Most of us have heard the ‘motivational’ phrase, “Live every day as if it was your last.” I don’t think that’s a great plan. If I lived every day as if it was my last I’d say things I’d regret and eat so much chocolate, cookies, and ice cream, I’d be the size of a house. I’d prefer to ask this question: “How would I live if this was the best day of my life?”
If every day was going to be the best day of your life, what would you do? Who would you spend time with? What would you give your time and energy to? What would you think about? Our thoughts drive our daily experience more than anything else.
When I’m frustrated and stressed out, which is a regular occurrence, I ask myself, “What if today was the best day of my life?” And that question shifts my thoughts, which alters my experience. It quiets the constant churn in my brain, which has me feel like I’m a hamster on a treadmill of constant problem solving, and at times obsessing about what will and won’t be.
The next time you’re upset or having a bad day, ask yourself, “What if this was the best day of my life? What would I give my time, energy, and attention to?” And if your energy is misplaced, it’s easy to make that change.
The concept of simply choosing to be happy may sound unrealistic and pollyanna, but it’s working for me. When I’m frustrated and can get present enough to make a conscious choice about where to put my thoughts, versus being on auto pilot, I tell myself to choose to be happy. And it usually works. Just thinking, “I choose to be happy” gets me out of my regular thoughts, which typically take me nowhere good.
I have first world problems, and for the most part, so do you. The work gets done in time. The relationships work out, as do the finances. All you have is today. What are you doing with it?
You can say more than you think you can at work. You just need to lay some groundwork, and most people don’t. So difficult conversations remain…difficult. Change your business communication and improve your business relationships.
Listen to my conversation with colleague Heather Stagl on her radio show, A Change Agent’s Dilemma and get the words to use to say anything to anyone.
Read my column in this week’s Denver Business Journal and increase customer satisfaction, retention, and service:
We’ve all had customers we thought were satisfied, and the next month they’re off our books and we don’t know why.
Your customers are under no obligation to tell you why they replaced you. In fact, they have no incentive to give you feedback. Why would customers risk your defensiveness? It’s easier for customers to disappear than tell you what they don’t like about your products or services.
The people in your life are not inclined to tell you the truth. In fact, they’ve been trained not to. Every time your friends, family, and coworkers told the truth (as they saw it) and the recipient responded defensively, their brains got trained –it’s not safe to tell the truth. So they stopped doing it.
Gossip damages relationships and tears families and organizations apart. But gossiping about the things that frustrate us feels easier and safer than talking to the offender directly when we anticipate resistance.
We have all watched our friends at work wear clothing that wasn’t the best choice, over speak in meetings, and make other career-limiting moves. And we said nothing. Because we felt it wasn’t our place to say something, or the input was not invited nor welcome.
If you want to be successful at work and for your career to grow, you need to surround yourself with people who will tell you the truth. These people don’t need to be your direct supervisor, the leaders in your organization, or your customers, although they may be. They can be your friends, family, and coworkers.
If you are consistently late, wear clothing that is not appropriate for work, or make commitments and then break them, your friends and family know that. Some people say they are a different person at work and at home. I don’t know that I buy that. We may exhibit different communication methods at work and at home, but our bad habits are the same.
The coworkers you sit near see and hear you work. They witness many of the good and not-so-good things you do at work that either help or damage your reputation. But they won’t tell you what those things are if you don’t ask. And even if you do ask, they still may not tell you. You have to ask for feedback and make it easy (safe) to give.
I recommend assembling what I call a Core Team of five or six people who will always tell you the truth. These are people who like and care about you. They are not the people you distrust and are struggling to work with. They may be current or past coworkers, friends from high school, college or today, and family members. These are the people who really know you and want you to be successful, and will thus tell you the truth –if you ask.
Here’s how to ask for feedback from the people in your life who care about you:
Pick a few people, using the criteria above, to be on your Core Team.
Tell them you want to get a better sense of the positive and not-so-positive things you do that may impact your reputation at work.
Here’s how you could ask for feedback:
“I am committed to my career and I want to eliminate any blind spots that may limit me. You know me well and watch me work. I would really appreciate your feedback. When you see me do anything that may limit my success, I give you permission to tell me. And if you’d like, I’ll do the same for you. I promise that no matter what you say and how hard it is to hear, I will make it easy to give me feedback and I will say thank you.”
Ask for specific feedback.
Examples of questions you could ask:
What is the first impression I make?
What’s my reputation in the office?
What do I do that makes me good to work with?
What do I do that makes me challenging to work with?
