I've been working as a Sr Fullstack Engineer for 2 years at a Series B startup. I've never received negative feedback, actually, I thought everything was fine until last week. My manager told me that I need to improve my Problem-Solving skills and ask better questions, she kind of implies that I'm a candidate for starting a PiP.
I agree that I struggled in the last 2 months (they switched me to a new project where I'm the only engineer and my manager only has 20% of her time for me), it's been super challenging but I'm trying to make it work. That means that I'm putting in more hours than I should frequently, and I'm starting to feel demotivated and depressed.
Honestly, this feedback took me by surprise, as no one told me anything about my performance during the last two months, I thought that even when I was struggling, they were fine with it because it's a new project and I'm basically on my own and no one is there that I can reach out to for help.
How can I better navigate this? Should I start looking for a new job? I like my job and it would be sad to leave.
What do you think?
Sorry to hear you were surprised by the negative feedback, that never feels good 😭
The good news: you're not on a PIP and you have a 2 year history at the company. So you definitely have not been written off. The best thing you can do now is show that you're receptive to the feedback and act on it.
I talk about being a "feedback sponge" for a portion of this video (starting at 0:54): https://youtu.be/Rzl3_5hcnwI?t=54. Summary here:
First, take a deep breath! Once This is largely positive news, especially if you goals are to grow. But I understand that it never feels good to receive feedback, no matter how well intentioned (I myself feel the same way). Ones we don't see coming can be especially helpful, because it might help us identify our own blindspots.
My main advice to you is to dig deeper into this piece of feedback. I agree w/ you that her feedback is vague (or a least, your understanding of it is). Best pieces of feedback are specific - they sound like "In this situation, you did x and y, and that result in this suboptimal result, and if you thought about A and did B instead it would've had this positive impact", etc. I would try to figure out answers to the following questions with your manager or your peers, in no particular order:
Ultimately, for you to take actions and actually grow, you need to understand where the problem is and it's not clear to me that your manager or you have discussed this in detail.
A couple of tangential thoughts on what you shared with us:
...that is on me to come up with an improvement plan. This feels wrong to me, isn't that her job as a manager?
...And it's also the employee's job to own their own career growth. Look, your manager can help you grow and coach you up, but this is at least a 50-50 relationship where both parties need to uphold their end of the bargain. I think if you don't do it, your manager will eventually come up with a plan; you just might not like that plan. I know I would rather follow my own plan if given the choice.
Lastly, I would ask you to be empathetic to your manager - it's very hard to give feedback well, and it doesn't sound this one went well. But it's much, much better getting a piece of feedback earlier when you still can do something about it rather than late, say after a project is completed. So maybe at least give her credit for that?
That means that I'm putting in more hours than I should frequently, and I'm starting to feel demotivated and depressed.
What are your personal motivations for taking on this project in the first place? And maybe, just maybe, this project isn't a good fit for you, and given you've done well (?) in the team for the last two years, you just need to find a new project? Maybe a vacation would help with a reset? In any case, don't underestimate the effect of not taking care of your motivation, energy, and mental health can have on your work and personal life.
Thanks for sharing your situation with us - I think this is a common situation we will all run into at some point in our careers!