It’s five answers to five questions. Here we go…
1. My employee deserves a higher performance evaluation rating than I can give him
Yearly appraisal time. About a month ago, I was told to turn in any requests to rate employees at the highest performance level of “significantly exceeds standards.” These appraisals were to be reviewed at the highest levels, including our president and the board of trustees. (I work for a non-for-profit of about 250 employees.)
Now that I’ve actually put all the details in writing, I’m regretting that I didn’t recommend one of my team members for the highest rating. The rating just below it is “fully achieves standards” and that’s what I thought was appropriate for him before I actually put it all in writing. We are told as supervisors that this is a very acceptable rating and the one that most of the employees will receive – in the description for fully achieves, it reads “consistently and occasionally exceeds standards.”
My supervisor says it’s too late to request a change even though our formal deadline for conducting appraisals and turning in paperwork is March 4. The deadline for giving the highest rating was early so that those involved had time to review the documents and approve it. Assuming I really can’t get the rating up one notch, what is a good way to conduct the appraisal without deflating my employee – especially if I’m asked why he didn’t get the higher rating?
I’d tell him the truth. It risks demoralizing him, but the alternative — trying to defend a lower rating — risks demoralizing him even more. The key will be to talk about what other actions you plan to take to try to address the situation. For example: “After reviewing your performance in detail, I think you deserve the highest rating. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize that until I sat down and put my reflections in writing, which was after our internal deadline for getting the highest-level rankings approved. I’ve tried very hard to get an exception made but haven’t been able to because (explain process). So what I’m going to do instead is ___ (add a formal note to your file explaining the situation / ensure that you’re first in line for raises, promotions, recognition in the coming year / see what I can do about a mid-year raise in a few months that reflects your excellent level of work / whatever else you can figure out to ameliorate it).”
But first, go to bat as hard as you can for a process exception. An organization that’s going to make managers jump through hoops to award the highest rating should pair that with some flexibility for managers who find themselves in your situation. (That said, an organization that has its frickin’ board reviewing performance reviews is an organization with some serious weirdness around this process. I’m all for combatting grade inflation, but there are much simpler ways to do that, and it’s certainly not what the board is there for.)
2. How to respond to “is everything okay?”
I work in a small, open office. There are 13 of us. We’re a friendly, warm bunch for the most part. I’ve noticed that when one of us is stepping out for a doctor’s appointment — I know this, because someone will say “I’ll be back around X o’clock; I have a doctor’s appointment” — one of the two managers will typically follow up with “everything okay?” Usually someone will respond by starting to describe (vaguely) what’s going on (“oh, I’ve had a cold all week…”) but before they can say much, the manager will say “you don’t need to tell me why, just wanted to see if you’re okay.”
I know there asking this to be friendly and show on a certain level that they care, but it kind of puts whoever has the appointment in a awkward position. What should one say? “Oh yeah, everything’s okay”? What if something isn’t okay (such as a serious diagnosis or illness, or just something you’d rather keep private)? I just wish they didn’t ask it. I feel that if there’s a medical issue that somehow affects one’s work/attendance/etc., then it’s okay to share – but for the garden variety appointment, it just feels a little much to ask about. Ultimately, it isn’t anyone’s business why someone is going to a doctor’s appointment. I wish there were a way to convey that without coming across as rude.
Yeah, they’re almost certainly asking to express that they care about your well-being, but they haven’t really thought it through. That’s pretty normal; most people don’t think much about this stuff. We are a species that tends not to think things through.
If you feel strongly about it and you have good rapport with either of these managers, you could point out what you’ve said here: “I know you’re expressing concern and probably don’t realize this, but it can feel awkward to be asked if everything’s okay when one of us is leaving for a doctor’s appointment. It can be hard to answer without giving details, even though I know you’ve said you don’t want them. And of course, sometimes things might NOT be okay, but someone might not be ready to share that.” I’d also add: “I really like that we all have such warm relationships here. This is just something that I thought you might not have realized and that you might appreciate hearing it.”
But if that feels like way too much or you can’t imagine having that conversation with your two managers (since it would be totally natural in some relationships and not at all in others), then that’s a sign that your best bet is to just stick with “yep, everything’s fine” when you get this question. If it helps, see it as just a generic but warm social pleasantry — not a real request for information, but more like the “how are you?” / “fine, thanks, and you?” exchange that isn’t a genuine request for info about your physical or mental state.
3. Talking about an overwhelming workload in a senior position
I am wondering about how to frame a conversation about sustainability/workload with my supervisor in the context of a senior leadership position. The typical advice on prioritizing competing demands is to lay out trade-offs: “I can’t have X until Tuesday, unless I prioritize Y. What would you prefer?” But, this execution-oriented conversation is no longer relevant in my new role. How can I be transparent with my manager that I’m struggling to keep my head above water without making it seem like I’m the problem for not being able to handle the workload?
