How to tell your manager is failing you

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Let me ask you a simple, yet complicated, question. Have you ever received work goals from your manager that you thought you could attain? Goals that were reasonable, measurable, and were able to be attained from your own work?

Looking back on a (very) long career, I’d say no. Or very rare.

When I was still an FTE and not consulting as I am now, I started to push back on the goals that I thought were not attainable. Things like “team” goals. No matter how hard I personally worked in attaining that goal, if the rest of the team did just an average job at the goal, it was rated “satisfactory.” Which is great if what you were doing was “satisfactory” work to attain the goal. If you were doing “exceeds expectations” work to attain the team goal, it was all wasted effort and time because the rest of the team didn’t do the “exceeds expectations” work.

And, oh-by-the-way, that “satisfactory” rating on your team goal dragged your overall rating down toward average as well, making it that much harder to get that higher rating — and salary increase with a higher bonus.

Good times.

Here’s the deal

Most people won’t push back on their goals. They will talk the goals through, think about it, but if the goal isn’t attainable, not reasonable, not measurable or can’t get achieved from just their own work, they roll over and accept the goal. And get the performance review to match.

Corporate systems are not designed nor implemented to evaluate individual performance (outside of most sales organizations). At the very best, the performance is measured against a department. Or a budget. But not to an individual.

Unless you, personally, can track your progress against your goals by being able to measure your work results, you abdicate your ability to influence your performance review. Essentially, your manager can write whatever he or she wants on your performance review and you have nothing to show on why that opinion is anything other than an opinion.

Or, what you track makes no difference

But let’s say you can track your performance. Let’s say you do have numbers that show your results. But your manager ignores them anyway, writes what the manager wants to write, and your pushback means nothing.

That’s not the same thing as the manager just writing anything the manager wants. In the example where you can’t track your work, you are playing the “match expectation” game by getting higher ratings through your personality, ability to bond with the manager or whatever to get the rating. It’s certainly not about measuring results. You may want to operate in that environment; I’ll pass. All Cubicle Warriors would pass on that as well.

In the case where you can track your performance, point that out to your manager and the manager still won’t take that into account, what you have is a bad manager. Most likely a poor management team standing behind and poorly supporting that manager as well. 

But now you know.

Objectively knowing you have a poor manager, or a manager who agrees with you but can’t override the politics of the performance management culture, or a manager who embraces measuring results of an employee’s work makes a world of difference in what actions you take next. Should you stay in the department? Stay in the company? Work with the manager? Not work with the manager?

You need to know. The only way to know is if you set up your goals right the first time (which gives you the first big clue about your manager and your results) and then see how those goals and your business results are measured on your performance review.

If your SMART goals are not really smart, you won’t be able to be smart about your work either. You’ll just have your opinions and feelings about how it is going and those have never influenced a performance review.

Smart goals drive performance. They also drive your ability to see the type of management environment you are working in while earning your salary. Not getting the SMART goals smart makes it harder to empirically understand where you stand in the organization and with your manager.

Tighten up your SMART Goals

Really make them SMART. And if your manager won’t get them to be within your control and have a way to measure your specific performance against the goals, well, that tells you something about management now, doesn’t it?

Check out Killer SMART Goals for the Cubicle Warrior.

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