The title of this post is somewhat of a trick question. When a company pays your salary, as agreed when you took the job, you probably do owe them something in return. In other words, in most cases you should deliver whatever you agreed to do in exchange for that salary.
On the other hand, what if the company expects actions that are, for example, unethical or borderline illegal? Then you’re looking at possible consequences and risks that you didn’t agree to at the outset. Such a situation merits at least some serious thought on your part and might require you to take steps that are difficult to face.
Here’s hoping you never have a job situation that puts you in that kind of spot, but we’ve probably all heard or read news reports about just such occurrences. How would you handle it if it happened to you?
Unacceptable Job Performance Demands
Ultimately, you’ll have to determine whether a demand is so unacceptable that you need to find another position. Before you reach that point, however, it would be wise to evaluate the situation carefully. For instance, can you identify possible ways to work things out so that you don’t have to accede to unacceptable job performance demands?
If you’ve done your best to work through a troublesome issue and gotten nowhere, that might be the time to start seriously looking for options outside the company–as discreetly as possible. In the meantime, you’ll want to avoid “stirring the pot” if you can, so you don’t raise a red flag in the minds of management about your plan to jump ship the moment you find a better job offer.
Among other things, be very careful about talking to anyone within the company–even someone you think you can trust. Whether or not the person is on the level and means to treat your comments as confidential, you can’t bank on that and don’t want to put your job at risk unnecessarily.
Company Loyalty Not a 2-Way Street
I’ve written about this before, but it bears repeating. As far as I know, no company gives you an open-ended job guarantee or promises you they’ll give you ample notice if they decide they need or want to dispense with your services.
Maybe the best companies today do care about their employees and make a point of treating them fairly, partly because they know it’s the best way to continue attracting top performers; but those are probably the exception rather than the rule. Many companies that aren’t necessarily shady or otherwise undesirable don’t feel a real sense of loyalty to employees. As Tom Hanks’ character says in “You’ve Got Mail”: “It’s not personal; it’s business.”
When they need to trim expenses or change directions for the business in some way that leaves you on the outside, you’re expendable. In most cases, they don’t even need to give you any warning. Not only that, but if you give them the traditional two-weeks’ notice when you’re the one initiating a separation, they can just as easily walk you right out the door with no time to do more than (maybe) grab your personal effects.
So a word to the wise: Be smart about the subject of company loyalty. Do what you knowingly agreed to do and make plans to leave if the job situation takes an unexpected turn for the worst. You “owe” that to yourself.
P.S. This will be my last blog post for the next few weeks, as I’m in the midst of getting ready to make a cross-country move. I’ll get back to you when I can.
I’ve never met anyone who really enjoyed performance reviews–giving or receiving them! Some people consider them a necessary evil at best. The fact is, though, that if your company uses performance reviews, you’re not going to have a choice in the matter.
Keeping things as black-and-white as possible, we have two kinds of performance reviews: bad and good. However, like many things in life, it’s not exactly that simple.
Bad Performance Reviews
One way of looking at this is to label as bad any performance review that does one or more of the following:
- Hits you with negative comments that seem to come out of the blue.
- Criticizes you for events outside your control.
- Gives unclear feedback that leaves you wondering just where you might have gone wrong and what you can do to correct that.
Of course, this isn’t a comprehensive list. I imagine you could think of some other circumstances that you would consider involved a bad performance review. One of the criteria that I consider is whether or not the review enables you to move forward progressively if you are really willing to do what it takes to make that happen.
Good Performance Reviews
On the other hand, a good performance review (at least in my opinion) is one that does the following:
- Takes a constructive approach to pointing out areas where you have room for improvement.
- Includes suggestions or invites open discussion of ways you might elevate your job performance–including but not limited to those areas marked for improvement.
- Praises you for work you have done well–that is, beyond just what was “expected” (i.e., the minimum acceptable performance) and makes particular note of your contributions that went substantially above and beyond what you were required to do.
Bad Performance Reviews are Hard to Swallow
If you receive a positive review, you’re probably not going to lose much sleep over it later. In contrast, a negative performance review can cause you serious concern, stress, uncertainty, and more. It’s seldom, if ever, something you can shrug off and move on without a qualm. And you shouldn’t do that anyway.
