Career Opportunities

The High-Tech Career Handbook

A weekly ComputorEdge Column by Douglas E. Welch


June 17, 2005

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Most high-tech jobs follow a similar work, you complete projects, you work some more and at the end of the year 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.

An Example

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 both.

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 own self-confidence.

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 money.



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