A new opportunity has come up for me professionally, so I’m transitioning out of my job with the company that has been my professional home and family for 14 years. It’s bittersweet, but I’m excited. I was thinking of some of my most quotable moments, in my now-former gig, and thought I’d try to remember some of the life lessons of the place where I grew up, professionally.
There should be no surprises in performance reviews. The first manager I had there and I were good friends. I considered her a mentor. But every time I got reviewed by her, I’d lose points for something relatively minor that we hadn’t really talked about during the year— turned out my raise hinged on my mastery of the em-dash, which she found lacking, not on the projects I completed, the initiatives I’d launched, my ability to achieve or exceed the goals we’d set. It felt random and petty and I’ve come to appreciate people who let you know how to succeed with them.
The early bird can often be blinded by its own self-righteousness. I’ve never been an early bird, and generally speaking, I’m most productive as everyone else is headed home for the day and my phone stops ringing. But while I worked full-time and went to grad school full time, I worked a 7-4 schedule Monday through Thursday and a short day from home on Fridays. The thing I found was that there’s a whole lotta standing in doorways with coffee cups, chatting, that happens from 7-9 a.m. (at least in that office.) People started to buckle down and do their jobs around 9, when the office hit critical mass or the highest ranking person arrived, whichever came first. It affects your reputation if you close your door and buckle down during the social hours, but I could never leave on-time, when I worked that schedule, because I’d lost the hours (between 7-9, before the phones started ringing) when I could be most productive. Nobody is around to see your virtue from 4-6, but I went back to a later start time after I graduated and started judging my virtue on productivity, not arrival time. And let people think I was lazy while I outperformed them. It’s a mystery! (Which is not to say the morning hours don’t have potential for productivity, just that there’s no inherent virtue in the time you arrive at work.)
Give people the authority to solve the problem and stand behind that, or be prepared to do it yourself.
-I was essentially running the book publishing arm of the association, but my title was still relatively junior and I was pretty young. So if I said something my authors didn’t like, they’d call my boss instead of arguing with me. And sometimes my boss would second-guess me. Now, I’m an overcommunicator with my boss, and he knew in advance why I thought the thing the author didn’t like was necessary, he had the opportunity to give input, I’d given him a heads-up that the author wasn’t going to like it and he was probably going to get a call. So I started letting my boss know that if he not going to have my back in those situations, I was going to refer all author calls to him. I’d still do my job, but he’d get every one of the author calls. I knew he didn’t have time for that (authors, bless them and no offense to present company, are notoriously needy and don’t take constructive editorial advice that well, as a gross stereotype.) Shortly thereafter, he promoted me and started having my back. When he got promoted and hired someone to manage me (and others), I had to do it again. Worked the second time, too.
Appearance matters. I grew up wanting to believe that it was who you were in your soul that was important. Which is the part that’s true. But I wanted to believe that it was the only thing that was important. That people who factored in things like appearance were shallow and superficial. But the truth is, people don’t get to know you from the soul out—- they get to know you from the outside in. So what they see on the outside tells them things about who you are on the inside. Are you credible and competent? Your appearance can help you convey those things. Are you confident and interesting? Approachable? Your choices about your appearance can help you to share those things.
I credit this one to a communication expert Shari Harley, who says you can say (almost) anything to (almost) anyone as long as you have an agreement about it in advance. As a manager, this was my mantra. I sat down with my employees and said “you’ll never hear anything I’ve said about you that I haven’t said to you, first, and if you do, bring it to me and I’ll tell you the truth.” I also said “if I see you doing something that’s getting in the way of the things you’ve told me you want, do I have your permission to tell you what I’m seeing?” Maybe we’d have had good relationships either way, but I think building on a foundation of trust was key.
“It’s not your fault, but it’s going to be your problem.”
-I said this to my boss this fall, while explaining to him how unhappy I was with the way things were going. I’m a big believer in giving people a chance to fix the problem before you make a drastic change. I did it before I left my last job. It helped me to avoid the what-ifs.