June 17, 2005
** Listen to this
column on your computer, iPod or other audio player **
Most high-tech jobs follow a similar pattern...you
work, you complete projects, you work some more and at the end of the
you get your performance review. That’s when you find out how you
did and what your managers feel you need to do better. Repeat each year
until you retire.
I realize, of course, that this is fantasy. Many of us suffer from micro-management
on a daily, if not hourly, basis, while others may never get much feedback
at all. Instead, we try to judge our performance based on the often confusing
comments we receive as we pass our managers in the hallway.
As you might imagine, the passing comments we receive might have little
to do with the true perception of our performance. In fact, it can often
leave us feeling blindsided by bad news when a formal review does occur.
I recently had a friend write me for a bit of advice after he was blindsided
by his management. Over the last year working for a small startup company,
his management has been nothing but complimentary, even praising him effusively
on several occasions. Unfortunately, when the time arose for a more formal
review, he was distressed to find that his formerly stellar performance
was now deemed merely adequate. The supervisor giving the review actively
denigrated his work, despite the praise they offered earlier. You can
easily imagine the confusion that occurred. My friend had assumed he was
on the right track for a raise, but now finds himself doubting his future
with the company.
In my response to my friend, I proposed a number of scenarios that might
be involved in his experience. Any of them, or a combination could be
true, but only he would be able to tell which, as he had direct experience
with the people involved.
Scenario #1 – People were insincere in their previous praise
In some cases, people can be very insincere in their day-to-day dealings
with others. Whether they use effusive praise as a method of controlling
others or simply as a way to avoid confrontation, they can give a very
distorted view of how they perceive the work of those around them. It
is your job to observe how they deal with others and see if you perceive
a lack of sincerity, a general social ineptitude or some combination of
Scenario #2 – Fear of “sharing the glory”
Some executives, especially the founders of small startups can be very
reluctant to share any success that the company achieves. They need to
be seen as "the person" who is responsible for the success of
the company. Admitting to your excellent performance in public, via a
raise or promotion, might diminish their importance. This is a difficult
situation for you, as it is possible to drive yourself out of a job if
you threaten their supremacy. Again, look to their interactions with others
in the company to see if this might be the source of confusion.
Scenario #3 – Lack of funds
In the end, there could simply be a real or perceived lack of funds in
the company with which to offer a raise. While this is often the cited
reason for denying a raise or promotion, it is more often simply a convenient
excuse. Unless you have detailed knowledge of company finances, you have
no way to rebut management claims. In many cases, companies fall prey
to the fallacy that “cheap is everything”, even if it means
losing talented people. They are betting that most people will believe
that a poorly-paying job is better than no job at all.
Regardless of which scenario you might feel best describes a company,
all are a clear sign that you should be looking for a new, better job.
Insincere management often means a climate of insincerity at the company
and this will be a pervasive problem through all areas of the business.
If you were previously praised, but now that praise is disavowed, think
back on how management interacts with others. Do they tend to take all
the credit for everything? Do they think themselves indispensable? These
are clear signs that someone is incapable of sharing success. Executives
and managers who act this way are sure to eventually drive out the most
talented employees, leaving only those that don’t threaten their
You might be able to gain ground with these people by threatening to leave,
especially if you play a critical role in the company, but you should
realize that every single review, raise or promotion will require the
same threats. Getting the recognition you deserve shouldn’t require
such a constant battle.
Finally, a lack of funds means that it will be difficult, if not impossible
to accomplish the company’s goals and your own career and financial
goals. You are better advised to find a new position at a company that
is fully funded and can utilize your skills to the utmost. This is where
you will find the exciting projects that make a difference in your career.
If you find yourself feeling blindsided, you need to carefully consider
what it says about your employer and your job. If you are reasonably sure
that your work has been exceptional, you need to look for an employer
that respects your contributions even if it might cost them a bit more