According to an article by Carolyn O’Hara on HBR Blog Network titled “What to Do After a Bad Performance Review,” you can take several steps to respond during and after a negative performance review. Briefly, these are:
- Reflect before you react.
- Look for your blind spots
- Ask questions.
- Make a performance plan.
- Give yourself a second score (for how you respond to the comments).
- Look at the big picture.
I believe the first one is possibly the most important, although they’re all valid. For example, if you do a “Mt. Vesuvius” (volcanic eruption) or burst into tears and rush out of the room, you’ve done yourself an immediate disservice. It’s tough to bounce back from that in a beneficial way. It’s kind of like the saying, “Make sure your brain is engaged before putting your mouth into gear.”
Note: In this post I’m not trying to address the kind of negative review that stems from having a totally unreasonable (e.g., toxic) boss who might not have given you a positive review even if his or her life had depended on it. That’s when the last suggestion on the above list might come into play–you might really be better off looking for a new and hopefully better job than spinning your wheels trying to turn that bad performance review into a good situation.
You can go along thinking you’re doing well in your job and suddenly discover–maybe in your performance review!–that your boss doesn’t agree. This can happen for many reasons, and you need to be on top of it before things get so bad you can’t “fix” them.
Meeting Performance Expectations
You should have had a clear indication from your boss when you started as to his/her performance expectations. If you didn’t, it would be a good idea to correct that situation ASAP. How can you hit a target you can’t see?
On the other hand, if you did have well-defined performance expectations laid out for you, that doesn’t mean you can just coast along. Circumstances might have altered since you took the job. Priorities could have shifted, conditions within the company could have changed, and so on. Even if your boss neglected to keep you up to date on that, it doesn’t let you off the hook. As a presumably responsible adult, you need to pay attention to changes and how those might affect your job requirements.
Fixating Can Jeopardize Your Job
At some point you might spend a lot of time and energy on a project that you really enjoy and feel great about. However, if you haven’t double-checked how it fits with your boss’s current priorities for your job performance, you might be in for a shock. Misinterpreting or overlooking signs as to what your boss currently considers critical could mean that you’re putting a lot of effort into something he/she doesn’t consider as significant as something else that you’re not doing.
Basically, fixating on work that you think is valuable without comparing it with how your boss views the situation can–in a worst-case scenario–actually jeopardize your job. You might, for instance, have overlooked a project that either would have saved the company money or helped it bring in more money. That could have serious repercussions for your job security!
Don’t Aggravate Your Boss
There are other ways to make your boss unhappy, of course. Some might not be job-threatening, but it wouldn’t hurt to acquaint yourself with them and make sure you’re not guilty of any of them. You could begin by reading an article titled “10 Ways to Tick Off Your Boss Without Even Knowing It” by Jay Steinfeld, CEO of Blinds.com.
Here are some of the things Steinfeld advises you not to do:
- Say that you know something when you really don’t.
- Do exactly as you are told, even when you know it’s wrong.
- Arrive 5 minutes late to meetings.
- Be the same person you were six months ago. My ideal employee is miles from where he or she was personally and professionally in each successive year.
- Tell me you’ll be late on delivering a project on the day that it’s due.
- Whine (about other employees, the weather, traffic, your workload).
I have to say that the one about being late to meetings was one of my pet peeves back in the days when I was the administrative assistant to a vice president. One of his senior staff members was habitually late to meetings and had to be almost dragged away from his phone or computer to get him to the meeting. His attitude appeared to be that no one else’s time was as valuable as his or as important as whatever he decided he should be doing. As a result, he ended up wasting the time of a lot of other people, who definitely didn’t appreciate it!
Probably the big point to remember about “doing what your boss wants” is that you need to make sure you know what that is and check periodically to find out whether something else has superseded it; then put your energy and focus into achieving it as early and as well as you possibly can.
If you think you aren’t a creative employee, you might want to think again. And if you aren’t being creative in some way, can you change that?
The tendency is to think of creative employees in terms of fields such as graphic arts, marketing communications, and such–in other words, either visual or written creativity that’s an essential aspect of the individual’s job. Those of you who don’t work in such fields might be convinced that you’re not a creative employee. Not so fast, though. Maybe there’s more to it than that.
