Blind-sided, crushed, devastated, hurt, frustrated, confused, that’s how folks have described the feeling of an unexpected negative annual review.

Communicate like an adult

Long before I became a consultant I came up with the fundamental rule with roommates. “If you don’t tell me something’s wrong – you can’t be annoyed.” It’s a solid rule that has held up in multiple aspects of life and is increasingly important for the relationship economy. I had learned the hard way that if you don’t establish clear expectations, i.e. no dishes in the sink, no borrowing my shoes, no cheese fondue parties chaos reign and issues build up that ultimately wreck your friendship, sexiest coral pumps, and sweet pad.

No excuse for hidden agendas

The worst managers conflate their own and the company’s goals. This is especially problematic when their agenda also includes unexamined personal preferences and bias.

The right decision may be in fact to terminate or transfer an employee because of a new strategy or direction, however creating information asymmetry is unfair, unkind, lazy, and destroys value – which is both stupid and inefficient.

People first management

I’ve recently enjoyed books like Work Rules! and Powerful about the high-performance cultures at Google and Netflix. I also was recently inspired by the culture deck of Patreon, which just goes to show you can be awesome at any size. The hallmarks of all these cultures include trust, clarity, truth, and feedback. (It’s also insightful that both Google and Netflix have decoupled salary and promotion decisions from the performance review process.) Lack of feedback and/or non-SMART feedback is the indication of a bad manager and more broadly of a bad culture.

While I am sure there are plenty of stoic consultants and coaches who would disagree with me (I’m looking at you A. Robbins), establishing a pattern of feedback is the responsibility of those in power, i.e. managers and leadership. Unfortunately, there is a big difference between what should be and what is, and many companies still don’t understand the value of regular SMART feedback.  It behooves individuals to take their fate into their own hands and to regularly seek out and offer 360 feedback,  on their own.

Fearlessly seek out feedback – let nothing remain unsaid.

If you suspect you failed to meet expectations either with a client or colleague, ASK and then offer to make it better. Use it as an opportunity to improve your process and project definition. Projects fail and clients are dissatisfied for many reasons, some of which may not be about you, perhaps the scope was unclear, the client didn’t know what they wanted, or perhaps they changed their mind.

One example

A junior associate I knew was feeling discouraged after being given the feedback that her work failed to meet expectations. After some discussion it was evident that her manager was expecting her to be a mind reader, taking over for a more senior associate who had left the year before. Instead of pointing this out, she offered to document a better onboarding process and compiled a list of questions and a project brief format, that she insisted on having answered at the beginning of each project. Her manager was at first resistant to the extra preparation but soon recognized that it was useful for getting them aligned and appreciated the pro-activity. It also came in handy when bringing on new staff and provided them with a scorecard for each project, tracking her progress and growth. It eventually helped her with making the case for her promotion and building out her resume.

Final thoughts

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