think most managers would be happy. Oh and I forgot, you still gotta do all the sprint tasks.
      Oct 29
    • Visa blackHaat
      Seek opportunities of improving existing process. Analyze their deployment lifecycle, see if you can automate as much as possible. Learn from other teams processes and try to incorporate those in yours. Ultimately, learn a new concept and try to apply it.
      Oct 29
    • T-Mobile 🤐it
      You pickup tasks on your own to make mistakes then you get feedback for something else. It's a game you can't win. Constructive feedback is important.
      Oct 29
  • Wayfair / Eng mxHp13
    Flip it around...instead of waiting for your manager to mention things to work on, spend some time thinking about what needs to be worked on and make recommendations for what you should be doing to him or her to get their buy-in.

    Can ask yourself questions like “if I were my manager, what things would I suggest next.” If you don’t know the answer to that, then spending time to understand more of the broader context will be needed.

    “What could we make better”

    “What’s some of our biggest difficulties”

    “What’s some of our greatest opportunities”
    Oct 29 7
    • Tesla / Eng shotgun1
      Looks like the manager has no idea what to improve because he/she was hired at a top level and doesn't know the systems too well. As a result the manager is setting expectations on a junior swe to come up with ideas and implement them.

      All this is fine, just make sure the manager isn't taking all the credit for these new initiatives you come up with
      Oct 29
    • Lyft la_croix
      Microsoft & Tesla, you do realize that part of the manager’s job is to develop this person, right? They should be giving review feedback to their junior SWE that highlights what they need to work on to get them to the next level.

      That doesn’t mean they expect them to come in on their first day with no experience and put together a product spec. It just means that anticipating problems and taking on tasks and projects without being asked is a skill you need to develop in order to advance in your career.

      Also, maybe things work differently where you are but we expect everyone in our company to contribute ideas, from senior engineers and product managers to entry level support ops. Managers asking for initiative and engagement from their team isn’t a sign of them not knowing what to improve or not knowing the systems well, it’s just good leadership.
      Oct 29
    • Tesla / Eng shotgun1
      Ideas aren't initiatives nor are they indicators of engagement. And some people need to get a flavor of certain problems faced for a few months and then they can do things that solve problems faced. Not everyone can work in abstract and understand how org issues and everyday work come together. Has the manager tried out a couple of approaches?

      What sort of work has the dev been given for the past year? Has he/she been exposed to work that brings them in close contact with problem areas? If not then the manager should also consider that.

      If an employee isn't showing initiative, it is equally reflective of the manager, not just the developer. Has the manager managed the dev through a path that let's the dev know what areas to look at for improvement and how it will benefit the company? Do this one or two times and the developer will catch the drift of working as a swe in general.

      The dev has only 1 year exp, so manager can do more than just a blanket 'initiative' as a piece of feedback.
      Oct 29
    • Lyft la_croix
      You seem to be missing the point.

      Your comments suggest that you think there’s something wrong with the manager for saying “Here’s a list of things you’re doing really well. Now what I want you to focus on over the next quarter/half/year is finding opportunities to take initiative and own more of the work.” You appear to be viewing this feedback defensively, as if guiding someone on which direction to grow is “bad” or “unfair.” As if the OP having room for growth is indicative of poor management. I fundamentally disagree with that.

      The manager should have checked for understanding at the time of the conversation so that the OP had the opportunity to ask for examples of what initiative looks like at this level, but the feedback itself seems fair.
      Oct 29
    • Tesla / Eng shotgun1
      I'm not saying the direction is wrong. I'm curious as to whether the manager has made an effort to make the developer understand what initiative and ownership mean?

      If a new developer doesn't understand it just with language then the manager can use other ways of making them understand. Just say in 1-2-1, we have xyz that we want to improve but don't have the bandwidth from anyone to lead it, do you to own this effort?

      Then once that is complete, mention in next 1-2-1 : are there some other areas that you think we can improve that you can take ownership of?

      In management it's not what you say, but how you say it to get your message across.

      If the developer is asking Blind and not the manager him/herself, to me it feels like maybe the manager isn't communicating well enough.

      You don't have to get defensive when a manager is being critiqued and assume the worst unless you are a manager yourself and have problems with critiquing a manager's managerial ability
      Oct 29
  • Twitch / Biz Dev #squidward
    I hate managers who tell you to take initiative. These are also typically managers who flood you with shit work and don't give you visibility into higher level work flows so there's basically 0 chance for you to take more initiative.

