In the early stages of his career, Jide had a boss who was very impressed with his performance. He gave him a lot of exposure and ensured he was involved in the major activities of the group, in spite of his relatively junior position. Jide did well at everything assignment he was given. Oga constantly got positive feedback from stakeholders about him. He was on a roll it seemed. At every annual appraisal, he would ask Oga about his performance and areas of improvement, beyond the showers of praise and bullet points of accomplishment he had written in his report. “You’re doing well. No complaints. Just keep doing what you’re doing”, he would say.
Each time the company announced the elevation of people to positions that he had in his future scope, he would note the qualifications, behaviours, attributes, and skills that they based the selection on and would assess himself against these and come short on a good number of them. He came to the conclusion that he was not growing. He was just good enough for the expectations and current needs of this current job, it seemed. So he elected to vie for another job.
After he was selected for the new position, he went to his wonderful boss for his blessing. Sad to see me leave, Oga shut the office door and told him two areas that he thought he should look to improve on if he was to go far in “this business”. Hmmm…and he never said anything all these years.
Why only now?
“Because I did not want to discourage you. You were doing well above your peers and I did not see the need to dampen your spirit. I felt it was better to keep encouraging you instead”, was Oga’s response.
Jide thanked him and moved on.
The next job was more of an interregnum and a good fork in the road. Capital project assignment, lots of travel, new people, ample family time, cultural exchange, etc. Life was good! Many lessons there too. He was an independent contributor who had scant interaction with leadership. But I’ll fast forward to the one after that. Same company, new role and back to HQ. The boss was a straight shooter. He called Jide to his office on his first day and had a chat to welcome him. He told him that of the people interviewed, he was not necessarily the best on paper, but had a key ingredient they were looking for. However, if he was to succeed, he would need, among others, those same (two) attributes/skills that the first boss (belatedly) spoke of years ago at his exit interview. He sighed inside. He had really not learned much.
So he set to work. Through the performance year, his boss would constantly ask about him from the client group and give him honest direct feedback on his progress towards attaining the unit’s goals and imbibing those skills and behaviors they had spoken about when he joined. Also, Jide opened a line of communication with the client group manager on his service delivery and behavior. Honest feedback after direct feedback, with tips and directions on how to improve and more opportunities to extend him, came from these folks. His first appraisal was his very first “just average” report since he joined the company. But it contained lots of text on his contribution, and the areas needing improvement and to be focused on for the next year. Even with his all-time worst appraisal score, he left feeling good. This looked real, unlike the powder puffed “empty praises” he had been receiving from previous Ogas. He carefully made notes of the key areas needing improvement.
After 18 months, he left that position for another one. It was a strategic placement that took him two steps up. At the debrief session with these two managers, he was shown a matrix of how he performed, his contribution to the group and client and the legacy he would be leaving behind. They told him they would have never let him go, but that he had been noticed by someone high up in management and had been poached! He almost cried. He could not believe they were speaking about him. Apparently, he had become exceptional.
In his next job, he was a supervisor to some up and coming employees. He used the lessons learned from these last two managers in nurturing and shaping his direct reports as much as he could. Years later, moving up with a new position and different area of focus, he would routinely come across or hear about employees who had passed through him. He could see the handwork of those two managers, who though tough, were honest with him. The ones who called him out as needed, and gave direction on how to improve. The ones who were not afraid to tell him the truth, though they liked his work. Those he supervised had benefited from what he learned from two old chaps they will probably never meet. The system worked and he was glad to be part of the chain.
No matter how much you like someone or appreciate their service, never fail to call them out on their failings or weak points. Use that as an opportunity to positively affect their future. There’s always an area needing improvement in everyone…even champions.
Those that watch you go astray just to be seen as “in your corner” are not helping you. Feedback should be specific, relevant and timely while the expected outcomes from follow up should be understood, measurable and attainable.
You think you’re good? Maybe the best? You can be even better.