For background, I am about eight months into a brand new position at a small but growing nonprofit (~35 staff). My role is a big ambiguous in scope, as it focuses on special projects and strategic partnerships; it’s one of the only positions that cuts across teams (which I love! but which also gets me pulled in to lots of different projects). I report directly to the CEO, who gives me a lot of autonomy based partly on trust and partly on lack of time to supervise more closely. I am technically a member of the senior leadership team, though I don’t actually supervise any non-interns. Though I have supervised staff previously, this is the first time I’ve been at this level of seniority in an organization.
Same basic principles, actually, but you should figure out what course of action you think is best and then loop your boss in to your plan. For example: “I’m juggling X, Y, and Z and am not going to have time to get to all of them as quickly as we’d discussed, especially because Y is turning out to be a lot more time-consuming than we’d thought. My plan is to prioritize X, wait on Y until later this month, and keep Z on the back burner until we’re through our big spring push. Sound right to you?”
That’s obviously a simplified version of what’s probably a more complicated workload — but that’s the basic approach. “Here’s the situation, here’s my plan for how I’ll tackle it, what I’ll push back, what I’ll delegate, and what I might table altogether.” And if you’re really struggling, it’s okay to say that and ask for input — “I’m having a hard time seeing what I can push back and I’d love to talk it through with you.”
4. An event I really want to go to is on the same dates as a work conference
There is an admin conference my old boss approved for me to attend, back in November, before she left the company. It is through an outside company, in late April at corporate headquarters–driving distance to my office.
Recently, someone announced the dates for a professional genre writing conference in another state, and guess what date it starts? Yep, same date as the work conference.
And I stupidly forwarded the work conference info to my new boss not long after she took over. So she knows about it. I asked the person who sent the announcement if the seats had been paid for and she said yes–but if you really needed to get out of it you probably could. However, the writing conference has nothing to do with my job. I wasn’t gung-ho about the work conference to begin with after looking at the jargon-filled itinerary, and now I will be mentally checked out wishing I were somewhere else.
I would simply attend a different one, but a substitute guest of honor whom I actually know will be there and this person could be a huge networking help. Given the state of his health, he may not be able to travel to it next year. There are pitch sessions with real agents and I need the practice. And the schedule shows a long list of useful workshops and panels. I need to start going to these things if I’m ever going to publish anything. I wish I had known the dates before the work conference registration—I would not have signed up. Is there any way out of this? Should I risk saying something to my boss (she knows I write)? Offer to buy out my seat? I really really really do not want to go. I wish I had backed out before my old boss left, but I didn’t and now I just want to cry!
Ooof. I do think you can change your mind about attending a conference — “They released the program and it doesn’t look nearly as helpful as I originally thought it would be. Let’s save the money and the work time.” But it’s much trickier to back out if it’s because you want to do something else for personal reasons; it risks looking like you were either being cavalier with your employer’s time and money when you first asked to attend the work one, or that you’re putting optional personal plans above a work commitment now (and maybe letting that bias your assessment of how useful it will really be).
How’s your relationship with your boss? If it’s good, I think your best bet is to just be straightforward and tackle the perception land mines head-on. For example: “I’ve been thinking about suggesting I not attend this conference now that I’ve seen their agenda because of XYZ. And now I have extra impetus because there’s a personal event I’d like to attend during the same dates. I feel weird asking you about this because I don’t want it to seem like the personal event is the only reason I don’t want to attend, but I truly don’t think it will be that useful. But I really don’t want to appear to be biased by the fact that it conflicts with the dates of my personal event. Would you mind taking a look at the program and telling me if you think it would be okay to skip it and get my ticket refunded, or if it you think it’s valuable enough that I should stick with it and skip the other?”
* If your boss says you can skip it, try to get the refund. If you can’t, go back to her and ask if she thinks you should cover the cost yourself and say you’d be willing to.
5. Can my employer ask me to change my personality?
I am not your stereotypical female who talks like a valley girl or in a high-pitched voice. I’m very professional but not rude, in my opinion. I don’t smile much at work. I’m straight and to the point.
We had a customer call and complain that I was too dry over the phone and was rude and needed to be more courteous. My opinion is I was not rude. Maybe robotic is the word.
My HR manager has asked me on more than one occasion to be more personable. Are they allowed to do that? Can they really ask me to change my personality? Is it legal?
They are indeed allowed to ask you to use a different manner with customers and coworkers. If you think you sounded robotic, it’s not surprising that they’d ask you to change that. Companies usually don’t want to sound robotic when dealing with customers; they want to sound warm, friendly, and helpful. This post and this post may help.
(And I’m sure it was probably just bad wording, but be careful about how you stereotype women there! Most women don’t sound like valley girls, and many of us are quite straightforward.)