Dealing with An Unexpected performance review

I have yet to meet a person that gets excited about performance reviews. Performance reviews cause quiet a lot of anxiety. One of the reasons is because no matter how well you do during the year and how great all the feedback was – you never know if your boss assessed the work the same way you did and even if he noticed the great work you did. Or, you just generally doubt your capabilities and wonder if you actually did a good job. Many of us battle with insecurities, especially in work environment.

The explanation for that is, these settings are so unfamiliar to us. All your life, you earn grades, you get the feedback on paper. You can actually hold it in your hand and check what the mistakes were and where you did well. And the end of the year you received an aggregation of your achievements. At work though, you rely on verbal feedback, which has no track record. You might get A+s every day, yet only remember the one time you got a B-, as you cannot hold the positive feedback in your hand (there will be a whole other article later on why that is).

Also, people are not as direct in person – your boss may want to keep you motivated or not want to deal with your disappointment if he felt you did not do well. Co-workers might just say “great job” (if they even bother) to get on your good side.

So it can happen that your performance review does not go the way you would like it. And sometimes,  it is not the review you were expecting.

There could be many causes for that – perhaps your company has a bell curve you and your peers compete for the best rate. In that case, it could be that the other person has a longer track record and/or is up for promotion. Or you didn’t have enough visibility and your boss didn’t see all the work that you did in the year. Or your boss didn’t support you to get the most out of you.

Although you might not feel great – it is important to remember that:

  1. a) It’s your bosses job to get you to find your potential and to help you show it. A real manager taps into their employees talent and gets the most out of what they can bring. That way he, his department and his group does well. A company is only as good as its people and if you don’t get the best out of your people then you will not get the best product/ company.
  2. b) It’s ok to tell your manager that it’s their responsibility to help you do better next year. Ask them how they can support you in doing better this year and then do it. It’s important you stay invested so your boss stays invested.
  3. c) Expectations are subjective. Your boss might expect something from you that you don’t understand or the other way around. Clear these up if you can and when you can, make them qualitative. Write down: “Has 25 new users” or ” Write 50 more reports per year” or “Delivers project at budget and on time”. Its a great way to set the expectation and to have something to measure against.
  4. d) Its ok to be disappointed. Yet, don’t act out. Take the feedback seriously, use it as an engine to do better this year and prove your worth. Remember that every feedback is a reflection of that person’s perception. And you can work to influencing that perception.
  5. e) Know your worth. Do the best you can every day and if that is not enough, then you are in the wrong place. You cannot do any more than your best. You are worthy no matter how much you did or what you delivered.

Cute Is Not A Compliment

I get called cute a lot. I get it. I am young. Well, not that young but in a professional setting I am younger than most. I have curly hair. And freckles. And a round face. Being taken seriously is a battle for me, which I continue to fight. As well as being called cute in the office. The other week it happened twice – once a man uttered the words another time a more senior female. Which, did not make me feel anywhere close to cute. And closure to outraged. Why does this bother me you think? Why does this not seem like a compliment me and make me feel all good inside?
Because – do you call an executive cute? Do you call Oprah Winfrey cute or Kerry Washington? No – women are beautiful, powerful, smart, but not cute. Cute is a word you call your younger cousin, someone non-threatening. The definition of cute is “attractive in a pretty or endearing way”. Now trust me, I am not endearing. If you meet me, which you should;), you would not consider me endearing. I doubt you would define me as cute. Yet it is a way to make me less powerful, less threatening. Calling me cute, is a patronizing way to degrade me. Especially in front of other people. It puts me in a place that I don’t want to be. I have worked too hard all my life to be called cute in an office.
So – what is the best way to avoid it? Generally, you cannot influence other people’s behavior. It is hard to change the way people act, especially as an external person. If we would know how therapists would ever be grateful. And probably, a lot of human suffering could be eliminated – like concentration camps and Khmer Rouge. But as we remain helpless in changing people – the best we can do is put them in their place and deal with the consequences.
Perhaps following up with a saying like: “I wouldn’t use that word to describe me but ok”. Or just giving a gentle nod and continuing back on the topic – saying something smart and hopefully not cute. Important thing is not to smile, or say something to make the person retreat in defensive mode (so something like: “That’s sexist” or “I wouldn’t call a person in my position cute” would most likely reflect negatively on you). Put them in their place, don’t try to put them down like they did you. Remember to go high when people aim low. And that’s why no one called Michelle Obama cute.

