Saturday, February 27

Reframe. Rethink. Reboot.

I was inspired by Shandon to dust off my blog and give her a little face lift. I ripped off her vintage idea but went for more of a comic book feel. What do you think?

It's been a helluva week but I got through it. I had to do some hard things but I'm glad I did.

Here's the deal, where I work they do a good job of encouraging us to take classes to make us more well rounded employees. My favorite type of class focuses on communication styles. They educate you on the various styles and what your style is and how to play nice with others with these styles in mind. It great because it's a double duty learning. I learn how to deal with folks at work and, naturally, it rolls over into my personal life.

I took a class about a month ago that required a "360" questionnaire. We work through an outside service that sends out questionnaires on class attendees and asks all sorts of questions about our work and personalities and God knows what else. Most of my non-friends recoil in horror when I describe this process and can't understand how I could possibly volunteer for such a dreadful process. However, I've done 360s twice now and they've both been great learning experiences. Also, I'm pretty self aware so I'm not terribly shocked by what comes back. For the most part the questionnaire indicates that I've grown in the past couple of years and that almost everyone I work with likes working with me and feels that I do a good job. On a scale of 1-4 my average ranking was about 3.5... pretty good for a mid-management level person. The only trouble was that my boss gave me about a 1.5. **Gulp** What?! I asked peers, clients, salespeople, creative staff and loads of others to give me feedback through the 360 and my boss gives me a 1.5 average?! WTF?!

During the class everyone was seen one-on-one to read and understand their 360 results. My counselor explained that a 1 ranking is where a person with no direct reports would be. A 4 is where a person who runs a division should be. All in all she said my 360 was excellent. She then pointed to the low ranking from my Manager and said "Ordinarily we'd tell you to ignore that one because they clearly don't know you. Unfortunately, it's your boss so you're going to have to talk to her about it." Bummer.

I don't typically run from confrontation. In fact, when I believe I'm right I typically charge towards confrontation. I didn't think this ranking was fair. My direct supervisor has been out on stress leave for four months and I've had to do both of our jobs by myself. My boss (over both of us) has not done much to filter what lands in my lap. I have a good team assistant who has been great but the work remains mine. Once, about 6 weeks ago a big VP was kind enough to pull me into his office to tell me that he knew I was doing a good job by myself and that he appreciated it and that "it hasn't gone unnoticed." That was very kind but was also the ONLY time anyone thought to acknowledge how hard I was working and that I was doing a good job. My boss prefers to pretend the whole ordeal isn't happening. This has really bothered me. Saying "thanks" or trying to encourage someone costs a company nothing but can make all the difference. I just can't understand how my boss can pretend it's not happening and never say so much as "good job" every once in a while. Wait, I take that back, I have heard her say "good girl"... once. It made me feel like her dog.

I spent a lot of time thinking about how to ask about my low rating and how to frame the conversation and how to remain calm and prepare myself for whatever my boss might say. Friends and peers have been puzzled by my boss' attitude throughout the past several months. One friend was so outraged she threatened to march into my bosses office for me if I didn't confront her asap. Finally, I decided the time was right. I had just completed several high level tasks and my boss was going to be taking one of our touchy-feely classes so I hoped what I said might be recalled in the class. I made an appointment last Monday evening and indicated in the invite what I wanted to speak about. It didn't seem fair to surprise attack her. I walked in cheerfully and with an open mind. Mostly I wanted to ask "WTF?" but I also wanted to tell her a few things I hoped would help our working relationship.

