terse answer Thursday: 7 short answers to 7 short questions

It’s terse answer Thursday! And I have to say, as much as I enjoyed December’s many updates and best-of and worst-of lists, I’m glad to be back to regular posts.

Here we’ve got seven short questions and seven very short answers…

1. Using notes when talking with an employee about her performance

I have an employee whom I need to speak with about her behavior. I made a list and a short “speech” of sorts about what I want to say to this employee when I meet with her (not an exhaustive list, just key points I want to remember). Is it okay to refer to it (or perhaps even read a bit of it aloud) when I’m talking to the employee, or will this come off as being unprepared and reliant on my notes? I don’t want to forget anything, but don’t want to come off as incompetent either.

Don’t read it like a speech because that will be weird. But you absolutely can have a bulleted list that you consult so that you make sure that you hit all the points you want to hit. And as silly as this might sound, practice it beforehand so that you feel more comfortable and are more prepared in the conversation itself. You should also think about what she might say in response and how you’ll respond to that, so that you’re not caught off guard.

2. I have to give a report on why my boss should be happy I work for him

My boss is becoming increasingly harder to work with, and this recent episode is a prime example. I received an email yesterday stating that the members of my department (there are only 2 of us) have to give him a weekly report on the topic of his choosing. This one is “Why should (insert boss’s name) be happy I (myself) work here?” This is completely unrelated to my job. Any suggestions?

Look for another job? Your boss is either a loon or an ass, or both.

You could also ask him — nicely and without being confrontational — why he’s assigned you this. Does he have concerns about your performance? Etc.

3. Am I supposed to know the exact start/end dates of every job I’ve ever had?

In going over my LinkedIn and updating it, I realize that I’ve got a fuzzy memory in the middle years of my employment so far. I’ve had five or six different jobs between graduating college and now, and I can’t remember the exact start dates/ end dates for some of them. The main problem is that I had three positions in the same company (although in totally different departments doing totally different things) over the course of the three years I worked there, and one of them was part-time and was done before/in between the other two.

Should I start calling people and nailing down dates, or is fuzzy logic okay? I used this fuzzy logic when reporting to my current company for a background check and employment inquiry and everything came back fine.

Most people don’t remember precise dates, and you’re not expected to, although it’s good if you can get the specific month right.

4. Writing a letter to my new boss about how excited I am

I just recently got an internship position with an engineering company. I will be starting within the next two weeks and I want to write a letter to my supervisor before I start saying that I look forward to working with him. I was wondering if this is a common thing to do. And if it is, is there a certain way I should go about doing this and what should be included in this type of letter? Please let me know. Thanks.

Send a quick email, but not a lengthy letter. It’s common to say something like, “I’m really excited to start working and am looking forward to my first day,” but not a long monologue beyond that.

5. How to best use Glassdoor

There’s a resource that I’m not sure how to make the best use of: Glassdoor. The company reviews are all written by employees. Glassdoor tries to obtain objective responses by asking folks to report on both pluses and minuses at these companies, which helps. But I’m not sure how to filter what I’m reading, which is (understandably) quite biased. I guess I was curious what you’d do with the info in Glassdoor if you were a job hunter looking for a company to work for.

A couple of caveats about Glassdoor: You don’t often find smaller employers on it, and people tend to be more motivated to write reviews when they’re unhappy. And you don’t know anything about the sources; they could be disgruntled because they’re being coached out for low performance, for all you know. (I’m definitely not saying that’s always the case, but the problem is that you don’t know when it is and when it isn’t.) It’s still worth looking at, but take it all with some skepticism. It’s one data point, but you should collect many, many more.

6. How experienced do you have to be to be called “senior”?

My current employer has strict rules regarding the “senior” label (at least 20 years of experience). I only have a little bit more than 10 years so i don’t classify as Senior yet. I noticed that some places require 5 or 7 years of experience for my same position but as Senior, so i wonder if there’s a standard regarding this subject and my employer is just a special case. How many years of experience should someone have to be classified as Senior?

Totally depends on the job and the employer. There’s no one standard.