    Fuck the manager, find someone new to work under. It's your managers job to grow you and your career, and develop you to take on higher level work flows. Managers who circle jerk you by asking you to take more initiative in general don't know shit, are talking out of their ass, and are keeping paper trails to cover their own ass in case shit goes down
    Oct 29 5
    • This is true. Even if we take the initiative and propose something it just gets added in the backlog and lost forever in the name of priority. At some point we stop doing it and again the same comments come back.
      Oct 29
    • It is not your managers job to grow you. Your parents had that job and even that ends at a particular time. Your manger is supposed to help the company grow the bottom line. Now I prefer a manager that will grow me but I’m also a realist about what a company exists for.

      As adults we have autonomy and choice. Do you want to grow and improve? Ok. Then take the initiative to grow in a new area. This will help you discover new skills that will help you regardless if you stay at the company. You have to take ownership of your growth. It is not anyone’s job to make a grown up better. What do you want in the future?

      And here’s the reality...if you don’t take the initiative someone new will enter into the company who will take initiative and you will begin to look like dead weight in comparison.
      Nov 5
    • It IS your manager's job to at least try to grow your career. It is one of the questions asked in interviews and also a criteria for their promotion.
      Nov 5
    • Twitch / Biz Dev #squidward
      Look, I've been in companies where I've met both types of managers. And I've come to realize that the managers who say it's your responsibility to grow your own career, is full of shit.

      Here's the deal, if you can't grow your reports careers, then you're not fit to manage. Stay as an independent Contributor. If you take on the responsibility of a manager, then start acting like one.
      Nov 6
    • Guidewire zemoss
      it's been my experience as well. Most of times means he has no clue what should be done, or how. and even doesn't understand so well the bigger picture. In other cases, he's simply not willing to take the risk of being wrong.
      where logic fails completely is that you're also asked to progress on stories that are on the board this sprint
      the better manager will describe In Details what are the problems that don't have a solution and tell you about the bigger picture so you can figure it out in context.
      Nov 8
  • Genentech ProsAndCon
    Taking initiative... take the example of being Married and at home. Waiting around for wife to tell you to do the dishes, vs, looking around and seeing what needs to be done, seeing dishes in the sink, and doing them.
    Oct 29 6
    • Genentech ProsAndCon
      Not doing them is also a road to hell 😂
      Oct 29
    • New / Mktg coconanas
      This is great example. #wifeapproves
      Oct 29
    • Salesforce / Eng m3p
      Been there. Initiative in a positive way would be to create a new way to get the dishes done with minimal effort and excellent results....
      Oct 29
    • E*Trade / Finance cbEV72
      I suggest a dishwasher machine. Teach your wife using it. That’s a positive active contribution. Actually washing dishes is ridiculous, that’s not my function. I’ll fix the machine if it breaks, because it’s fun
      Oct 30
    • Uber jmdt64
      any chance of us making this point without the sexism angle?
      Nov 13
  • Avanade / Product TC or ..
    OP, I'm sure you are brilliant and doing the best you can. Since you are new and I've been in your shoes 5 years ago; where I was ignored for promo 2 consecutive years, only to be promoted 4 consecutive years after that.

    Here are my 10 commandments for you..

    1. Learn company lingo.
    2. Learn the business model.
    3. Learn what "actually" matters annual review time.
    4. Set SMART (Simple, Measureable, Actionable, Realistic and Time-bounded) goals.
    5. Always "exceed" (not meet) these goals.
    6. Talk to folks 2 levels above you and hear their career advancement story.
    7. Don't be socially awkward or act like a robot. If you are an introvert like me and can't naturally mix, fake it.
    8. Always offer a helping hand for something out of your "responsibilities".
    9. Impress your boss's boss.
    10. Don't be afraid of anyone.
    Oct 29 8
    • Sorry for my language but isn't point 9 the same as "kissing ass"?? How do you impress your boss's boss without a little bit of "ass kissing"?
      Oct 30
    • Cisco / Eng
      Nota-Bigot

      Cisco Eng

      BIO
      hoe
      Nota-Bigotmore
      Whooaaaa thank you experienced professional.... I'm new-ish to the work force. I will apply this.
      Oct 30
    • New / IT
      irOq63

      New IT

      PRE
      Sage
      irOq63more
      Saving
      Oct 30
    • Morgan Stanley URFp88
      Really good advice here. One may not be good at all the 9 points at all times but one should continuously strive even with years+ experience.
      Oct 30
    • Avanade / Product TC or ..
      @phoenix69 not really. And I never kiss ass.

      It could mean to do work at a level that's noticeable by that person. In my case I was on a complex migration project that my boss's boss was leading. With so much data being thrown around in status updates, I created PowerBI dashboards that would give him a holistic view of migrations using live data. All this in a mobile app right at their fingertips.
      Oct 30
  • GoDaddy / Mgmt Danica
    Get a job at another company and tell them, “here’s my initiative.”
    Oct 29 1
  • Amazon / Data
    guru-bhai

    Amazon Data

    PRE
    Google, Akamai Technologies
    guru-bhaimore
    Having this kind of feedback for just 1 yoe sounds too much. Just imagine yourself as someone in a senior role and try to drive things, always think what's next. Go into those 1-1 meetings with a clear agenda and more futuristic questions. Good luck!
    Oct 29 6
    • Amazon / Eng KHCr70
      I disagree.

