Self appraisal for a crap year when it's partly your boss's fault?
October 13, 2021 9:29 AM   Subscribe

I do not mean literally their "fault" BUT they did not supervise me in a way that would bring out my best work self. Advice from managers/former managers and work savvy people appreciated.

I am used to being a rockstar at work, but I am suddenly realizing over the last year I basically just met the minimum requirements. Some of that is because not many "above and beyond" opportunities came to my awareness. Some of that is because COVID etc. Some of it is because my boss started basically ignoring me. I'd go to them with specific questions and we have general meetings where it's open to bring up issues but they stopped scheduling 1:1s and at one point told me "I see what you are doing in the monthly report so it's fine." I am isolated, I am the only one that does my job, so it's already like "eh everyone really wants to talk to someone in the other part of my dept because that's what matters to more people" and then my boss just leaves me to do whatever unless I come to them, and honestly I love that if the alternative is being micromanaged or compelled to a weekly 1:1 BUT if I am getting no feedback along the way... I am seeing now that this makes me quite a failure. I don't know how to discuss this with her though. She is a new supervisor, and probably just didn't realize I needed it, but now I worry that my performance eval will be impacted because of this and that sucks. (I am looking at maybe being mediocre/C vs the A I'm used to for many years of my professional life.)

Looking back, while my boss said I could run my stuff alone bc they see the report and it's fine, I realize it's not fine. I telework, and apparently I am much needier at work than I realized because this is the first time I worked for a supervisor that does not give regular feedback, and it's impacted my motivation severely. If my work can be amazing or mediocre and the feedback doesn't change, where is my incentive to strive for more?

So this is really several questions I guess. First, how do I talk about my performance when it's lackluster?

Second, how does one elicit the 360 degree feedback from others that can be later added to your self-appraisal without coming across as weird? ("If you are satisfied with my work, I would appreciate you letting my supervisor know" sounds so strange.)

Third, how do I explain to my boss how my performance is a reflection of them leaving me to be invisible? How do I express that I need more feedback to be motivated to perform at my highest levels without sounding needy? I was lost and didn't even know it until I had to account for the quality of my work over the last year and I do not even know how that happened but I am frustrated with myself for not realizing what was happening so I could bring it up, and with her because she is the supervisor so it's her responsibility to be sure her reports are doing their job but also getting what they need at work to be fulfilled and to initiate those conversations (right?).
posted by crunchy potato to Work & Money (17 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
This question sounds a little bit like anticipatory anxiety, although it also seems to be providing you a lot of insight.

My advice is don't treat it like you're on the defensive about your review (even if that sparked it.)

Treat it as a conversation from an individual contributor professional to your boss. So, schedule a 1:1 with them and let them know:

- you appreciate the tools you have and the trust you have (even if you don't fully, but the report sounds useful and not being micromanaged can be helpful)

- express that given where we are in the pandemic, etc., you are feeling ready to take your work to the next level. Don't say what level you are starting at - let that go, it's fine, Covid, whatever.

- ask your boss for what you need specifically. Some of your language - "leaving me to be invisible" - might be accurate but also isn't going to necessarily be helpful just because it implies a kind of negative intent. I personally have supervised people where leaving them alone is the best thing for them - and others, probably more, who need more. But mistaking one for the other isn't the same as hanging someone out to dry.

You will need to be specific if you can. For example, do you want post-mortems on projects? Go back to regular 1:1s? Set stretch goals or quality goals? Get more training? Participate more on cross-functional things? Share a task list? Have them go through your work before it's released? What specific feedback are you looking for?

If you can't, you could also say "can I share something with you...I'm finding it hard to push myself at times. Do you have any suggestions?"

Yes, it's also your boss's job to do this, but there does come a point in some fields/industries/at some levels where your boss is more clearing roadblocks and getting resources than performing more kind of supervisory tasks, unless there's a need to.

For 360 feedback, it's not weird at all to ask. If someone says "wow, great job," or "thanks for the quick turnaround," you could say "hey, you're welcome - could you shoot me/my boss an email just so I can share that success with them?"

One thing I have my team do (and they are fairly front-line/junior in some ways) is forward me any feedback they get in email, positive or negative. I doubt I get all of it, but I throw it in an email folder and go through at performance time. Usually they've forgotten the positive ones. I also recommend to them that they keep a "bravo box" of those good moments to look at on tough days and to bring to their part of the performance feedback process.
posted by warriorqueen at 9:44 AM on October 13, 2021 [14 favorites]

Its not actually clear from your question how much your performance is actually below par and how much you just think it might be because you aren't getting the feedback you need.

