Bob Kustka
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Factor 37:
Good Managers Establish Objectives...and Expectations

I recently had a young software engineer confide in me that he was unhappy with his company. David is a very talented engineer who graduated five years ago from one of the top schools in the country. He was in his second company since graduation, having been recruited away by his present company, a well-recognized firm in the entertainment sector with great products and a young, hip culture. Last year, after two years with the firm, David was promoted into a new department that was working on new technology for the company. He knew from early discussions with his boss, Paul, that the new development work would present a steep learning curve for him. He was also pragmatic, recognizing that, as the junior member of the department, he would probably be assigned more of the lower-level work. Nonetheless, he was enthusiastic about the opportunity. Paul assigned him to work with Charles as his technical lead. Charles was known to be a brilliant developer, so David was excited about the opportunity to learn from him. He did not think that Charles' reputation as a difficult person would get in the way.
Throughout the year, David felt that he was meeting expectations. He learned to work with Charles in spite of a personality that was so difficult that more senior engineers had left the group. While he sometimes felt that he was not getting the level of challenging work that he would have liked, David worked hard to show he was a team player. At the beginning of the year, Paul had set goals for David that included such things as "learning the new software" and "gaining understanding of departmental processes." Paul emphasized to David that his top priorities were learning to work with Charles and making sure that the quality of his work was top notch. David was certain that he was meeting these objectives. A month before his annual review was due, Charles casually mentioned to David that he thought he should be producing more. David was stunned. He felt that he had handled a good volume of work while learning a new technology and dealing with a difficult technical lead. For 11 months, he had no indication that his performance was anything but very good, and as he looked at his objectives, he felt that he had met them. He was further deflated a month later when Paul gave him his performance review that included Charles' input. Paul told David that they had expected more from him, but when asked to quantify, Paul spoke in generalities of showing more drive and commitment. He was unable to give David any supporting evidence. When David questioned why it took 11 months before he had received any feedback, Paul told him that he had meant to, but had a lot of other priorities on his plate.
When confiding in me, David admitted that his faith in both his manager and his technical lead was shaken. At the end of the review, Paul admitted to David that he had ground to be upset and promised that he would get better work and support in the upcoming year. He told David that they thought highly of him and wanted to keep him in the group. As evidence, Paul pointed out that David was receiving one of the highest merit increases in the group. But David was beginning to doubt that and wondering whether he should apply for a new position in another department, or even begin looking outside the company.
Factor this in...
I wish David's situation was an isolated event that seldom took place in today's workplace. It is not. This happens all too often because management does not take the time to establish clear expectations for the employee at the outset. David's management did three things wrong. They did not establish goals at the outset that were quantitative. Second, they did not have regular reviews to give David feedback along the way. Third, they gave him feedback that lacked substantiation, and when pressed, they vacillated and promised it would be better "next year." What Paul and Charles successfully accomplished, I call "Talent Mismanagement." They successfully demotivated a talented individual to the point that he was considering leaving. At best, if he stayed in the organization, they would have lost his trust in them as managers.
There are three things that you can do to avoid finding yourself in this situation. They will sound so simple to you that you will say "of course," but they require forethought and planning, good communication skills, and adherence to a process of feedback.

  • Establish SMART objectives. SMART means the following:
    S = Specific - Define what needs to be done, who needs to be involved, when it needs to be done, and what the reasons or benefits are for accomplishing this goal.
    M = Measurable - Establish concrete criteria for achieving the goal.
    A = Attainable - The individual must have the skills and resources necessary to achieve the goal.
    R = Realistic - To be realistic, a goal must represent an objective toward which you are both willing and able to work.
    T = Timebound - A goal must have a timeframe for accomplishment. With no timeframe, there is no sense of urgency.
  • Create a process and timeframe for review and feedback. This could range from weekly status updates on projects to monthly planning sessions to formal quarterly reviews. I have long held the belief that we should operate under a managerial philosophy of "No Surprises." When you receive your formal review at the end of the year, it should contain feedback that you have previously heard.
  • Maintain the process that you create. Too often, managers establish a timetable for review, but let it lapse because other priorities overtake them. People should be a number one priority.

We pay managers more for a reason, to manage a valuable asset, human capital.
Connecting people with plans,
Bob Kustka
Fusion Factor

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