By Nancy Vepraskas and Anne Warren
Last month we discussed goal-setting and introduced our Professional Growth Wheel. This month we want to focus on the Work Accomplishment section of the wheel. This section may appear straightforward. Your work accomplishment goals will mirror what’s on the Performance Plan you complete as part of your company’s performance management process. Perhaps they are goals like getting that big project over the finish line, bringing in that big account, launching that new project, etc.
My challenge to you this month is to make this more than a check-the-box exercise. Start by having a thoughtful conversation with your boss. Understand their goals, priorities, concerns and pressures. Perry McIntosh and Richard Luecke from the American Management Association suggest that being able to answer the following questions will allow you to focus on what is most important for your boss when shaping your objectives:
- What are your boss’s goals and priorities?
- What knotty problem are they struggling with?
- What pressure, if any, is higher management putting on your boss?
- What accomplishment would make your boss a hero in the eyes of senior management?
The insights from these questions will help you craft your goals and keep you focused on the right things. Remember, as Lois Wyse said, “No matter what the job description says, your real job is to make the boss look good.”
Once goals are set, get clear on how they will be measured. Author Cal Newport talks about, “… if the metrics that determine success for your position are unclear, it is difficult to figure out where you stand… . For the typical knowledge worker, these metrics aren’t easily available. This struggle to come up with a clear demonstration of value in an organization leads to a reliance on … doing lots of stuff in a visible way.” Emails responded to or meetings attended are work but they have next to no correlation to how you are building value for the organization. Gain clarity on how you drive value and understand how to measure that on an on going basis. Delivering project-X successfully by the end of the year isn’t clear enough. What do you have to do on a weekly/monthly basis to make this happen?
Next, think about how you communicate your progress and promote your success. Keep the people that matter up-to-date. Don’t wait until performance review time. In an article titled, “How to ask for a promotion,” author and entrepreneur Ramit Sethi suggests each month you complete your own monthly performance review. Your goals are the foundation, but also consider answering questions like:
- What major projects did you move forward during the past month?
- How does that work impact the overall business?
- In what ways did you go above and beyond your normal responsibilities?
Use your answers to help craft a monthly email to your boss that summarizes your progress and your contribution. This will help keep them up-to-date and will also be a comprehensive and quick-read record for them to reference come the end of the year. Remember, bosses don’t just think about your value at the end of the year; value happens with every interaction. When thinking through your monthly performance also think about your reputation in your boss’s eyes. What are you know for? How would your boss answer the question, “I can always count on [you] to [do what].” How would you fill in the blanks? Is it to deliver on time? Drive Innovation? Collaborate with other departments? Do not only think about how they would answer the question but also what you would WANT them to say. Are they the same? If not, how will you shift the narrative? In addition, add this question to your monthly performance review questions: Are you moving your boss’s perception to where you want it to be? I would challenge you to go beyond guessing what your boss thinks. Ask them directly to complete the sentence above. It might be a great way to start your next one on one and give you clarity on their current perception.
Lastly, it’s easy to get sidetracked from our goals. Even when we know what to focus on there are “shiny objects” that grab our attention. Projects that speak to what we might love or be interested in. We sometimes take on these pet projects deciding they are important. Before doing so and perhaps, before neglecting current projects, ask yourself, “What is my boss paying me to do?” This will keep you focused on what is most important. Or, if you truly believe the new project is important, have a conversation with your boss on priorities. Especially in the current environment, things change quickly so goals and priorities need to change. But do NOT assume that you and your boss are in sync without a focused conversation. Also make sure that you discuss what needs to STOP given any new priorities. Be clear on what you need to deliver quality, on time, and what will be sidelined for the time being. You owe it to yourself, your boss and the organization to be successful. Concentrate on how you create value, how you communicate your value, and how you stay focused on the right things.