So for question 1 I'd really try to put as much of a positive spin on what you have done as possible. If there's a work peer you can talk to who can boost your confidence about what you're doing then talk to them before you write it. Even if not, try to reset your expectations of your performance against the baseline of the weird situation we've all been in. I'm not saying use it as an excuse, but don't give yourself a hard time if you haven't performed at the level you're used to - nobody has.

Second one, this is just one of those artificial situations. People are used to being asked for this feedback though, so don't overthink it - just a simple "please comment on what you consider to be my strengths and any areas you think I need to work on" something like that.

Third - I would couch this one in terms of giving your boss the opportunity to help you and ideally make a specific suggestion for what you'd like to see them doing, rather than telling them they did something wrong up to now. "as a teleworker I've really come to realise that I do benefit from regular feedback as I mainly work on my own so I don't get much feedback from a team. Can we have a regular short call to just make sure I'm working on the right priorities it will help me a lot" - or whatever works for you.
posted by crocomancer at 9:47 AM on October 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

I am used to being a rockstar at work, but I am suddenly realizing over the last year I basically just met the minimum requirements.

Anyone who consistently exceeds their employer's expectations is in the wrong job - they should either be promoted or they should change jobs. Otherwise, they are being underpaid for their work. It's a good thing you are just barely meeting expectations - that means you're in the right job right now! To take this further, you should even be fine with occasionally meeting only some of your employer's expectations - people are not 100% consistent year on year, and that's perfectly reasonable.

First, how do I talk about my performance when it's lackluster?

You talked about what you achieved, and how that meets your employer's expectations. There's no reason to criticize your own work - by your own words, you are doing exactly what your employer wants you to do! If you are mediocre in your job, then you are in the right job.

Third, how do I explain to my boss how my performance is a reflection of them leaving me to be invisible?

By stating, "I can be more effective at work with more regular checkins with my management". If your manager is not interested in you being more effective at your job, they are a bad manager and you should find a new manager/new job. Their job is to enable to you succeed - as a practical matter, at all good companies, management is measured by how effective their employees are.

There's no reason for you to be concerned about being needy. Your management should always be interested in what they can provide to you to enable you to be a better worker. If the only action required to take you from a "mediocre" worker (say 1x productivity of average worker) to an "rockstar" worker (say 2x productivity of average worker) is a weekly 1:1 meeting for half an hour, then you offering a way to leverage 1.25% of your management's time into effectively gaining an entire new employee. That's a clear win - not being "needy". Again, if your management doesn't take you up on this, they are not being effective managers.
posted by saeculorum at 9:51 AM on October 13, 2021 [10 favorites]

In my opinion, you are framing this all wrong. To me, under the circumstances you did a bang up job. You're looking forward to this coming year when you will be getting more 1:1 feedback, you look forward to meeting with your new supervisor who seems to have some good insights, etc. The best defense in this case is a confident offense.

Then, focus on your goals. Your goals for the specific job, any metrics you think should be considered as it relates to performance, and your career goals and how this job can either be a springboard or how it might relate to your future role.

I certainly would not say anything like it is the supervisor's fault or the company's fault for not managing you up better, that you are not self motivated and need a kick in the ass even if it is true and probably true for 85% of the work force.

Talk positives. Talk about how you can help the company or the department by expanding your role, talk about the resources you need/want to do your job even better. The past year or more has been incredibly challenging. Under the circumstances, you did well. Now, that things are starting to come back to normal, you want to up your game even more.
posted by AugustWest at 10:12 AM on October 13, 2021 [3 favorites]

"I've enjoyed working so independently, but I've learned over this past year that I'm most efficient with slightly more external structure to target my goals against. I'd like to try having monthly 1:1s next year."
posted by current resident at 10:21 AM on October 13, 2021 [7 favorites]

I’ve spent most of the last 18 months in back to back Teams meetings with people working for me who cannot do their work without often significant inputs from me. So anybody who is reliably turning out the work I need them to without regular touch points is a rock star in my book.

