How do you put a positive spin on
March 15, 2005 1:26 PM   Subscribe

Long story short, I have my yearly evaluation tomorrow. While I've rocked my way through 80 percent of my duties, there are two areas my new boss has marked for improvement in the coming year. How do I get the most out of the part of the evaluation where we discuss my shortcomings?

Of the two areas, one is my responsibility and simply requires that I rethink my strategy a little and devote more time to it to be more successful. The other is a program for which I share responsibility with another department - their staff doesn't report to me, and yet I'm the one who's seen as the manager of the program and whose name is attached to the results internally - they've had a lot of turnover in the last two years, and getting followthrough on goals is challenging.

Details aside, I've worked in my current job for several years, and in that time, I've had several bosses. I like this one the best (aw!), and I'd like to show that I want to improve the situation without shifting blame, sounding defensive or overpromising something I can't deliver. How do you avoid the pitfalls of the "areas for improvement" area?
posted by deliriouscool to Work & Money (13 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
It sounds like you have a really good attitude already, so that's a massive plus.
I think the most important thing to remember is not to take anything personally. If your boss has some (hopefully constructive) criticism that you think is wrong, listen to it all carefully before responding, that will help you avoid sounding defensive. If you think it is wrong, it is probably best to question it, as that will probably draw out further information as to why your boss has that perception of you.
If after the evaluation you still think they are wrong, mull over the information for a few days. It could be that on honest reflection you come to the conclusion that they are probably right, and it is something you need to work on. It could be that they are definitely wrong, and therefore you know that you need to work on your boss's perception of that area of your performance.

As a boss, there is nothing better than having someone who is well aware of some or all of their shortcomings. That way you spend less time spending time explaining the problems, and more time working out how you can both work towards improving them, so make sure you think hard before hand about what you could be doing better, and be prepared to discuss them openly and honestly.
It would probably be best to write down all your strengths and weaknesses on paper tonight and just read over the list and be prepared to talk about all the items. Have another look through the list before the evaluation time comes around so it's all fresh in your mind.

Without knowing more specific info about your job/boss/position, that's probably all the advise I can give. Like I said, don't take anything negative personally and accentuate the positive.
posted by chill at 2:05 PM on March 15, 2005

Take notes during your evaluation. Do not disagree unless you she asks you directly. Nod knowingly at what you agree with, don't nod when you don't agree.

Like chill said above, take some time to digest the criticisms and if they still stick in your craw a few days later, take the opportunity to discuss them with her.

Don't spread blame. Or if you do, do it in a way where you accept part of the blame. "There were a lot of miscommunications within our team. I should have made more of an effort to understand the scope of their abilities."

As far as overpromising, when they ask the impossible of you, a good way to respond is, "With the resources I've been alloted, that will be quite a challenge, but if, in your judgement you believe these are achievable goals, I will trust your judgement."
posted by ColdChef at 2:27 PM on March 15, 2005 [1 favorite]

On review, that sounds "ass-kissier" than I wanted it to.
posted by ColdChef at 2:29 PM on March 15, 2005

(1) For the area where you need to rethink strategy/devote time to be more successful - produce a quick plan (3-5 bullet points) for how you would move towards success in this area. Breaking it down into the steps you need to take (ala GTD's NextActions) would show you have at least been thinking about it.

(2) For the shared followthrough area, again make some concrete, achievable (by you) suggestions of actions YOU can take to move towards a better place than this.
posted by matildaben at 2:29 PM on March 15, 2005

Would the real answer be that you need more authority over the other department to achieve your goals? Anything wrong in bringing this up? I really don't know, and if it's a question, ignore this.
posted by xammerboy at 2:46 PM on March 15, 2005

i was reading my book on assertiveness last night :o)
on the second problem i would suggest saying what you said here, almost word for word. it's clear that you're concerned, that you want to improve, and that part of the problem lies elsewhere. you could also ask for suggestions on how to get followthrough when there's a high turnover.
or, for example, when the topic is raised, say something like "yes, i've been worrying about this too. i can't work out how to improve followthrough when the turnover rate in that department is so high. can you think of anything that would help?"
posted by andrew cooke at 2:59 PM on March 15, 2005

"Needs improvement" can go in one of two ways - a constuctive planning session or a critique. If the first is the case, then it's best to go into the meeting with some prepared thoughts about ways to improve things in the next year. And that can include questions to your boss like "One possibility is to do X - do you think that would work?" and "Who do you suggest that I talk to?" or even "Do you think it would help if you were to talk to XX or YY about improving the current process?" But obviously it's best to go into the meeting with specific plans and approaches, and get feedback.

If you're going to get a critique, then a heads-down approach is probably best. The basic question (to determine if this is likely) is whether your boss is generally happy with your performance, and his management style.

It also might help to think about why a constructive discussion is occurring around an annual review, rather than (say) a bi-weekly meeting. Regrouping and refocusing once a year isn't optimal. When you hit problems - even if they appear to be wholly under your control - talking to your boss (if he/she is good) is something that shouldn't be delayed, if the problems persist. Perhaps you could talk to your boss about getting out the annual fix-it mode?

Good luck!
posted by WestCoaster at 3:09 PM on March 15, 2005

You've received good advice already. Let me add this. When planning with your manager how you will move forward on this 20% under discussion, define a SMART action plan: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Tangible. If at all possible, look for quantifiable statements rather than qualitative - and set a plan for action.

If you are very concerned about this 20% that didn't go as well, set a date to meet again with the boss, in 3 or 6 months say, to check in on progress on that front. All the best in your review tomorrow!
posted by seawallrunner at 3:17 PM on March 15, 2005

Two words:

Boss blowjob
posted by berek at 10:01 PM on March 15, 2005

Do remember your boss has the job of developing your career. Therefore boss must find 'improvement opportunities'. I know it sounds like cloying PC speech (yuck!) but its also a valid view at times.
posted by Goofyy at 11:45 PM on March 15, 2005

All good advice (berek notwithstanding).

Perhaps if circumstances allow, it ought to be you that raises the 'shortcomings' rather than having to defend/deflect/react to a critique. (maybe borrow andrew cooke's assertiveness book ;-)

And most bosses I've come into conact with like to see a plan of action to address deficits. Give them one to take away - with suggested bullet points as above.

These 2 actions on your part ought to be a full defense to the perceived 'shortcomings, especially if your other work has been up to standard and if the boss has a mutually positive feeling about you.
posted by peacay at 12:22 AM on March 16, 2005

Oh....btw...good luck !
posted by peacay at 12:24 AM on March 16, 2005

Response by poster: FollowupFilter: As I suspected, the evaluation was the "constructive planning" type rather than the "critique" type - and to my surprise, item #2 (the program I manage where none of the relevant staff report to me) had been taken off the "needs improvement" line because my newish boss said he wanted to learn more about how it worked before he evaluated my performance. Even so, because I had taken the time to write up suggestions for what I thought could be done with the problem program, we had a great conversation about how to improve its inner workings. I looked super-smart thanks to my bullet points, and I owe it to you, matildaben. The other area was easy to address, and I now have a concrete goal to meet that will tell me whether or not I'm successful over the next year.

I'm not sure why I was worried; perhaps because I've had a lot of bosses here, and an inconsistent evaluation process thanks to boss turnover. Most have been "she's really nice and works really hard - great!" which makes you feel all warm and fuzzy inside for five minutes, but doesn't really result in goals or an action plan. Now I feel like I really got something out of the process, without feeling like a big screwup because my evaluation was less than perfect. I really appreciate all the comments - thanks, AskMeFi!
posted by deliriouscool at 1:26 PM on March 16, 2005

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