Tips to Help New Employees Meet the Boss's Expectations

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Reader Question:

I joined my financial services firm seven months ago. I interviewed for a senior manager role, but was offered a lesser role due to the firm’s pending sale. I was told that I could attain the role after working for at least one year.

I accepted, even though it was a demotion and a big drop in pay. Within the first month, I had this horrible gut feeling that I made a terrible mistake.

My boss oversaw every activity and interaction I had, but was terrible at managing both my work and transition into this field.

While attempting to carry out my first project, he (unconsciously) sabotaged it by hijacking meetings, communicating with the client without my consultation, and failing to review my work. I turned in my final report right before Christmas, and it sat unread for four weeks.

He blew off all meetings and communications, and I sat at a desk without an assignment for that period doing little more than reading news online.

I talked with HR, who shared my concerns, particularly the part where I was not working for an extended period of time. HR asked me to engage him directly on these issues, which we did.

My manager informed me that my work was not at the level of my peers, who perceived me as inadequate. He indicated I would not be eligible for promotion. I asked why my performance evaluation did not include any feedback that I could have addressed, and he indicated that that was not the place to do that.

HR has asked me to come up with a strategy that they can facilitate, including going directly to my manager’s boss with a strategy. I’m not sure what good it does at this point to ask for a resolution when the person overseeing your career advancement has all but said I’m not worthy of working in the department.

Can a strategy be developed to right this wayward (career) ship?

Response:

You do have big problems. The first problem is that you accepted a job with a demotion based on a promise of a promotion. As a general rule, don't accept a job that you don't want based on a promise that you'll get a promotion in the future.

Sometimes it works out and sometimes it doesn't. You're in a situation where it's not working out. But, what's done is done. Just file that away for future reference.

Your boss is disorganized, dumb as a rock (a performance review isn't the place to discuss performance?), and not likely to provide much help. Sorry about the cheery news.

Your HR department is exactly right — it's time to go to your manager's boss. If she is willing to act, then things can get better, but if not, it's time for you to move on — either internally or externally. While you can bring problems with your manager to his boss's attention, only the boss can ultimately act.

Right now, you can't focus on career advancement. Your boss says you're failing in your current job. You need to focus on getting this job under control and then working toward advancement.

It's a new area for you, so there's no shame in needing a little help to get going.

We all have learning curves — some of them quite steep — when we switch fields.

Make a Plan to Succeed

Here's what you need to go into your plan.

Clear assignments with responsibilities spelled out. This is as much for you as it is for your boss. If your plan clearly states, “communicate with clients and report back any changes to manager,” when your boss steps in and does that, you can point back and say, “this was my responsibility.” Of course, this does no good if your boss's boss is not on board.

Your weaknesses, spelled out. Your boss needs to say, “You are not doing well with X, Y, and Z.” You need to ask specifically for this. This is ideal information for performance appraisals, but alas, he chose not to take this path.

One method that works well is to say, “Tell me three things I need to work on.” The number gives clearly defined boundaries and actually makes it easier for someone to come up with ideas.

Plans for overcoming your weaknesses. Will you have regular meetings with your boss? Will he assign you a mentor? Will you take an in-person or online class? Will you have someone attending your meetings with you?

Following up — on your shoulders. Your boss should not sit on reports for four weeks before getting back to you. But, where were you doing these four weeks? Surfing the internet.

Perhaps you did go to him, but this is a clear example of a time when you needed to push harder. You should have an extremely well documented chain of emails and notes regarding your attempts to get feedback if none is available.

We talk a lot about documenting poor performance of an employee, but it's also important to document this type of behavior from a boss.

Sign-offs on 3 levels. When you put together this plan, your boss needs to sign off on it, your boss's boss needs to sign off on it and the HR manager needs to sign off on it.

When you have the signed plan in place, you are clear about what you need to do, and you'll have clear documentation for what your manager needs to do. Think of it as a joint performance improvement plan.

Speak up! You said your boss unconsciously hijacks your meetings. You can stop unconscious actions by others by taking conscious actions yourself. When your boss tries to take over, don't passively let him.

Say, “Thanks, Jim. I was just getting to that,” and then start speaking. If it's truly unconscious, he'll learn quickly enough. If it's on purpose, well, you'll learn quickly enough.

In the meantime, you should start looking for a new job. This one may work out, but I wouldn't hold my breath. Next time around, don't accept a job on a promise of something better in the future, and things will go much more smoothly.

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