There is nothing wrong with doing your job well. But if you want to take on more responsibility that’s great, I’ll gladly delegate some of my work/let you take on more responsibility. We can figure out what your next step in the organisation should be.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:36 AM on October 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

Does it make a difference whether you're doing rockstar or mediocre? If it's the difference between a (PAID) promotion or if you're in danger of being fired, worry about it.
posted by kingdead at 10:45 AM on October 13, 2021

Response by poster: So I guess I need to clarify that in addition to going back to regular 1:1s, I also just need general feedback. Are they happy/satisfied with what I'm doing? Assuming no news is good news only takes me so far. If my accomplishments are not valued, it's hard to maintain my motivation. That's what I am asking about - how do I ask for that without sounding needy? I don't really want to "grow" right now or take on more responsibility. I just want what I'm currently doing to feel like it is valued.
posted by crunchy potato at 11:48 AM on October 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

So I guess I need to clarify that in addition to going back to regular 1:1s, I also just need general feedback. Are they happy/satisfied with what I'm doing? Assuming no news is good news only takes me so far. If my accomplishments are not valued, it's hard to maintain my motivation. That's what I am asking about - how do I ask for that without sounding needy? I don't really want to "grow" right now or take on more responsibility. I just want what I'm currently doing to feel like it is valued.

I think you can *ask* your boss for more feedback (both in general and in the moment) and maybe that's something she can do, or maybe it's something she can't do (like maybe she doesn't have the time or emotional bandwidth to give you frequent feedback on how you're doing), or maybe she won't see it as being worth her time, since you're doing fine without it. It might be that this job/this boss are not a great match for you - like you might just be incompatible with this work style. Like, the chances your boss is doing this *at* you are pretty low.

So, think of a few concrete things you can get from your boss (like, tell her that you want to be strict about the 1:1s, and that she stops scheduling them *you* will be proactive about getting them on the schedule). It sounds like you're pretty isolated but is there someone downstream of you besides your boss who consumes your work output? Would it be interesting for you to reach out and hear if they have any requests/suggestions? (I love getting feedback from the clients who use the actual product I work on, partly just because it's rare for me to hear from them, but also because it's like, "Woohoo, someone is using the thing I made! even if they don't like everything about it, they're USING it!"

But ultimately this might be a job that's a better fit for someone who is more self-motivated, and you'll have to decide whether you can put up with that, or whether you need to start thinking about moving on.
posted by mskyle at 12:16 PM on October 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Hey… meeting expectations is meeting expectations. You may not have had a “rockstar” year, but you had a “solid” one given the challenges of the pandemic.

You might say that in retrospect that you realize that you do better with more immediate feedback, so you would like to restart one on ones again. In addition, you will be more proactive in asking for feedback.
posted by oceano at 1:42 PM on October 13, 2021

I am used to being a rockstar at work, but I am suddenly realizing over the last year I basically just met the minimum requirements.

I think what's going on is that you're used to being told you're a rockstar, doing great, etc. It sounds like you're wanting more feedback overall, with an emphasis on positive feedback. I'm guessing your love language (weird to use that phrase in this context, but it applies) is words of affirmation.

So I think it might be good to separate these things out: the work you've been doing; the standards and if you're meeting them; the feedback you are or aren't getting.

I also hear some defensiveness: "I'd be doing great if they told me what to do!" Please don't blame your boss to your boss. It's been a sucktastic year for everyone. No one is doing amazingly well right now.

Asking for more consistent feedback (quarterly meetings? monthly meetings?) might be a starting point.
posted by bluedaisy at 2:16 PM on October 13, 2021

Other things to keep in mind 1) you are your own worst critic 2) your boss is doing it wrong if this meeting is the first time you are hearing about a serious performance issue 3) lots of people are bad about giving feedback 4) Covid has been tough on everyone.

So when you have the meeting with your boss you bring up the tasks that went well… and not so well. Again… the framing is that it’s been a solid year. You realized that when doing the reflection process that you hadn’t been as proactive seeking feedback as you could have. Consequently, it’s been difficult to get a sense of how others see your performance. You are of course very receptive to feedback as a means to improve.

It’s also possible that your boss may not be able to give you the kind of feedback you seek. (Solidarity about bosses who say “everything’s fine”.)
posted by oceano at 2:35 PM on October 13, 2021

It's okay to be needy about seeing people and being in the place where the people are working toward your shared goal.

Your boss doesn't realise that she needs stories about how you're doing great things to show that she's managing great things. Push those stories, put stuff in her inbox so she knows you're stretching yourself and doing exceptional work. If you're feeling unmotivated: take on the challenge of making your boss your cheerleader, with bonus points for making then think it was their idea.

I need to talk to more people, 'cause being remote sucks for me. I need a schedule and a queue to ping people sociably -- and there's no obvious protocol for instant messaging "chatter to keep me sane" so I'm ???
posted by k3ninho at 4:04 PM on October 13, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I think you are asking the wrong question. If you do not have confidence in your boss, do not use the self assessment and performance review process to give them feedback. Write down all the stuff you think was great, pick a minor "I will improve on this" thing so you seem self-aware, give yourself an honest-but-rounded-upwards rating, and hope you get a good raise. Since they don't seem to be aware of what you do, make them do the effort to find flaws or gaps if they want to short change you.