If It Smells like Fish – It’s Usually Fish. Same goes for Sexism.

There are some cases in my every day life where I am not too sure if I am being treated differently due to the fact that I am a woman or not. Sometimes I wonder to myself, if it could be a combination of things, such as age, rank or job description – not just my gender. Or if I am just looking for excuses and it really is my gender. I sound confusing because I am confused. Let me give you an example.
An older, very respected gentleman works in my company. He wears vests and a smile every morning. He is kind, respectful to others and very knowledgeable. I will call him John. John is a family man. He is well respected in the company and no one has a bad word to say about him. I too enjoy being in the company of  John and appreciate his feedback. We grab coffee sometimes and discuss life, our positions and our co-workers.
In the last couple of months, I have been put in a project with John. My role is just to manage the project, and he is to provide expertise. In each meeting however, John keeps mentioning he will have meetings with the other people to take various aspects forward. He added, he will invite me to meetings again when he feels its necessary. When I suggested it wouldn’t be harmful to have me involved, he said I have too much work as it is.
And from then on out, when I suggested updating a document or changing a slide, he would assign the task to other people, as he stated I have too much to do.
Now, it is very kind that someone keeps an eye out for you. And it is very kind that John was so observant. Yet – I find it very patronizing. I manage my workload well, I don’t stay late in the office and I meet every deadline. I eat my lunch, have coffee breaks and manage to find time to go to the gym over lunch. I do have a lot of work – but I can look out for myself and manage the load by myself. I am not used to having someone who is not my boss determine how my time is spent.
I may be overreacting, but I feel John is looking out too far for me in a professional setting. Simply said, I don’t need someone to father me at work. Don’t get me wrong, I truly feel John acts out of the best intentions. I believe he aims to not see me work myself into a grave. But I should be able to determine that on my own, no?
Which brings me to my original point. Was this an act of sexism? I generally believe he sees me as this young female who can’t say no and he is trying to help. Yet, I don’t want to be seen as a young female, I want to be seen as an aspiring professional. Neither my age nor my gender should determine how I am being treated or how I should be treated. That to me is the core belief of equality.
When I spoke about this with a coworker of mine – she rolled her eyes and said it had nothing to do with my gender as she knows John very well. But this just reminded me of the many times women get shot down when they are being discriminated against. We are always called emotional, sensitive or silly because no one wants to deal with discomfort in their lives. Life would be great if we all got along, wouldn’t it?
On the other hand, perhaps it is really just a kind professional gesture and I am getting it all wrong. Maybe because I am a feminist, I just see gender as a part of the equation wherever I go.
Either way, I will never know what makes John act overprotective of my workload because I doubt John knows himself. Many times we are steered by stereotypes. Our perception is steered by what we are told to see and sometimes it is steered by how much of ourselves we see in others. Just claiming sexism would be wrong. Yet to say my gender doesn’t play a central role in many situations would also be wrong.
In either case, I should have stood up for myself and just said in the meeting: Oh I think I have a good handle on the workload myself thank you very much though. Having a voice is something I am not used to as a woman. It is a kind of sexism I oppose on myself. And I hope with time, I will learn not to be sexist towards myself.

Beware Of Gender

In the recent weeks, I have been in the process of hiring a one year intern. I have been through the hiring process before and I keep up to date with recent hiring techniques. For example, always asking the same questions to each applicant, figuring out their skills and approach rather than the knowledge they have already accumulated. The goal is to focus to find the key strengths you are looking for in this position and finding the potential rather than checking off tick boxes. I genuinely believe everyone has a skill they bring to the table, it just might not be the one you are looking for.

