The Mistake that Seems Inevitable (at least once) for Every Manager

You know the thing that has been done to you, that you vowed you’d never do to anyone else, and then you find yourself in the situation where you did the thing that you thought you’d never do?

Photo by Fernanda Latronico

Well, for many managers, this is it: not giving clear, direct feedback when someone reporting to you is not working effectively for the business and then watching their career suffer (or worse- having to let them go), because of it.

I have always been a high performer in my career. But when I first started working at Microsoft, I was so out of my league that I had no perspective of what I didn’t know. I thought I was performing highly (comparing myself to other new-hires, I was knocking the ball out of the park). Every week I met with my manager and we discussed what work I was doing, where my focus was, and what my plan was for the following week. I was extremely proactive in my own work and training, and because we were regularly connecting, I thought my manager was in tune and happy with my work. Twelve weeks later, we had my first official performance review. I hadn’t had one yet, but I was excited to meet and discuss my work on a deeper level.

And then, for the first time in twelve weeks my manager said to me: I think you could have reached these numbers faster. You aren’t quite at your utilization goal. Marie, why haven’t you taken on more cases?

Me, in my head: Wait. What?! Mr. Manager, my performance has surpassed all of my peers at this point in my training. I have been meeting with you weekly so that you are aware of my work and progress. Up until now you have expressed nothing but full support, excitement and acceptance of the things I have been working on. What do you mean, I could have reached these numbers faster? What do you mean I’m not meeting my goal? More cases?!

I was stunned. I was discouraged. And, I was bummed that my first official review wasn’t great, or even good. I vowed that I would never, ever let someone go 12 weeks without keeping them straight in their role.

Fast forward a few years.

Not even a first-time manager, I found myself on the management side of this exact situation and my heart sank when I realized what I had done.

The folks I have managed (directly or indirectly) in the past have been high-performing, go-getting, initiative-taking learners who really have not needed to be managed. Viewing myself as a partner to my teams, my approach has been a hands-off, come-to-me-when-you-need-me style.

Despite observing that a particular person on my team was not exercising the full-depth of skills required for their work, and despite meeting with them regularly, I was worried about giving them the feedback that their soft skills could use some honing. I assumed that experience would work this out, sharpening their work and approach. Plus, I was busy — like really, really busy. So, I preferred to just do the work required, as opposed to hand-holding someone else to do the work required.

And then, the business needs shifted. Because this person was not performing well enough in their current role, we simply could not justify training them up and moving them into the newly required role. What could have been a promotion, ended up being a let-go.

Talk about a worst case scenario and a hugely missed opportunity. It was a full face palm moment. It was also a moment of learning that required a great amount of compassion — for them and for myself.

It’s so easy to bypass the uncomfortable conversations. It’s so easy to hope that everything will work itself out so long as you are focused on your own paper. But the thing is — as a manager, your own paper includes the papers of all the people you are responsible for. This is not a call to micro-management (like, please do not jump on that train). Rather, this is a call for having the best interest in mind for the people under your belt. Giving honest, clear and compassionate feedback (positive and not-so-positive) is what grows individuals. It’s what builds trust. And, it takes the accountability from yourself onto the folks that you are working with.

If they don’t know — it’s on you if/when you have to let them go.

Have you experienced this as well? Share your story with me in the comments below or on social media and tag @thecorppsychic.

With Gratitude Always,
TCP

Marie

Marie

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