      1) Maybe OP is a high performer and to progress he should focus most on bias for action.
      2) Maybe OP is not meeting the SDE bar for this LP. Even SDE1s are expected to show some initiative.

      I think the feedback for either case is appropriate
      Oct 29
    • Zillow Group lavm0
      HE OR SHE god @KHCr70
      Oct 29
    • Tesla / Eng shotgun1
      This looks like a lazy manager not knowing how to guide a developer with only 1 year of exp.

      The industry has completely removed the concept of junior devs and now a developer with 1 year experience is supposed to show 'initiative'. Seems like a conveniently broad/generic word to slap when you basically just want to give someone in your team a low rating

      I have worked with good managers and bad ones. Usually by the end of a year, a dev under a good manager already knows what areas to work on or improve on in the next quarter.

      OP, you might be stuck with a manager who doesn't know to lead and was made a manager just because of a few years of experience or was hired as a manager. But has poor management skills
      Oct 29
    • Amazon / Eng KHCr70
      Lavm0,
      OMG did you just imply there are only 2 genders???
      Oct 29
    • Zillow Group lavm0
      @KHCr70 if that’s what I did, then you
      Implied there’s only 1 gender.
      Oct 30
  • Apple / IT sillypuck
    Start stealing all the office equipment and stationary. This will demonstrate both exemplary initiative and ownership.
    Oct 29 0
  • Amazon / Eng
    bananaArmy

    Amazon Eng

    PRE
    Amazon
    bananaArmymore
    Think of new work and start assigning work to your manager
    Oct 29 0
  • King / Eng
    zmWY81Yp

    King Eng

    PRE
    Cisco
    zmWY81Ypmore
    All that people saying you should quit the job. OMG tech is definitely a bubble.

    To me this looks like constructive feedback. Like "hey, you are doing great, now is time for you to go 1 step further". You surely have opinions on what should be done in your project. Comment them with more senior engineers, propose new tasks to be done, do them.

    If you don't feel ready to do that yet, ask for a mentor, a mentor should be able to give you guidance on this kind of things. Well, either way every junior engineer would benefit from a mentor IMO.
    Oct 29 1
  • Dell sri-lanka
    Talk big with manager. Like should we buy walmart ? Or we need to do a re-org to better allign resources or who should not be the companies board of directors etc
    Oct 29 1
    • ServiceNow IKxL53
      Not this
      Oct 29
  • E*Trade / Finance cbEV72
    Sometimes you’re so good that your manager struggles to come up with criticism but he has to because HR demands it. So he writes weird stuff that makes you scratch your head, wth did he mean?
    Oct 29 3
    • Shit. True in crappy companies
      Oct 29
    • Cisco
      nov^*^

      Cisco

      BIO
      Cloud dev ops
      nov^*^more
      Absolutely, manager rated me low because ‘ I don’t see things in positive way’
      Oct 29
    • Google Prlh75
      “Positivity speak” is a cultural thing in big tech that you just have to learn. In Silicon Valley, the alignment of your chakras factors into perf assessment.
      Oct 29
  • Flagged by the community.

  • You won’t ever get promoted or advance in your career by doing the bare minimum daily duties for your job. Your manager wants to see more initiative in you by showing that you’re motivated and that you’re willing to go above and beyond for your organization. Also, finding and/or coming up with continuous improvement ideas and projects will set you apart from your peers. I would take his criticism as a kick in the butt to get out there and put your name in the hat to drive new projects, bring forth issues/errors, and volunteer to support your colleagues. Once you’re making those adjustments, you will have a list of many things you’re working on that are outside of your everyday scope of work during your quarterly meeting with your manager. This will be impressive and it will really show that you took what he said to heart and you really worked on it! An employee that can take criticism and not get offended by it, but rather better themselves is the BEST employee anyone could have! You got this!
    Oct 29 3
    • Facebook / Eng
      dividebyz

      Facebook Eng

      PRE
      Facebook
      dividebyzmore
      Why does one need a promotion?
      Oct 30
    • Microsoft / Eng mXFA80
      More TC
      Oct 31
    • New / IT 3times3
      If OP does that do you think OP is inviting more work for the same pay ?
      Nov 2
  • Microsoft rubaduba
    The fundamental skill you may be lacking is to take risk, sign up for shit you think you cannot do and always be first in line to take responsibility for failures. You will never get fired if you f..k up, short of sexual harassment. Everyday, go in and take decisions like you own the company, which you probably do as a shareholder, and go with the mindset that you are gonna F shi* up today. Take risk, don't worry about the consequences. You can always go and find a job to follow instructions.
    Oct 29 4
    • True AF
      Oct 29
    • Google / IT
      'quotes'

      Google IT

      PRE
      Google
      'quotes'more
      That sounds like you're encouraging OP to act randomly, just to show confidence :s
      Nov 3
    • Microsoft PYdItFjlv6
      Taking risks doesn't mean just do random shit, it means taking calculated risks, or stepping out of your comfort zone. And taking initiative almost always had some inherent risk.