If I could change one thing that would make me more successful, what would it be?
What strengths do I have that I should use more and leverage?
Promise that no matter what they tell you and how difficult it is to hear, you will say thank you. And tell them you may come back to them with questions and to discuss further after you’ve processed what they said.
Saying thank you and nothing else, as you react to the feedback, which you will, makes it safe to give you feedback and more likely that you will receive feedback more than once.
I received lots of emails last week about performance appraisals gone wrong. Some made me sad. Some made me sigh. And the ‘best of’ the worst was so outlandish it made me laugh out loud. Really laugh out loud. Not that LOL thing we overuse.
The ‘best of’ the worst examples are below.
Bad example #1: Giving mixed messages.
• Giving an employee working on a long project gift cards as a reward and then during the performance appraisal telling her she did the whole project wrong and had to start over.
Bad example #2: Waiting too long to give feedback.
• Giving an employee a performance appraisal six months late.
Bad example #3: Being lazy.
• Using the employee’s self appraisal as the final appraisal, without the manager adding any of his or her own comments.
Bad example #4: Never awarding the highest rating possible, to anyone.
• If a one is the best rating and a five is the worst rating, no one ever earns a one.
Bad example #5: Holding people to expectations and standards but not sharing those expectations.
• Not clarifying at the beginning of the year what the expectations are and what a good job looks like.
Bad example #6: Never giving employees feedback about their performance.
• Writing appraisals and documenting performance issues, but giving none of the written or verbal feedback to the employee.
Bad example #7: Giving small amounts of vague feedback.
• Giving little to no data in the review because the manager didn’t work closely enough with the employee to observe performance directly and didn’t ask others in the organization to provide feedback.
Bad example #8 (I received this example SEVERAL times): Providing only a written appraisal.
• Handing an employee a written appraisal while in a meeting with other people and never having a conversation.
This is just hilarious:
“During my annual performance appraisal I was asked if I was manic. After a moment or two of trying to understand what my supervisor meant by the comment, I finally asked. My supervisor replied, “Well, you are so upbeat about your job all the time, I just thought you were manic. Nobody can be that happy about working here.””
The winner for being the ‘best of’ the worst:
My manager tossed my performance appraisal on my desk saying, “Just look this over and sign it. I want it back by the end of the day.” Of course, the appraisal was full of feedback and expectations that I had never received.
I told my manager, “There is a lot of information here that was never discussed with me. I would have liked the opportunity to discuss these issues before it showed up in my review.”
The manager replied, “See this is why I didn’t want to meet with you! I knew you would react badly! Just man up, take the feedback, and sign the thing! It’s due to HR today.”
You can’t make this stuff up.
Managers: If you do a little better than these ten examples, you’re outperforming your manager peers. Sad but true.
Employees: You are responsible for your career happiness, success, and satisfaction, not your boss. Ask for expectations at the beginning of anything new and for regular feedback.
Take your performance into your own hands:
1. Don’t wait for your boss to set expectations. Ask your boss for his/her expectations. Get very clear on what a good job looks like, before you start working on a project and/or when the year starts.
2. Write annual goals and review them with your direct supervisor at least quarterly. During your regular one-on-ones, ask for feedback. If you don’t have regular one-on-ones, start. Ask your boss’s permission to schedule a one-on-one at least quarterly to update him/her on projects and to gather feedback.
3. Ask for regular feedback on pieces of work as you complete the work. Don’t wait until the end of a project to get feedback.
4. Ask for feedback about your overall performance once a quarter.
Ask these questions:
• How am I doing so far this year performance wise?
• What mistakes have I made from which I need to recover?
• What aspects of my work have contributed most to the organization?
• What do I need to do between now and the end of the year to ensure a positive performance appraisal?
The performance appraisal system doesn’t have to be rife with challenge and lead to disappointment. Take more control over your conversations and thus your outcomes.
I’ve never had a performance appraisal that didn’t make me want to quit. Throughout my 15-year corporate career, before starting Candid Culture,I had some great bosses. And I always got good ratings and positive reviews. But there was always some comment or piece of feedback, in every performance appraisal, that frustrated me or impacted my raise or bonus in a way that felt unfair.
And each time I got feedback that felt unfair, I looked for how I contributed to the situation.
Which means it’s our job to ask the expectations of the people we work with and collect their feedback throughout the year, so we’re not blind-sided at year end.
Below are some tips to ensure you give and receive a useful and trauma-free performance appraisal.