What Marks You as a Creative Employee?
Coming up with ideas for how to do something better and faster than it’s been done before could be considered evidence of creativity–that is, you might engage in creative thinking that gets out of the every-day rut and looks at a situation differently than other employees do. More than once over the years since I started creating resumes, I’ve had a client tell me he or she had been able to solve difficult problems that others had attempted and failed to do. Those clients went on to give me concrete examples of situations where that had happened.
Look at your job performance and see if you can point to instances where you tackled something that had been tried before without success and got it to work well. It doesn’t need to be of earthshaking importance to qualify you as a creative employee. By the same token, if something hasn’t been tried before but should have been, you might be the one who sees possibilities and opportunities that have previously been overlooked.
Can You Change a “Lack” of Creativity?
If you really feel you’re not a creative employee, the odds are still pretty good that you can change that. Start by changing your concept of creativity. As I indicated above, opening up your thinking to new possibilities can lead to outcomes that benefit your company in a variety of ways. As far as the company is concerned, that makes you a creative employee–and a potentially very valuable one.
A recent article by Ashlie Turley, titled “Building a Work Environment That Inspires Creativity,” states that “Creativity impacts three aspects of business in particular. These aspects – efficiency, effectiveness, and profitability – also happen to be the areas of business that leaders are usually most concerned about.” I believe you can stretch yourself as an employee, if you’re not already contributing creatively to those critical business areas. Encourage yourself to question the status quo in your own mind first and then see if you can identify ways to suggest improvements that your employer will find worth considering.
More than likely, the only thing stopping you from functioning as a creative employee is your own self-doubt or hesitation. Once you start challenging that self-imposed limitation, you might be surprised at how much of a creative employee you can be.
By the way, you can demonstrate creativity before you even start a new job. Look at your job search with a fresh approach and see if you can come up with better ways of managing it. Also, be prepared to demonstrate creative thinking when you prepare for and engage in job interviews. You might give your interviewer a pleasant surprise.
It’s easy–sometimes all too easy–to get caught up in the day-to-day activities of your work-life and not take a good look at how you’re really doing overall. This approach bears an uncomfortably strong resemblance to a racehorse with blinkers on. If you’ve fallen into that trap, now is the time to free yourself from it.
Job Performance and Blinkers
Just to give a little background, blinkers have at least a couple of purposes when used with horses: to prevent the horse seeing to the rear and, in some cases, to the side; to keep the horse focused on what is in front of him, encouraging him to pay attention to the race rather than other distractions.
Now there’s nothing wrong with concentration in and on your job performance. Distractions that keep you from performing at your peak effectiveness should probably be disregarded as much as possible. Savvy employees know that they need to achieve good results and meet or exceed the expectations of their boss(es) if they hope to succeed long term.
However, if you’re wearing mental blinkers regarding your job performance, you might be heading for a fall in terms of your career success. Remember, blinkers keep you from seeing much of anything except what’s right in front of you. When you’re on the job, lack of awareness about what’s going on around you can prove disastrous.
Job Performance: Focus versus Blinkers
Essentially, success in your job performance becomes more attainable when you learn to balance concentration with awareness. There’s a time to focus and a time to assess with an open mind (to take the blinkers off for a while). How you manage this balance depends on your style, personality, preferred method of operating, and so on.
For example, if you’re the methodical type, comfortable with a fair amount of structure, you might choose to block out a specific time each week to review what you’ve actually been doing and check that against what you were expected to accomplish. If your boss has set some objectives for your job performance, that’s a good place to start.
On the other hand, if you tend to be a free-wheeler, you might be more comfortable adopting a flexible approach and doing your assessment when you feel in the mood for it. As long as you make sure you do it, the exact timing probably isn’t so important.
Job Performance: How Do You Measure Up?
So if you’re chugging along and not checking on your progress periodically, you might think you’re doing okay. But what if “okay” isn’t really okay or isn’t enough to bring you satisfaction and long-term success? You don’t need to measure yourself against other people–even other people who do much the same work as you do–but you do need a way to determine whether you’re on the right track to reach where you want to be or seriously deluding yourself.
Think how great it would be to deliver the quality of job performance that would have people falling all over themselves to promote you or recruit you to an amazing new job or career opportunity. That rarely (never?) happens by accident.