For this position, I was looking for someone with great interest in new products, new technology, and someone who likes to get lost in exploring them and rolling them out. I interviewed eight candidates that were already screened by HR on their skill set. I focused on looking for someone that would be happy working on their own, getting lost in a new area and learning on their own. Someone that gets motivated when given a puzzle on their own and learns the ins and out of this puzzle. According to that, I placed my offers.

Once completed, my boss asked me how the hiring was for me. When I mentioned that I was very impressed by all candidates, I felt that the following three would be my top choice he said: “Why aren’t there women in your top three?”.

No objection here. It is great that a male keeps an eye out for female applicants. But just because I am a woman and a feminist it doesn’t mean that I put women first. It’s not about treating women better than men. It’s about equality. And if I had found a woman that would have covered all the characteristics I was looking for, I would have put her up. But I didn’t.

Real women do not want to receive something simply because they are women. They just don’t want to be discriminated or neglected because they are female. Gender should never, ever play a role in the hiring process.

I am a big fan of the technique some orchestras have used. They use blind auditions and that has helped them increase the number of women they hire.

“In the 1970s and 1980s, orchestras began using blind auditions. Candidates are situated on a stage behind a screen to play for a jury that cannot see them. In some orchestras, blind auditions are used just for the preliminary selection while others use it all the way to the end, until a hiring decision is made.

Even when the screen is only used for the preliminary round, it has a powerful impact; researchers have determined that this step alone makes it 50% more likely that a woman will advance to the finals.” (full article: The Guardian).

We need to find ways to do this in business. For example, even removing the name of the candidate off the CV and just giving an ID, thus removing any gender indication. Not having a photo is also a really good beginning. It can’t hurt in any way if its really just the skills you are looking for. And that’s what it should be.

Male or female – your candidate should fit to the position. Gender should never play a bias. And for the record, in case you are wondering, I have hired women before. Skills and strengths are associated to a person and their character, and not the category of their gender.

Not All Queen Bee’s Are Beyonce

Queen Bee’s are what’s wrong with the world today.

Ok – that is an overstatement, but they sure are one of the things that are wrong with this world. One of the many, many, many, many things.

A Queen Bee is a – as put by the Atlantic – “female sex that causes women to undermine each other on the job all the time” (read: Why women don’t sometimes help each other). Some people claim that’s because these women have felt sexism in the past and despite all efforts to undermine them, they made it to the top. Now they don’t want another woman to have it easier.

My friend Jenna worked for a female boss, lets call her Janice, who took her under her wing when Jenna started her first job out of college. Jenna looked up to Janice and liked having someone to look out for her, especially in a company with only 20% female staff. Jenna once told me: “I got an amazing performance review in July. My boss Janice told me her boss had even noticed I was doing well, and suggested I take over more and more of her tasks to gain responsibility”.

So, Jenna took over more and more tasks from Janice and noticed Janice be more passive aggressive to her. At one meeting where Jenna was asked a question – Janice snorted at her. By the end of the year, in only 4 months Jenna moved from a top employee to “barely meeting expectations”.

When Jenna asked what was the reason for this, Janice said: “Well, sometimes you make yourself look stupid. And it’s not professional”.

Jenna was disappointed and confused. Needless to say, only months later she took a job somewhere else.

So the question is – to you readers – what do you do with a Queen Bee? How do you handle one, if you don’t want to quit your job? How do you point out you are being mistreated because you are a woman like her. Because the problem is, when you do point it out, you remind them of the inadequacy they feel inside. If you are a proud, confident, strong woman, why would you feel the need to bring others down?

I think its in the culture. If the company or environment breathes diversity, it cannot feed into the Queen Bee’s fear. Making it easier for all – no matter what gender you are – to achieve success – makes it, easier for all to achieve success.

My Journey

Learning to be my Authentic Self

Dr. Eric Perry, PhD

Psychology to Motivate | Inspire | Uplift

The Yoga Path • Omaha, NE

{ Practicing Physical, Mental & Spiritual Health }