Things About Work I Wish I Knew Earlier – Part 9

Last week, I wrote about how we’re really never as good as we think we are, especially early on in our careers.  I think it’s really important to remind ourselves of that, because certainly no one else will.  That leads me to this week’s post:

9. Few people will tell you the truth about your performance

I almost wrote “no one,” but I have to believe there someone out there that does tell the truth to their direct reports about their performance in a tactful and professional way.  For the most part, however, candid conversations about performance don’t happen.  Those of you with bosses that you like and who help you get ahead should be very, very thankful.  I have benefitted from bosses like that.  However, I have learned that even they aren’t telling you the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth.

Whether your performance is good or bad, the risk is too great to tell you the full truth.  There are two scenarios.

A.  You are performing well: Bosses really, really want to tell high performing employees that they are doing well.  As one who has managed people in the past, I know that these positive conversations are a pleasure.  However, if you have an employee that is really doing well, it is too risky to tell them exactly how well.  No one wants an employee getting too big a head, but a more significant concern is how quickly you might promote them or give them more responsibility.  If you tell someone they are doing great and are ready for a promotion, and then you can’t promote them for a while, you risk them leaving or becoming disenchanted and performing worse.  There is also a notion that a high performer might take her bosses job sooner than later.  If this is the case, why tell her how well she’s doing.

B. You are performing poorly: First, no boss wants to have this conversation, and this often stops a conversation about poor performance before it starts.  Second, people don’t want to be mean, even if it’s the truth.  No one will ever go so far as to say, “Fred – that presentation really sucked.  Worst ever.”  That’s just mean.  However, the real reason you are never told completely how poorly you are doing is because your boss needs you to stick at your job and get things done.  If your boss completely demotivates you, then you might leave or not get done even the minimum.

So, what do you do?  You start by doing what I’ve written about in this series.  Stay off the radar.  Do good work.  Keep your head on straight.  Don’t worry about getting feedback on your performance through the normal channels.  You won’t.  If you can get by without this feedback, you’ll be better off in the long run.

I’ll tell you why you are better off and how to get the feedback you need starting next week.


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