      Here's an example. Let's say your team owns some component that is a legacy monstrosity. Nobody on the team REALLY knows how the thing works in depth, its always causing problems, and is a pain to work on.

      Now, you might take initiative here by coming to your manager with a proposal to rewrite this component to make it easier to work on and to understand how it works, maybe add documentation as you go so you don't have to be the only one who knows the component as well.

      This is risky on one hand, because you might bite off more than you can chew, and you spend 6 months working only to get some half baked thing that doesn't work.

      Or you might find out that it was easier than you expected, it only takes you a month, and now you've significantly improved things for the entire team.

      Probably it will be somewhere in the middle.

      Do things like that. You might fail, in fact, if you're not ever failing at anything, guaranteed you're not taking enough risks. Aim to succeed maybe 70-80% of the time and you will probably be in the sweet spot for growth
      Nov 3
    • Microsoft rubaduba
      In brevity it may have come across as I am asking OP to be reckless, my apologies.
      Nov 3
  • A simple piece of advice that has made such a difference in my career - Start by asking more questions. When you go into meetings try to find an opportunity to ask at least 2 questions. This will encourage you to think more critically while taking initiative in front of your team. Once you've done it for a while, you'll find that questioning will help you take more initiative with your other work as well because you'll be in the habit of looking for answers.
    Oct 29 2
    • Salesforce yidle
      Well said
      Oct 29
    • I've heard a variation of this, for introverts, speak up at least twice in a meeting, if not, you're not bringing any value to the table.
      Oct 29
  • New JEgY71
    I have gotten this feedback before. And have improved.
    What you can do is make recommendations instead of asking questions- instead of waiting to be told what to do update your supervisor: “unless I hear otherwise I will do ___”, etc. I hope that helps. And tbh that is not the WORST feedback you could have gotten, I feel like a lot of people can improve their initiative.
    Oct 29 1
    • ServiceNow IKxL53
      Exactly this. Make decisions and go.
      Oct 29
  • American Express gandalf$$
    Your manager is trying to push you in the right direction for you to get promoted. He also feels you are too dependent on him. Pretend your manager doesn’t exist and do what you think is best for the team. But this begs the question, are there any experienced engineers on the team? At your yoe, you should be honing your programming craft and learning a shit ton, getting a ton of feedback on code reviews, etc more than following a list of requirements to get promoted. What percent of your time are you coding?
    Oct 29 0
  • Walmart qcd4gh
    I was told the same at my yahoo internship! My manager was a complete jerk and I had to work in a team with his wife. I could have ignored the review and said F off. But I did the opposite I learned and boy the number of initiatives I took at my next job was magnificent! My manager and our Director clapped for all the work I did. So take this as a positive advice to see the change no matter if you hate or like your manager. If you hate the person, leetcode and leave is a great initiative as mentioned by many above.
    Oct 29 5
    • Chase #HustleBee
      I got praised and clapped by executives too but bruh where’s the $$$$??? no money no talk
      Oct 29
    • Walmart qcd4gh
      Well you need to learn to negotiate your bonus or promotion you deserve! That is also an art. I got more than expected bonus and great raise!
      Oct 29
    • An art which I can never learn, sigh. I find it easier to just leave and negotiate offers elsewhere.
      Oct 29
    • Airbnb liFu43
      Lol, same @Tableau
      Oct 30
    • Walmart qcd4gh
      Haha true that! But taking new job also requires you to negotiate your salary.
      Oct 30
  • Big Switch Networks / Mgmt sia1607
    One of the best pieces of advice I received early on from my first manager; the more you get accomplished for your manager without him having to tell you or supervise you, the better. Try to anticipate what your manager needs and proactively do that while keeping him in the loop.
    Oct 29 3
    • Davey qXcz3askb
      ☝️
      Oct 29
    • Cisco
      nov^*^

      Cisco

      BIO
      Cloud dev ops
      nov^*^more
      That’s like setting up yourself for disaster since every time you accomplish ‘some thing’ , boss asks you to do more in less time🤨
      Oct 29
    • Google amakk
      Once you know how to do that sustainably, you get promoted. Make sure you learn to manage above
      Oct 29

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