Sam had been working at her current consulting job for about two years. She had joined the firm after a stint in IT, where she had been a star performer, rising up the ranks faster than the rest of her cohort. Always willing to take on any extra work – and there was always extra work in consulting – Sam was confident that the partner she reported to now was happy with her. At the two annual reviews she had had, he seemed quite satisfied with her performance. The reviews weren’t as exemplary as at her previous job, but she was sure she would gradually catch up.
So, it came as a rude shock when she was asked to stay back for a meeting by her boss one Friday evening and was handed her termination. The partner felt that, despite two years at the job, and multiple hints, she remained unable to connect with the clients at a personal level. She seemed too analytical, perhaps a trait carried over from her previous job. This was fine for an analyst, but he, and other partners, didn't see a future for her at a senior position.
Now, an experience as brutal as Sam’s might not have come to pass in your career, but receiving mixed signals from your boss is something you might be familiar with. At any job, it is important to be open to cues from your boss, so that you don’t end up getting strong feedback when it's way too late.
So, what can you do to keep a channel of communication with your boss open? How do you ensure that your efforts at your job are aligned with your superiors’ and your company’s requirements?
Regular feedback from your boss is probably the most important way to manage your career growth efficiently. And since no one has more at stake than you when it comes to your career, you have to make the key effort too. Here are five points that in our experience have proven helpful in achieving this:
- Develop the mindset that feedback is a gift – The simple goal of a good feedback conversation (and it has to be a conversation, not a lecture) is your success. Instead of dreading, and hence avoiding, any discussion focused on your performance, consider all criticism as avenues for growth. Your boss is in the best position to point out your missteps, and any good boss intends to help you not repeat them by making you aware of them.
- Choose the right time to ask your boss – To get accurate feedback, you need to be able to spend sufficient time with your boss. Some bosses might prefer a formal one-on-meeting marked on their calendar, for which they can collect their thoughts well in time. Others might prefer a more casual chat in the evening after a good conference call, when in a relaxed mood. Figuring what works for your boss is your job. Asking for a discussion first thing in the morning, when your boss is distracted, might be counter-productive, for instance. You could even use your scheduled yearly reviews to work out a plan for more frequent review sessions.
- Spend time introspecting – Before you get down to discussing your performance and areas of improvement with your boss, spend some time giving proper thought to your work patterns. Having a clear idea of your own strengths and limitations can do wonders to channeling the discussion with your boss in a constructive manner. It also shows your boss that you are serious about the entire process.
- Maintain the right attitude, and LISTEN – Never get defensive or annoyed when your weaknesses are being discussed. The intention is not to belittle you. Even worse, never blame a coworker or the boss for any missteps on your part. Don’t turn the meeting into an opportunity to air your grudges. It is valuable time meant solely to gain the gift of feedback, so listen carefully.
- Don’t overdo it – While feedback sessions are important, having them too often can dilute their significance. You should give yourself enough time to actually work on the areas indicated. A quick session every quarter should be more than enough to help you get a useful feedback and enough material to chew on till the next meeting.
If receiving feedback is tough, giving a considerate and practical one isn’t child’s play either. You should express your thanks after the session to show that you appreciate that your boss has taken time out to work with you. Having a clear idea of your boss’s opinion is essential for your success at the workplace. We hope these steps would help you develop a more fruitful working relationship with your superiors and give a direction to all the hard work you put in.