Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Starting a new job, Building a new foundation – part 14 and career problem remediation

Posted in job search and career development by Timothy Platt on July 14, 2010

Part 13 of this series on starting a new job and succeeding in the probationary period (see postings 73-85) started a discussion on one of those crucially important sets of issues that no one wants to talk about, but that can come up as a serious challenge to your job performance and retention, and to your career. Good things and real success happens on the job and especially if you prepare for them and proactively make them happen. But miscommunications and setbacks and both predictable and unpredictable problems happen too. If you only prepare for the positive, and do not develop and maintain the tools you need to identify and remediate an emerging negative, your career as a whole, and your experience and prospects in any given job with suffer.

Part 13 – Job Performance Due Diligence started this discussion on how to prepare for handling the negatives that can come up in any job with a focus on clearly understanding when a problem actually is developing, and I add at the risk of repetition here that acknowledging there is a developing problem and early when it is still small and forming, can be the toughest challenge in this. I went on to share some thoughts on communicating with your supervisor and also with your internal clients and others as appropriate, to make sure they know what this problem is and that you collectively all share a common understanding of what it is and of its priority to address.

Any effective statement of a problem that you would share with your supervisor should also include at least a first step for correcting it. This means you taking ownership of the problem just as you would take ownership of your successes, and that you acknowledge that you own the tasks and responsibilities you were hired to perform on. You never want to simply drop a problem in your supervisor’s lap without an accompanying approach that you can offer for their consideration, for solving it.

Break the problem down into its component parts to identify precisely where a perhaps large and complex task is stalling and failing for completion, and where you can move forward on it. This is in fact a complex statement, so to break it down for clarification:

• Do not simply focus on the parts you can do and set aside the parts you cannot do, as that would just lead you to the same place you would find yourself in, in a failing performance review, that you would be in if you simply ignored the problem completely. And you would probably find that you will have been doing pretty much the same things here as you would if you had tried ignoring the problem.
• Set as a priority, clarifying precisely which steps are blocked in performing a key task.
• Set as a priority what resources are needed that may not be available, and significantly incomplete or faulty resources qualify as missing resources.
• Do you need resources that would have to be purchased (e.g. a particular software package or license, or some specific type of hardware, or third party sourced business intelligence?) Identify these needs if any and know their costs, and if possible from more than just some single provider so you can offer your supervisor information on competitive bids.
• Are you being blocked by silo walls and a failure to gain some very specific necessary support or information from specific individuals or teams within your overall organization?
• Are you simply being torn in too many directions where you only have so many hours in the day and days in a week, but everything seems to be on the table as your top priority that you have to address first?
• Is the barrier you are facing a none-of-the-above for this list? Whatever it is, you need to understand it and to be able to communicate it as clearly and succinctly, and precisely as possible. The more specific and precise you understanding and message here, the easier it will be for you to secure either the specific resource you are lacking, or an acceptable alternative, and perhaps with a necessary breather space in the firm or a new, hopefully mutually agreed upon completion schedule.
• And always strive to present that focused problem with its identified block to your performance with at least one accompanying potential resolution that you are seeking approval to try. Then seek out alternatives from your supervisor who may even have direct experience dealing with this particular specific challenge and know of resources you do not know about – yet.

Secrecy kills performance, and so does denial – keeping secret the problems and challenges that you face in meeting your high priority tasks from your supervisor, or from your clients who are planning and scheduling under the assumption that your tasks they rely on are going to be on schedule too.

Once again, and I repeat this as an ongoing message – you were hired to take some very specific and probably high priority tasks and responsibilities off of your now-supervisor’s desk. You need to find a middle ground between withholding from your supervisor and leaving them with a distinct likelihood that they will be facing unpleasant surprises as expected schedules slip and tasks go undone, and hitting them with too much detail where they almost feel they are being forced to do the job themselves for having to make so many micromanagement decisions on it. Listen to your supervisor and to other key colleagues who are invested in this task being completed and learn their styles and preferences for communication so you can share the right levels and types of detail with them. And if in doubt, as you will be at first as that new hire – ask them what types and amounts of detail they would find most helpful for their purposes.

As a final thought here, it is important to stress that this should never be about assigning blame. If your colleague in team B down the hall is not providing the information you need to carry out one of your key top priority early success tasks it may be because they want you to fail for some reason but don’t count on that or assume it. It is more likely, and in fact much more likely that they are simply being pressed so hard to reach their own timetable-scheduled goals and to meet their responsibilities that they are very limited in the time and other resources they would need to expend in your direction to help you with your tasks. So if they are not sending you the data you need it may because the “database” they would have to assemble it from is such that providing your information would be complex, time consuming, frustrating chore that they would be hard pressed to do. This, I add is where being able to pinpoint the specific barriers and disconnects you face in precise detail can really help. If your supervisor knows that Bob down the hall would need a full day or more to bring together the data that you absolutely need in order to do your top priority task but they are being kept so busy with their own responsibilities and their own required schedules that they cannot get to that, they will have the focused understanding to know they need to talk with their same-level peer – Bob’s supervisor, to arrange to get this done. You may not be able to do that but your supervisor may be able to get it done.

Communicating precisely where the sources of job performance problems are, and in precise detail and in a way that at the very least strongly suggests a way to resolve them can make your supervisor a part of the solution – and still leave them aware of the fact that you are taking care of your own tasks and responsibilities.

The next installment in this series is going to look into performance reviews, and with a focus on your first performance review at your new job at the end of the probationary period.

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