We all like to think that when we are on the job our work is stellar and appreciated. Sometimes, we wake up to discover that our work isn’t stellar and is not what it should be. In fact, we’re a problem. We are the thing that manager’s hope won’t happen to them because it’s just not fun to figure out how to make us shape up. This is beyond a serious bummer; this looks and feels like at any minute we’ll be walked out the door. If this is you, what should you do?
If you work at a company that will somewhat work with you to identify problem performance, you’re in luck. You have an opportunity to improve and turn things around. Many companies are less straight forward with their employees. They would rather let things drag on to the point where they simply just walk you to the door without giving you any idea you’ve been a problem. If you’ve received anywhere from subtle messages all the way to a documented performance discussion, it’s not too late.
Here is your strategy for saving yourself:
Don’t panic. All too often people in this situation panic to the point where their decisions become wonky or they start doing some strange things. This won’t help you, so take a deep breath and get your head on straight.
Pay attention. The flip side of the panicked person is one who ignores the message no matter how subtle or straight forward it is. You have a performance problem! You’ll get fired if you don’t fix it.
Don’t be defensive. If you spend your energy trying to prove just how good or right you are, you may be wasting precious time for actually doing something to improve your performance. If you think what you did was right, simply ask for more input on expectations, examples and how-to’s to help you reconcile the differences in what is being asked for versus what you’re doing. If you truly don’t see a difference, ask for more clarity. I should point out that if you’re defensive to your manager, you will come across as “not getting it”. It’s hard to penetrate a person’s understanding when they are defensive. They tend to not listen.
Seek clarity. You need to understand in specific, tangible terms what the items are that you aren’t doing well, what the expectation is and examples of the same work done right. One of the biggest issues we have when it comes to improving is really ensuring we can detect good from bad.
Get feedback, frequently. Now that you are clear about what your task expectations are and you are executing the work, you want to get feedback early and often. The best way to get it is to ask for it from your boss, as well as any key stakeholder. You don’t want to get too far down the road on doing your work to find out that you still aren’t doing it right. The best time to correct is immediately so you have time to recover the task before it becomes a problem. The other great reason for doing this is that the boss will be able to see your improved performance.
Don’t mistake action for results. Some people think effort and action is what matters. At the end of the day, it really doesn’t. You have to get the right kind of results regardless of how much effort you put into it.
You might need training. In this process, you may discover that you really don’t know how to do the task properly and need to get trained. Don’t be afraid to seek out an expert to give you some training or sign up for a class.
Have the right attitude. It is hard to feel okay about yourself when you are failing. Yet, a good attitude of openness, willingness to learn and focus will do more to help you through this than dragging around gloomy and depressed.
No one is sitting around gleeful that you’re in trouble, least of all your manager or peers. It can be tough to avoid the sense of paranoia when you are struggling to do your job well, but most of the time the issues are ones that can be fixed. If you can turn your performance around, you may end up learning valuable things that will help you have a successful career.