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Cracking the code

Learn what the boss really thinks of you

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in Leaders & Managers,Performance Reviews

You think you’re doing a bang-up job. But does your boss agree?

Trying to decipher how higher-ups view you and your work product can prove harder than reading hieroglyphics. Your boss probably doesn’t give a running commentary of your performance, so you’re left in the dark.

Remove some mystery by digging for clues that reveal how your boss perceives your value. Here’s how:

Invite criticism. Make it easy for your boss to let you know how you can improve. Periodically ask, “What can I do better?” or “How can I make a greater impact?”

If the answer consists of a sigh followed by a laundry list of items, you’re in trouble. But if you hear, “Just keep it up,” that’s a sign you’re hitting your stride.

Make appraisals count. Your performance review comes once or twice a year (if you’re lucky), but that doesn’t mean you must go without feedback in between. Use your appraisal as a springboard for regular input from the boss.

Say he isolates some minor performance problems during the review. Don’t just nod and promise to do better. Establish monthly checkpoints where the two of you can meet to assess your progress. That way, you up the odds that you’ll get at least some feedback every month.

Give either-or options. You’re eager to tackle a project, but you seek your boss’s approval before you dive in. Rather than declare what you want to do, present a choice between a narrow focus or a more ambitious contribution. If the boss warns you not to “bite off more than you can chew,” that’s a red flag. But if you hear, “Go for it,” that shows your boss has faith in you.

For example, say, “I want to explore some changes in our call center operation. I can either limit my focus to call volume or evaluate staffing and phone systems as well. What do you suggest?”

Compare and contrast. Watch how your boss mingles at gatherings. Note the nonverbal cues: how much eye contact he gives certain speakers, how his expressions change as he reacts to different people and under what circumstances he offers praise.

Compare your findings to how he interacts with you. While you don’t want to read too much into body language, careful observation can help you unearth what to say—and not say—to raise your profile.

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