7. How to develop and motivate employees

Many (most?) of your posts are about dealing with problem employees. I really appreciate this advice and it has helped me with some of my issues. But I could really use more help in developing my staff into a cohesive, happy, productive team. They are all great people with good attitudes, good work ethic, and a lot of potential. I want to know more about what I can do to motivate them, push them to do great things, and retain them longer in the organization (they are just starting their careers and looking for opportunities).

The quick answer: Give people meaningful roles with real responsibility, give them clear goals and the resources to achieve them, hold them and yourself to high standards, offer candid and direct feedback about what is and isn’t working, and treat them as well as possible.

The longer answer: I don’t usually fall back on “read my book,” but in this case, I’d also suggest the chapter on developing people in my book on good management, because it goes into lots of detail about how to do this. Oh, and read this post on mentoring too.

{ 33 comments… read them below }

  1. JT*

    I have a situation like #3 with positions more than 10 years ago – though for me it was largely the same work at higher levels (thus changes in job titles). I’ve made a good faith effort to pick the months and am writing that down now so the info remains consistent.

  2. Anonymous*

    Regarding #6 Senior label, I am a Senior Accountant working for a public bank and I only have 4 years under my belt. So it all depends on your experience, education and how well you can sell yourself to the employer.

        1. Scott M*

          Just as long as you remember that autonomy doesn’t mean “complete lack of: management, goals, expectations, communication,and leadership”. :)

    1. Jamie*

      For some people it is the money.

      I know there is study after study out there about individual motivators…and I agree that everyone has their own and there is always more to it than money.

      But for some people if they were to rank their main motivators in order of importance money is first by a wide margin. I’d definitely count myself in that group.

      I would think that would be far easier for a manager to deal with. It’s a lot harder to get inside my head and find some long and winding road to my professional fulfillment when agreeing on a dollar figure is so much faster and easier.

      1. Julie*

        I don’t think anyone argues that not having enough money is a big demotivator. In his book, Pink argues that employers should set a good salary for their employees, and then take the issue of if-then money rewards (incentives, etc.) off the table.

        I’d also note that while money is undoubtedly important, there may be things that are more important to you that you’re not acknowledging. If every time you prepared very hard for a presentation and found it was canceled at the last minute, or the files you worked overtime on suddenly became useless (client changed the specs, boss changes his mind on what he wants, etc.), you’d probably get pretty demotivated, pretty quickly.

        For all that money is important, intrinsic motivators are *also* important, and I don’t think they’re really that hard to nurture if you take a common-sense approach to things.

  3. Steve G*

    Me and my friends usually squabble about #6. Do other readers work at companies where it depends on years of experience only, or on other criteria as well? Especially here in NYC, I see alot of people in their mid-20s getting lofty titles with “senior” in them and it never ceases to come across as odd. I think “senior” works well when someone is to become the mentor for new employees and help manage work, but not necessarily be the reporting manager.

    1. Piper*

      This. I used to work for a company that regularly inflated people’s titles. Everyone was a VP of something. It was so stupid, especially since the oldest person in the company was 32 at the time.

      1. Anonymous*

        Ugh, yes! A friend of mine is a studio manager at a design firm. Actually, that’s what her title would be a most other places and it’s a good descriptor for what she does. However, her current title is “VP, Studio Experience.” What does that even mean? There’s no “President, Studio Experience” so it makes the title even more silly. She can’t help but laugh about it. Unfortunately, the VP title does not come with a VP salary.

  4. Anonymous*

    For #3, I created a Word document that I keep in my Dropbox along with my resume. It took me a while to complete it using various past letters, emails, tax returns, etc. I have my employment dates, addresses, supervisor names and contact info for the past 10 years or so. I also keep my past home addresses because sometimes applications or background checks ask for that as well. It was a lot of work putting this document together but totally worth it. Since it’s in my Dropbox, I can can access it with my iPhone or any computer.

  5. Dawn*

    Yay, thanks for answering my question! (I was #3)

    I think it’s funny how I’ve always thought that I knew when I was hired/started, but lately I realize that with all of the other things that have happened in my life I have a really hard time remembering exact dates. I’m going to look through my tax returns and old copies of my resume to see if I can piece together exactly when things began and ended, but thanks for setting my mind at ease that it doesn’t matter *too* much.

