In a few weeks I am giving a talk on “Being Awesome in Your Job” and this is the first part of a series I am writing to help me prepare
[FYI: For those who don't know me, I think out loud - in fact, to me thoughts aren't real until I verbalize them. Therefore in order for me to prepare a speech I write a blog post or article, and then create an outline and from that my slides. This is why I always share my articles instead of my slides, as they are more useful since I try to use mostly pictures on my slides anyway.]
Useful tips to managing your career
For many people, they think that showing up to work and doing a good job will be enough. They assume that management will notice how hard they work, the effort they put in, and their attention to detail; and that someone (perhaps their manager or someone else in the company) will reward them for a job well done. Sometimes this is true, for example on small teams, or on projects with a lot of visibility, it is easy to showcase your contributions. However, if your manager is really busy, sometimes all they see is snapshots of your performance; and with most operations or engineering jobs, when you are doing a great job and proactively addressing issues or improving quality, people don’t notice because there aren’t any fire drills or problems. And this can mean that a lot of the really great things can go unnoticed.
In order to really show what you do and how you contribute.
There are two key parts to this:
- Letting your manager (and potentially teammates) know what you have completed
- Making sure that the work you are doing aligns with the priorities of the team/project/company
Let people know what you are up to – communicate status
There are lots of ways to provide status, and with agile teams and scrum/standup, many people are communicating a lot more about what they are accomplishing. However, if your boss isn’t at your standup it is possible that they may not have visibility into the work you are actually doing. Also, for most over-achievers, there is a lot more than what might be communicated in a daily update: interviews, code reviews, refactoring, open source contributions, etc. As a result, it is important to communicate status in another way to your boss.
You can do this via a simple email or even just with a bulleted list in your one on one. Just make sure you are tracking what you do, especially the extra stuff, and that you provide visibility into those efforts.
Here is an example of one of mine:Summary: Spent most of the week in 1:1s and with the team handling the messaging around my departure and other related activities. Details:
- Team meeting, messaged about my departure – people were surprised but took it well.
- 1:1s with everyone on my team (this was most of my week).
- 4 engineering interviews: 1 phone screen, 1 in person sell, 2 final interviews.
- 2 HOTH interviews – I liked both candidates, but for different reasons and both of pros and cons.
- Wrote my job description and worked on list of transition items.
- Reached out to a few potential candidates, had 3 interested and one pulled out, but I am meeting with one and you are meeting with the other next week.
- Attend amzn + ignition/madrona event. Not very interesting content wise, but good networking.
- Post job description on linkedin
- Send around job description
- Work with Leah on targeting some folks via linked in
- Will be speaking at Surge Con and out of the office the second part of the week
I try to focus mine on the activities my manager may not know about and I leave off the meetings or projects where he/she is deeply knowledgeable. So in the same week this status represents, I also attended a half day roadmap meeting and some executive meetings, but since my boss was present at both of those I didn’t add noise to the status.
Align your work with the company goals – understand priorities
Another key part of managing up is to make sure that the way you are spending your time aligns with the goals and objectives for your team and company. Too often people work on things that are interesting to them, or they think are important, but aren’t necessarily the right things for the company.
For example, there was an employee who wanted to work on improved admin tools because the customer service team was really excited by the idea, however, there were already tools that worked and there were about 10 other things that were higher priority this employee could have tackled. The problem here was not the employee, they wanted to do more and be awesome at their job, but they didn’t ask about the priorities of the company. This meant that their boss was disappointed when they found out this person worked on something that didn’t really help move the team toward the desired outcome.
To prevent this sort of situation in your career it is important to solicit feedback and make sure you are working on the “right” things. This can easily be done with your new status communications – either in your 1:1s or in email. Just add questions like:
- Are these the right set of priorities?
- Is there anything else more important that I should consider doing?
- If I have spare cycles, what could I work on that would have the biggest impact to the company?
- Is there anything I could work on that is more important than what I have planned?
This will make sure that your work is tightly aligned with goals and give your manager a chance to correct any deviations from the desired path, before it becomes an issue.
Solicit regular feedback
Besides making sure you are working on the right projects, a great way to learn what is really important to your manager and you company is to solicit regular feedback on your job performance.
Although when it comes to feedback there are a few things to remember, as well as some tips to help you be helped by others.
Telling people something negative/constructive is hard! I am sure you have been given feedback at some point in your life. How did you react? For many people, their reaction is to defend, explain, or even disagree with the criticism. These conversations can be tough! No one wants to hurt anyone’s feelings, or engage in a discussion on whether their opinions are justified, and so as a result, many people are resistant to offering up feedback. However, there are some ways for you to train your boss (the tables are turned now!) on giving your regular comments on your performance.
- Be gracious. If someone gives you his or her opinion, listen intently. If you have trouble listening, take notes. If you don’t agree with the feedback, resist the urge to explain or refute it. Just listen and take it in. You can always talk about your feelings later, but everyone’s point of view is valid – even if you don’t agree. If you react negatively, then the person will be resistant to give you their thoughts later. So regardless of what they say, the best response is something like “Thank you, I appreciate you sharing your view of the situation. I am going to reflect on this for now, but may want to discuss details later on.” You are showing appreciation for their openness, and then you can spend time reflecting until you are ready to address the concerns, instead of having an emotional, and potentially harmful response.
- Ask on a regular basis. For me, it can be hard to come up with something meaningful on the fly, however, if someone is asking me every week I tend to spend more time thinking about it between meetings. I also tend to be more aware of little points that could be improved between meetings, allowing the recipient to receive finer grained advice that might have otherwise gone unnoticed.
- Ask good questions. Simply asking “do you have an feedback for me” is still more useful than not asking, but won’t always get you the best answers. I have found that the more specific the question the more valuable response. So instead of vague general questions focus on specifics: “What could have gone better in this project?”, “How could I have made this email easier to understand?”, “What is an example of a diagram that illustrates system architecture better?” or “How could I have made this meeting more useful?”.
Hopefully these tips will help you get more from your manager and gain valuable insight into your performance (as well as provide regular insight into your work!).