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Career Development: Is the Boss Really being Difficult or is it You?

Recently, in a Linked In group associated with HR, someone posted a discussion that well over 2400 people commented on.  The flavor of the discussion was: Why is it so hard to find good employees?  It’s like a standoff between the frowning faces of the boss and the employee.  Both are thinking really bad things about the other.  I’d like to give you a perspective from a boss’s point of view regarding this comment.

I acknowledge that there are bad bosses.  I also acknowledge that without reason, some simply don’t like you and want you to be gone.  Despite being bad or disliking certain people, there are things that employees do that make even the best bosses seem like tyrants.  What I am speaking about is poor performance and the tough talks that go with it.  As a society, we’re taught to be nice to people and they will be nice to you.  That concept doesn’t apply to the conversation at work where performance feedback is necessary and most often hard to do.  It’s a tough message to give and a harder one to receive.  It’s hard to feel warm and fuzzy about someone who just said what you did was a flop.  It’s also easy to think that person is being unreasonable or difficult, yet are they really?

More than anything else, a manager just wants things to work right.  They don’t dream of coming in to the office and giving someone a bad time about their work.  There is a higher amount of energy and focus drain that happens when an employee isn’t working up to expectations, because the manager has to go through extra steps to monitor the work.  While it is part of the job, usually the manager’s job is not structured in such a way that they really have time for this extra task.  It means extra work and extra stress.  Then add to that the step of sitting down with the employee to tell them the bad news.  This isn’t how most managers want to spend their day.

On the reverse side of this, the employee with performance problems almost never really “gets it”.  If they did, they probably wouldn’t have the issues to start with.  Most managers give the under-performing employee the benefit of the doubt when they start engaging in the tough performance conversations.  The benefit in this case, is that if the issue is pointed out, it can be corrected.  I have seen instances where, following these chats, the performance actually gets worse and there is often some strange behavior to coincide.  I once had an employee, who in their attempt to portray deep listening, eyes would bulge and go unblinking for the duration of our talks.  This had to take so much concentration that I knew they weren’t listening; and they weren’t.

While performance feedback should be ongoing and non-threatening dialogues, they many times don’t take place. You need to understand, this is part of your ongoing career development. To avoid driving off the performance cliff, here are some things you can do to aid in your own management:

     Document your responsibilities and the expectations of your output.  Make sure you understand both the qualitative and quantitive elements of how you will be measured.  When things change, and they will, update your understanding.

 

     If you foresee a problem due to lack of resources, support or your own training, you need to flag that to the boss at the first sign of the issue.  You need to come to an agreement on how the issue will be resolved.  They need to be part of the solution.

 

 

     If you aren’t receiving ongoing feedback on your performance, ask for it.  It’s hard to be derailed when you are receiving information and making course corrections along the way.  Engage key stakeholders for this feedback as well.

 

     If you still receive a tough performance message, don’t be defensive.  Do your best to take in the information, ask questions and ensure your understanding.  Develop an action plan that will respond to the issues and validate it with your boss.  Once you are in agreement, ask for ongoing feedback to that plan.  Keep in mind that when you are in a performance crisis, this is not the time to be trying to add something new or sexy to your workload.  I once had a person, who wasn’t performing the basics, who decided the company should pay for their programming classes (which weren’t part of the job).  While I believe in ongoing improvement, that was not the time to be away from the desk and adding to an already bad situation. Use your head – don’t grab an anchor if you’re drowning.

I’ve long held the belief that doing a great job and being a great employee was easy.  I still do.  I just think that employees need to see the boss as something besides the enemy and to take responsibility for their performance.  If you can do that, you will most likely like the boss better and be the “good employee” everyone is looking for.

 

If you’re not working up to your usual standards, maybe it’s burn out.  Take this free quiz to find out: http://nextchapternewlife.com/quizzes/RecognizingBurnout-enabled.pdf From Dorothy Tannahill-Moran at http://www.nextchapternewlife.com

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