In the end it went well. She believes I need to "get out of my comfort zone". I immediately replied "I haven't been comfortable doing my Supervisor's job on top of mine." This stopped her for a second then she went on to give me an example, I countered with a more recent example. We talked for about a 1/2 hour. It was helpful but her complaints were small and I believe I can improve upon them. The most interesting part came when I showed her my 360 results in graph form. About 25 people were questioned about me and all ranked my very well. Seeing her ranking of me so out of proportion with everyone else seemed to surprised her. I laid the results in front of her and she sort of sucked in a little air and said "ooh!". I replied "Yeah, that's why I had to talk to you." In the end I think the evaluator I spoke with at the class was right, my boss just doesn't know me. Also, we happen to live on opposite ends of the communication spectrum of styles. She likes to get to her decisions by taking lots of cautious steps and analyzing the hell out of things. I prefer to gather necessary facts, talk things through and go for it. Needless to say we drive each other insane. They teach us to "flex" our communication styles. I know that I've stretched a lot but I can't say that I've seen the same from her. I've also come to realize that my boss doesn't know when I'm stepping "out of my comfort zone". For instance, I'm a very social person so most assume I'm perfectly comfortable presenting in front of others. Actually, I can't stand presenting in front of more than 4 people at a time. This past year I've had to speak in front of audiences from 2 - 125 people. It wasn't all comfortable but it helped me grow professionally and I'm getting better every day. I need to make sure she know that these presentations are no small task for me.

After the big "WTF?!" conversation we spoke about my supervisor coming back. I told her the past several months have been a good growing experience and that I'd done tons of things on my own and that has been good. I then went on to say that I'd also been disappointed because "Not once through this whole time has anyone reached out to me with any empathy or encouragement". I don't know about you but I'd be upset if a person under me at work said that to me. She, on the other hand, either pretended she didn't hear me or ignored me and went back to a point she'd made earlier in the conversation. It was bizarre.

I've recently figured out that it's not the workload that freaks me out, it's the way my boss tells me about the projects that riles me up. She is far too excitable for my taste. I tend to be pretty calm in the face of crisis, she seems to prefer whipping people up into a frenzy. It's a problem. I'm not sure what I can do about it but I may have to point it out to her soon before it sends me to an early grave. I have mentioned that I can tell when she's had that second coffee or when she's going for the chocolate and Diet Coke in the afternoon. ( I shudder to think what she'd be like on a Red Bull or worse.) My co-workers try not to laugh when I say these things but some things jut must be said. For Christ's sake, somebody's go to tell her to relax and it's looking more and more like it's going to have to be me.

All week we've been working on our annual "Strat Plan". It's a 5 year strategy on where we plan to take our business and how we plan to get there. It's based on lots of numbers and circumstances and conversations and I've never done it by myself. I looked at the hand written sheet my supervisor turned in to our boss last year for Strat Plan and decided it was not the way to go for me. Instead, I did my plan from an Excel sheet with lots of notes. Mine was better than my Supervisor's '09 plan. There, I said it. My work was more carefully thought through and I knew it. Late night, before heading out for my well deserved weekend, I sat with my boss to make sure she had all that she needed from me. After a few minutes of reviewing my sheets she said "You did a good job on your strat plan." Those nine little words were more encouragement than I'd ever received from her. I replied "Thank you. I appreciate that." and then told her to have a nice weekend.

I don't think I've changed anyone, and that's not my goal. I just hope that she's beginning to realize that positive reinforcement is better than ignoring all of a person's hard work. I don't know about her childhood but I don't get the impression praise came easily. I think she believes holding back kind words is how you motivate people. Unfortunately it doesn't work on me. I need to know when I'm doing something right. I need to know when I'm doing something wrong. Maybe it's just me but I'm not a mind reader, I need a hint now and then.

My supervisor is due back this Monday morning. I'll be happy to see her and to catch up and I hope she's doing better but I can't say that I need her like I did before. I now know that I can this job with or without her. Lots has changed in the past months. Some of the changes have been from circumstances at work, others have come from me being more bold and becoming more confident in all that I do at work.

I hope somebody besides my boss has noticed.

Did I mention that yesterday I went crazy and asked to be considered for a spot bonus? I say "crazy" because I don't even think I'm eligible for a spot bonus because I'm already bonus eligible. I wonder if that's why she finally complimented me. Maybe she finally figured out that it's cheaper than a bonus.


shandon said...

Fantastic! I know we talked about this at dinner the other night, but I'm thrilled to learn that your 5-year strat plan (which sounds vaguely Commie to me) went over well.

Your redesign is GREAT -- you'll have to tell me how you did it!!

kb said...

Holy crap, you've had a busy week! Glad things went well. And yes, I love your new comic book looking style! Very creative.