If you read my last blog post,you know that your boss may not know all the good and not-so-good things you do on a daily basis. It’s your job to let her know about your accomplishments.
Assemble a list of things you’ve accomplished this year. This list might include emails and feedback from people you work with both inside and outside your organization. Ask your boss’s permission to send her the list. And tell her the information is intended to make it easy to write your appraisal.
If you don’t have feedback from your peers and internal or external customers, ask for it. I define customers as anyone you need to get your job done and anyone who needs you to get their job done. Send a short email to five or six people with whom you work closely, and ask them to send your boss some feedback about your performance this past year. If they’re comfortable sending you the feedback directly, all the better. Guide your customers by asking specific questions. That way you’ll get specific feedback, versus, “Dave did a good job this year.”
Ask questions like:
What’s one thing I did this year that made the most difference to you or your department?
What’s one thing I could have done differently this past year?
Don’t be scared to ask for feedback from your customers. Most people are so hesitant to give negative feedback that they’ll typically be easier on you than you are on yourself.
Most performance appraisals only contain feedback from the last few months of the year. As managers sit in front of a blank appraisal form, it’s all they can remember. It’s your job to help your manager remember all the good things you did throughout the year. And I don’t know of a manager who won’t appreciate having written, bulleted data from which to write appraisals. Bullets are easier to read than paragraphs. Make it easy to scan your list of accomplishments.
Writing performance appraisals doesn’t have to give you a headache. Receiving appraisals doesn’t have to make you wish you stayed home that day. Plan specific, useful feedback conversations and then move on to planning for 2013.
Managers, here’s a videoI created on how to give a useful performance appraisal. And my new book How to Say Anything to Anyoneis perfect preparation for both managers and employees. The book won’t be in bookstores or on Amazon until January, but we have advance copies on our website.
Even after working in the corporate arena for 18 years, I am amazed at how much people talk about other people. I’m a little embarrassed that the gossip in organizations still catches me off guard. I used to live in New York City. How can I be this naïve?
Last week I talked with a friend I used to work with. She still works for the company where we worked together. She told me that Michael, one of our old coworkers, was job hunting. “How do you know that?” I asked. She said Bob the IT manager had told her, and Lisa the marketing director had told Bob. Lisa is friends with Michael. Michael must have confided in Lisa, who told Bob, who told my friend, who told me. I have, by the way, changed everyone’s names, so as not to tell the rest of the world that Michael is job hunting. But in the event that you have an open job that would be a good fit for Michael, perhaps I should put his real name and email address here.
Michael trusts Lisa. But Lisa clearly isn’t trustworthy. I’m sure she thinks she is, but clearly, she can’t keep information to herself. Lisa trusts Bob to keep a secret, but clearly Bob can’t and neither can my friend.
So what does this say? Everyone is a liar and no one keeps confidences? No, I’m actually saying neither of these things.
I really believe that people think they keep a confidence when they share information like this. We rationalize telling ourselves, “I only told one person, and Bob won’t say anything. I trust him. And Michael wouldn’t mind if I told Bob. They’re friends. And even if he did mind, Bob needs to know because if Michael leaves it will impact IT.” And so it goes.
I’m not telling you this to make you paranoid. I’m saying it to make you careful.
I have started to assume that whatever I tell someone will be told to someone else. And it makes me more careful about what I say and write, especially what I write. Don’t put anything in an email you wouldn’t be comfortable being forwarded to someone else.
You may be wondering how this is possible. There is no one who keeps a confidence? How can you run a business like that? Anything I tell someone will be told to someone else? Not if you’re talking to an outside consultant, a business coach, your attorney or accountant, but inside your organization, yes. People have a tendency to share others’ confidences with their inner circle –the people in the organization they’re close to. So be careful. Watch what you say and to whom. And assume that whatever you tell someone may go elsewhere. Consider the upside –you can use your coworkers to share news that you don’t have time to broadcast yourself.
The news is riddled with stories of organizations in which CEO’s allowed fraudulent practices to go on with no intervention. Are these leaders guilty of fraud? Or negligence? I’d say neither. They’re victims of pervasive insulation that is the norm is almost every organization world-wide. In most organizations the most senior people get the least information of all.
No one wants to tell her boss that a division is losing money or that customers are unhappy. Instead of speaking up, employees ‘protect’ senior leaders from bad news, putting on a front that everything is fine. Or are employees really protecting themselves?
Most senior leaders aren’t typically guilty of fraud or negligence. Rather, they’re guilty of not creating an environment in which people will tell them the truth.