Is there such a thing as mistake-free career management and job search? In a perfect world, maybe; however, you probably don’t live in a perfect world, so the odds are that you’ll make a mistake here and there throughout your career. That said, you can certainly make a concerted effort to avoid mistakes that have a devastating (or even somewhat disrupting) effect on your professional career progress.
Two Mistakes to Avoid
I could list dozens of career management and job search mistakes that my clients (and I, in a former life) have made over the years. The full list might make for depressing reading, but I do want to mention a few, starting with what I might call the “top two.”
- Assume that you can always be in control–and “manage” your career and jobs from that mindset.
- Assume that you’re never going to be in control–and “manage” your career and jobs from that mindset.
I firmly believe that no one–up to and including senior managers and executives–can control every aspect of his/her career progress and job performance. On the other hand, savvy career managers and job seekers know they can exert substantial impact in those areas. In short: you can and should avoid the two mistakes just mentioned.
Five Other Career Management and Job Search Mistakes to Avoid
- Fail to track your progress toward goals–or fail to establish achievable goals in the first place. That can lead to wandering aimlessly and never reaching the desired outcome.
- Believe that others are responsible for your progress or lack thereof. Undeniably, others can have an impact–sometimes a significant one–but that doesn’t mean you should abdicate your responsibility to manage your own career or job search.
- Ignore warning signs that trouble lies ahead, whether in your group, your company, your industry or the world at large.
- Become complacent when everything seems to be going smoothly. Yes, enjoy the ride while it lasts, but don’t assume it will last indefinitely.
- Put all your eggs in one basket. Just as your company can’t afford the risk of depending on one major customer for its long-term success, so you can’t and shouldn’t depend on your company to provide long-term career success and financial prosperity.
Mistake-Free Career Management and Job Search? Seriously?
As we enter the last month of 2013, consider this: If you want something to change for the better in your job or your career, you need to put serious muscle behind making that happen. So, what are you going to do about that? You can start by avoiding the mistakes I’ve mentioned or identifying others you might have made in the past and taking remedial action to prevent repeating them. You can’t pass the responsibility off to someone else. It’s up to you–Santa isn’t going to put it underneath your Christmas tree!
If you view your career as something that only needs attention when you’re about to be pushed into a job search by circumstances beyond your control, you’re indulging in fuzzy career thinking. More than likely, that will lead to poor career results. It’s basically true that you can’t get more out of something than you’re able–and willing–to put into it. Career progress definitely falls into that category.
5 Tips to Avoid Fuzzy Career Thinking
- Realize that nothing stays the same forever. You might feel secure in your present job at this time, but although you hope that situation will continue indefinitely, you shouldn’t count on it.
- Keep an optimistic outlook because it tends to have a positive impact on your job performance. At the same time, don’t go overboard with it and let optimism cloud your good judgment.
- Check in periodically with people whose insights and opinions you respect, to get their sense of what’s going on (outside or inside your present company). They might see something you’re missing and should be aware of.
- Maintain a concise log of things you’ve been asked by your boss to do and have done successfully, as well as contributions you’ve made without being asked that proved to be valuable. Not only will this help you stay focused and alert, but also it will provide useful backup if/when you need to make a career move.
- Remember the old axiom about not putting all your eggs in one basket. Your current job–even your current career area–might not be the only possibility for you, either now or at some point in the future. Take a look now and then at other possibilities that might be worth exploring.
Something for You to Think About
“People get trapped into thinking about just one way of doing things,” a quotation from Erik Weihenmayer.
Erik was born with a degenerative eye disorder that left him blind by the time he was 13, but he was determined to overcome this devastating situation and lead a fulfilling and exciting life. The results are shared in his memoir: Touch the Top of the World: A Blind Man’s Journey to Climb Farther than the Eye Can See: My Story. I think Erik must be a very unfuzzy thinker in terms of envisioning goals and pursuing them, but the fact that he has an open-minded approach to life is probably also what enabled him to consider possibilities that seemed impossible to other people–and achieve them.
P.S. This week, life and a busy workload got in the way of doing posts when I had planned, so you’re seeing them two days in a row. Don’t expect that to happen very often!