Who Cares What They Say?

If you have a job and aren’t getting complaints from your managers, does that mean you are doing a good job? In Boomer world, no news is good news … but is that really true? How do you know? No news probably means your performance is up to par, or at least close enough to save your employer the trouble of replacing you, but for many people, it’s not enough. 

It wasn’t enough for Jason, a mid-level manager for a nonprofit education organization, who wanted to know that his work was above par, that all his efforts were producing the results his leaders wanted from him, and that it was being appreciated and would be rewarded. But he had worked for the same company for several years and had never received much feedback (good or bad), a promotion or even assignments that he felt were high priority for his company.

Frustrated, he called me. “Why stay in a job where my skills aren’t appreciated, Misti?” he asked. “They don’t care about me, so why should I care about them?”

Jason isn’t the only person I’ve coached through this problem. Feedback is important. It lets us know how we’re doing, where we are with our professional development. And it helps us feel connected to our organizations, leaders and colleagues – or “cared about.” But not all managers give it freely, so much of the time it’s up to the individual to do some digging.

I asked, “What do you care about, Jason?”

“I care about making a difference,” he answered quickly. “And contributing to my company’s goals. I care about learning, being mentored and feeling valued – which I don’t here.” Silence on the other end of the line. “How do I know I’m doing a good job? How do I know that I’m doing the best I can to help our organization reach its important mission?”

I encouraged him to consider what kind of feedback he would give himself if he was his own manager, knowing everything he knows about the role and what it entails, as well as his job performance. After taking a few moments to think about it, he said, “I put forth my best effort; keep up with customers’ needs and take action where I see an opportunity. I’m actually a very good employee!”

He was off to a great start. Where better to start an evaluation of yourself than with yourself? No one else can give you a roadmap for your career. Some leaders take it upon themselves to help their team members grow by asking really hard questions and insisting on thoughtful answers, and keeping them up to date on their progress. But most leaders don’t provide the level of feedback many of us require to feel valued and successful. For those without such external reinforcement, you can still find out what you need to know to remain passionate about your work and your contribution. You just may have to do the legwork.

Here’s what I suggested Jason do:

  1. Find a mentor or trusted advisor. Who in your organization (it doesn’t have to be your direct supervisor) do you respect and trust to provide you with honest feedback and credible advice? Who will push you to grow, even if it means telling you things that might be hard to hear?
  2. Think 360. Getting feedback from yourself, your boss and your trusted advisor is a great starting point. But also consider asking your colleagues and direct reports how you can better support them in reaching their goals. And pay attention to what others in your position or level are doing to stand out, and see if they can teach or inspire you to do something outside your comfort zone.
  3. Strategize. Set goals and create a plan for what you want to learn, accomplish and master.  This will help you chart your success. When you achieve certain milestones, you can see (and celebrate) your growth.

Isn’t it empowering to know you can get the feedback you desire – even if your boss is more tight-lipped than a librarian? There’s no need to wait for someone to tell you what you’re doing right or how you can improve. Regardless of industry, part of loving your work comes from your personal and professional development, knowing that what you do day and day out is making you a better, stronger, smarter person. So, go out and get the feedback you need to remain excited about what you’re doing!

Rock on!

Misti Burmeister, best-selling author, “from Boomers to Bloggers: Success Strategies Across Generations

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