Grading your own performance

report-cardGini Dietrich, the CEO and leader at Arment Dietrich, creates content for a blog called Spin Sucks: The Fight Against Destructive Spin (F.A.D.S.).

Like most of my favorite blogs, it’s engaging, completely no-nonsense, and when I read it, I either learn something new or look at something from a new point of view. Good stuff.

Today, the post was a challenge: what are the three things that hold you back from success? I thought it was a great question (and replied on the F.A.D.S. site).

It’s hard to be your own critic – or at least, to be objective about it. It’s counterintuitive, especially when we’re all conditioned to package ourselves and present our best face and best foot forward. But pointing that light at yourself, and acknowledging your weaknesses, can be very freeing and very empowering; after all, you’ve mapped out where you are and where you need to go.

A few months ago, in the midst of my job search, I took a hard look at the reasons why I was laid off and wrote them down. Here’s that list. (Note: some of this content was originally featured, in an alternate version, on RedRoom.com.)

I KNOW that the biggest reason I lost my job was monetary: the writing that I did simply did not bring in money, and could be done by existing staff. But  despite my solid performance (I had positive performance reviews during my tenure), there are things that I did (or didn’t do) that contributed to my selection for the chopping block. With some distance, I can be honest about what they are – and maybe help someone else avoid those potholes.

I sucked at playing office politics. I’m not an inherently competitive person. In prior jobs, I just assumed that solid, everyday consistency would pay off at review time. I’m warm and approachable to people I like and polite and receptive to people I don’t, but I didn’t do a good job of pushing my comfort zone and participating in things that were new to me.

I was open to collaborations, but I probably should have been more proactive at seeking out ideas, opinions and opportunities to work with others.

I was a fish out of water. I am grateful to my manager for giving me a chance, but I stuck out like a sore thumb at work.

I was ten to fifteen years older than nearly everyone around me, and that difference could be a wide gulf at times, one that was impossible to bridge. I don’t know that I could have significantly changed this gap, necessarily, but it’s something I should have been more aware of.

I didn’t make friends at the top. Mega, super important mistake to avoid. I had a great relationship (or at least I thought I did) with the people I worked with, teams I worked with and my manager.

But I was met with a much cooler reception from the folks at the top, especially a couple of people who were a few levels above me. I can almost tell you to the second when I got the first hint of my fate; I can remember the frosty tinge to one of those manager’s voices, and I should have paid more attention to the mini-panic moment that followed.

Not impressing the brass was unintentional on my part; I’ve worked with company presidents and CEOs when I worked in the executive suite, so I have a comfort level around upper muckity-mucks. That relaxed approach around managers may have been seen as indifference or insolence on my part.

The best thing any of us can do is find those organic moments to interact with those managers, presidents and CEOs. Read their bios or their LinkedIn or ZoomInfo profiles and find out a little about them. If you have anything in common (hometown, college, favorite restaurant), mention it to them.

The ax is much less likely to fall on your head if (a) they remember who you are and (b) they like you, or feel that you’re part of their team.

I didn’t maximize opportunities for social connections. I had a lot of opportunities to be involved with various events (fundraisers and social events) that I passed up. That was a mistake, especially as a new employee.

You don’t need to become a slave to work, or attend every function. But you do have to give people in your company a glimpse of who you are outside of work. As I said above, the more you’re seen as a person and an ally, the less likely you are to become a statistic.

I let my personal life interfere. I find drama distateful, and my performance was never affected by my personal life.

But I had huge, enormous, big-life-stressors change happen to me within a matter of months. I moved twice, fell in love and started a relationship, and dealt with said partner being overseas for long periods of time. Those events I missed were probably missed because I was dealing with those diversions.

Again, I’m not suggesting people give up their lives for work. But I missed chances to invest in work because I was so focused on what was happening in my personal life. In retrospect, I would have shifted the balance a little.

I think I also made a pretty major misstep post-layoff: at a time where I should have maximized my connections with contacts who were still at the company,  I took a step away from them.

Processing the layoff was hard for me. I was mortified and humiliated that it had even happened, and I ended up taking cover and ducking out of sight. I disconnected from a lot of contacts, particularly online, because watching them live in the world I’d been banished from was pretty devastating for me.

That may have saved my sanity on a short-term basis, but it probably blocked a number of opportunities from coming my way.

Contacts make a difference. It may be one of the hardest things you’ll ever do, but if you’re looking for a new job, ask everyone. That cashier at the grocery store. The mailman. People that you see walking your dog. EVERYONE. Use every contact you have.

After more than 9 months of searching, I got a job offer this week, and it looks like I’ll be headed back to the salt mines. That offer came because of a connection (my new employer and a former employer are both members of an industry group).

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One comment

  1. What a fantastic, and vulnerable blog post! I love how honest you are with yourself, and your readers, about why you were laid off.

    I’ve always been amazed by the perception that successful people make it to the top without heartache, failures, and hard times. It’s my goal to make leadership more real.

    Thanks for sharing your leadership values, in a very real way!

    Thanks for the acknowledgment, Gini! I agree – we learn as much from our mistakes as we do our successes. And we never stop learning!

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