By Bruce Tulgan, excerpted from Its Okay to Manage Your Boss
Have you ever had a boss about whom you could say, “This boss knows exactly who I am and what I am doing, and she really, really cares”? This is a boss who knows what you’ve worked on in the past, what you are working on now, and what you are going to be working on next. Who constantly takes thorough, organized, accurate notes, and encourages you to do the same. Who is all over the details, telling you, through her actions, that both you and the work you do are important.
What about the opposite end of the spectrum? Have you had a boss who didn’t keep track of your day-to-day performance? This is the boss who never seems to know what you are doing or why you are doing it. Who often does not even know your whereabouts. Who is out of the loop and knows little about your work. Who tells you, through his actions, that neither you nor your work is all that important.
No matter which of these bosses you have, it is up to you to make sure that you are all over the details when it comes to keeping track of your own performance. Employees who track their own day-to-day performance very closely have no surprises when the time comes for mid-year and annual reviews. Employees who are all over the details are powerful because bosses and coworkers consider them self-starting high-performers.
The Power of Tracking Your Performance in Writing
The more closely you track your performance, the more power you will have to:
- Seek guidance, direction, on-the-job training, and coaching.
- Identify resource needs and justify requests.
- Evaluate your own performance against the expectations you agree on with your boss every step of the way.
- Help your boss keep track of your successes, anticipate problems and get your boss’s help in solving small problems as they occur.
- Plan your work and adjust your plans on an ongoing basis.
- Keep setting ambitious, but meaningful, goals and deadlines.
- Gain more and more responsibility.
- Give a regular, accurate report of your performance to your boss.
- Help your boss link your high performance to increased rewards.
When you are “all over the details,” you will gain respect and power in your working relationships with every boss and every coworker. Armed with written tracking records, you will be in a position to take on more and more responsibility, make better judgment calls, and take action more effectively in everything you do. You’ll be able to clarify expectations for yourself and help your boss set you up for success. You will also radically accelerate your ability to increase your productivity and reduce your error rates even as you take on more and more important work. If things go wrong, you’ll be able to see exactly where and when and how they went wrong and demonstrate that you were doing your best every step of the way. When it comes time to seek extra rewards for above-and-beyond performance, you will have a detailed written record to help you make your case and secure more generous rewards.
The greater your reputation for being all over the details, the more credible you will be. That doesn’t mean you need to pretend to know things that you don’t. Indeed, having a reputation for being thorough, organized, responsible, and knowledgeable gives you a lot of latitude to admit when you don’t know something. Nobody will think you are dumb because you are asking questions or demurring on a question because you need to check the facts.
Likewise, the greater your reputation for keeping track in writing and reporting regularly, candidly and fully on your work – good, bad, and average – the more trust you will build with each of your bosses. A boss will be much more likely to trust you and rely on your interpretations of events when you have proven yourself reliable and trustworthy. If the boss has confidence that you are double-checking and triple-checking your own details, keeping track in writing, and reporting thoroughly and honestly, then the boss won’t need to duplicate that effort by scrutinizing every detail of your work.
Track Your Performance by Monitoring Your Own Concrete Actions
If your boss is like most managers, she probably monitors mostly the elements of your performance that are easy to notice, such as hours in the office and the daily reports and weekly spreadsheets she automatically receives. But business data or knowing exactly when you come and go doesn’t really reflect what you are actually doing during those hours at work. Tracking your real, concrete actions tells much more about your performance, but it does take a lot more effort. If your boss isn’t going to put in that effort on her own, then you have to help. And even if she does monitor your real, concrete actions, you also need to monitor them yourself.
If your boss isn’t keeping close enough track of your performance, then you need to help him monitor your performance. Here are five ways to do that:
Provide drafts or samples of your work in progress on a regular basis. If you want to make sure the work you are doing meets your boss’s requirements, don’t wait until a routine review of the work comes along; by then you might discover you’ve been doing a task the wrong way for quite some time. Even if you have a clear deliverable with a concrete deadline, don’t wait until you deliver the final product to find out if the deliverable meets the expectations. Instead, check with your boss early on to make sure that you are going in the right direction. That means actually showing the boss drafts or samples of what you are doing, not just describing it. Say, “This is an example of the product I am building. Does this meet your requirements? What adjustments do I need to make?” You are much better off having that conversation early and often so that by the time the deadline rolls around for the final deliverable, there will be no surprises.
Any opportunities you can seize to help your boss spot-check your work will help you identify and solve any hidden problems. For example, if you manage a database, ask your boss to walk through some records at random with you to spot-check them for quality. If you write reports, ask your boss to look at early drafts or draft sections. If you make phone calls, ask your boss if you can record them and listen to a random sample together so he can help you improve. If you make widgets, ask your boss to look at some half-done widgets with you to see how they are coming along.
Ask your boss to watch you work. If you want to make absolutely sure that you are accomplishing a task the way your boss wants you to do it – especially if you are not responsible for producing a tangible end product – one of the most effective ways to get that clarity is to get the manager to watch you work. Watching you complete a task will give him a clear view of what you are doing and how you are doing it. For example, if you are in a customer service role, having your boss watch you interact with a customer will tell him more about your customer service performance than any batch of customer feedback surveys. In particular, if you are having difficulty succeeding with a specific task, ask your boss to “shadow” you while you accomplish the task. If your boss is really good at the task, he is likely to have some good advice for doing it better.
Give your boss an account of your performance. In every one-on-one conversation with every boss, you should be providing a full and honest account of exactly what you’ve done on your assignments for that boss since your last conversation: “These are the concrete actions I’ve taken. This is what I did and how I did it. These are the steps I followed in order to meet or exceed the expectations we set together.” Once you’ve given a full and honest account, you and your boss will be better able to clarify next steps. As long as you are engaged in an ongoing, consistent one-on-one dialogue with that boss, this element of helping your boss monitor your performance will become routine.
Use self-monitoring tools. Help your boss keep track of your concrete actions by making good, rigorous use of self-monitoring tools like project plans, checklists, and activity logs. Monitor in writing whether you are meeting the goals and deadlines laid out in a project plan. Make notes and use checklists, and report to your boss at regular intervals. Use an activity log, a diary noting contemporaneously exactly what you are doing all day, including breaks and interruptions. Each time you move on to a new activity, note the time and the new activity you are turning to.
Spread the word. Ask customers, vendors, coworkers, and everyone else you work with to give you honest feedback about your performance in relation to them. Ask them, in writing, ‘How am I doing?’ Consider passing their responses on to your boss. Remember, one of the most consistent sources of information most bosses have about the work of their employees is hearsay. People talk. Word spreads. You should know what people think about your work and use that data as feedback to help you improve. But this feedback will also be important to pass on to your boss so that you have some input in the general hearsay about your work.
About the Author
Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders all over the world and a sought-after keynote speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder and CEO of RainmakerThinking, Inc., a management research and training firm, as well as RainmakerThinking.Training, an online training company. Bruce is the best-selling author of numerous books including Not Everyone Gets a Trophy (Revised & Updated, 2016), Bridging the Soft Skills Gap (2015), The 27 Challenges Managers Face (2014), and It’s Okay to be the Boss (2007). He has written for the New York Times, the Harvard Business Review, HR Magazine, Training Magazine, and the Huffington Post. Bruce can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org, you can follow him on Twitter @BruceTulgan, or visit his website www.rainmakerthinking.com.