Then post a different AskMe that's either "how do I get my boss to give better feedback and direction during the year" or "how do I excel with a mediocre boss in Covid times" or whatever you think the interesting question is.

I say all this as someone who's usually far more sympathetic to bosses than the median poster. But bosses who ignore you want to give average ratings, and "you aren't a good boss so I didn't do a good job" will give them a perfect reason to do that. But not a reason to change, and no one except them will ever read this stuff.
posted by mark k at 4:56 PM on October 13, 2021 [6 favorites]

It’s not clear: has your performance actually suffered, or is it your personal satisfaction with the job? Both are important, but the approaches are different.

If your work output is not satisfactory because your boss isn’t giving you sufficient guidance to appropriately do your job, that’s a boss problem. If your work output is suffering because you want your boss to make you feel good about it, that’s more a communication mismatch.

I’ve had high-feedback bosses and it was untenable and I didn’t feel I had the standing to ask them to change their style. I’ve had low-feedback bosses who were clear that they’d let me know if something was wrong, and that no news=good news. That was tough at first but I’ve grown to prefer it.

The thing is, you can tell your boss what works best for YOU but this isn’t an equal partnership so they don’t really have to do it.
posted by kapers at 9:17 PM on October 13, 2021 [1 favorite]

Strongly agree to never use your review to criticize your boss. They’ll see through it and and it’ll backfire.

They may ask “what do you need from me?” And then you say something positive like “when we debriefed after x incident, that was extremely helpful because I was able to use your advice in y similar situation. If we could have monthly debriefs that would help me reach my goal of resolving 100 more incidents a year.”
posted by kapers at 9:21 PM on October 13, 2021

You hedge a little bit, but you sound like you do actually think it's your boss's fault.

I'd say I agree that an ideal boss would do the things you seem to expect a boss to do, except it's not clear what things you expect a boss to do. Give you positive feedback for sure. But after that ... you say you had specific questions for your boss and they apparently didn't answer them. I assume they were questions about how to accomplish things. If they were questions about how well you'd done things, that's maybe a different issue. I'm not sure what you wanted from your boss, but your description above reads like the answer mostly is feedback, most of it positive.

Apologies if I've got you all wrong. But it seems like your chief concern is your performance review. And if it's not, it might be good for you to know how it seems to others, so you can frame it differently than you did above. (Again, apologies if you already are planning to frame it differently.)

I think the answers to your questions are sort of just do it, but based in a sincere foundation of accountability that isn't on display to its best advantage above. It's about you, not your boss. So you were pleased to accomplish what you did this year, but you have high standards for yourself, so you'd really like to accomplish more, or accomplish the same stuff but better, or include a layer of big-think, or whatever it is you feel was missing from your work -- again, it's not clear to me what that was. But talk about it honestly -- minus the part about what anyone else didn't do that you think they should have done.

I have little to offer about 360-degree reviews -- I mostly just do my job, and so far people have said nice things. Hopefully whoever's conducting the review isn't talking so much to the people who want to talk to the other side of the department, but to the people on whom your work actually has an impact.

And lastly, you explain to your boss that your performance is 'a reflection on them' by absolutely not saying that. Because at base, it isn't. It's a reflection on you. If you're frustrated that you let it go this long, I can understand. And ideally your boss would better enable you. But if you're used to being a rockstar at work, you're presumably not 23 and just out of college. You're an adult. Your incentives to strive, even if the feedback is the same no matter how well you do, are 1) that they're paying you -- presumably to do something like your best work -- and 2) the pride we take in being good at our work. If you want to bounce more stuff off your boss, my reviews usually end with a section for me to list a few goals for next year, often including the resources I think I need. If you think regular meetings, or post-mortems of bigger projects, or anything else would help you do your job better, that'd be a good place to start discussing it. Or it could be an oral discussion during the review. Just save the criticism for your boss's 360. It's not 'I could have done better if you'd given me more feedback'; it's 'I'd like to do this better, and I think meeting twice a month would yield feedback that helped me do so.'

If I misunderstood the situation, and you're just saying you work better when there's more praise of your work, then I apologize for making you read all that, but the answers probably don't change much; if you're not going to do work up to your standards without regular approval from your boss, let them know that the feedback is helpful.
posted by troywestfield at 1:39 PM on October 14, 2021

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