  6. KayDay*

    re: #6. Senior what? What comes after senior has more to do with the level of experience than “senior” itself. For my accountant friend, it takes about 3 – 4 years of experience to become a “senior associate.” Another friend became a “senior ____ administrator” after 6 years of experience. A “Senior Vice President” is just under the C-suite however at a large company, and a “Senior Partner” is one of the top people at a law firm.

    I have a couple of friends who work in agency environments, and they often refer to people they work with who are above them but not their boss as their “senior.” But “senior” alone is not the official title. E.g. “My senior told me that reports are written in comic sans font but my boss said to always use Gigi.”

  7. fposte*

    On #1, I’d say resist any temptation to pretend you don’t have notes, and be prepared for the employee to ask for a copy. And, actually, it might not be a bad thing to write them up in ways that you’d be comfortable sharing and provide him/her with a copy.

    On #7; I note that the opportunity to work together *without* the supervisor has been key in creating team architecture here. Not that the supervisor should ignore the staff, obviously, but that the team cohesion between the staff seems to happen more readily when they spend more time relating to one another than to me. Some of the best organizational alchemy is lateral.

    And in my experience, there’s less pushing than there is noting opportunities and getting out of the way.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Yes! I’m actually a big fan of having the talk and then following up with a “to summarize what we talked about” email so that it’s clear and documented.

  8. YALM*

    # 7–Do all of your employees do exactly the same job, or are there variations in the roles they perform? If there are variations, move them around a bit to expand their horizons. If possible, have them mentor each other into the new roles. This approach also works if they perform roughly the same functions but have different strengths and weaknesses and you want to level those out.

    Try some team bonding activities, like a group lunch or short outing once a month. Let them have some social time as a group.

    Talk to your employees. Observer what they do and assess where you think their strengths are, but also ask them what they’re working on that interests them most or makes them struggle. You may find that you see things differently. Somewhere in the middle lies the truth. Use that truth to direct how you mentor them going forward.

    Give them consistent feedback about how they’re performing.

    Provide challenges to stretch them, but also provide a safety net. Some will excel. Others may struggle and fail, but failure provides learning opportunities. Take the time to discuss what went right, what went wrong, and what each of you can do better next time.

    If you overstretch an employee, take responsibility for it, and pull him out as quickly and as gently as you can. You want to push people but not crush them.

    Does your work cycle have crunch times? If so, guide your team to work together to push through the crunch. If they come to rely on each other to help out, they will bond. And try to keep the atmosphere as light as possible when the work is the heaviest. One of the best cycles my team had was during an insane release. I brought in food every day–veggie trays, fruit, cheese and crackers–and kept the jokes flowing. In the beginning, I also kept a sharp eye on how the work progressed. When someone stumbled, I slid someone else in to help. When someone became overloaded, I pulled work and reassigned it. I was the first one in the office and the last to leave every day during that crunch. My folks were exhausted, but they left each day smiling, seeing the progress we’d made, and knowing they could count on each other to get it done. After the first few days, I didn’t have to be involved in shuffling people or work. They took it upon themselves to ask for help or offer it. That was four years ago, and with every release since, my folks have taken it upon themselves to communicate needs and share work. Far more often than not, they tell me what they’ve done rather than look to me for guidance. As long as I am clear about what needs to be done by when (and why), and what the priorities are, they’re pretty capable of executing without interference from me. That frees me to clear roadblocks and pitch in to do “real” work.

    Lastly, I applaud your investment in developing your employees. Not enough managers do this.

  9. Ben*

    #6, i think there’s a gray area around it. Some people get it when they have X amount of years of experience, some others when the boss feel like it.

    Im with Steve G on this, someone in the 20s and Senior already ? unless you are a football player, it looks odd.

  10. Anonymous*

    And you don’t know anything about the sources; they could be disgruntled because they’re being coached out for low performance, for all you know

    Nor is there anything to prevent employers from falsifying glowing reviews.

    1. Anonymous*

      Good point, but how likely is it that these larger companies would take the trouble just to boost their ratings on Glassdoor? I shouldnt think it was worth the trouble.

  11. Chris*

    On #1, I agree with fposte, and I suggest the “bad news sandwich” as long as it doesn’t dilute the message that improvement action is needed. It is more caring to acknowledge some positives, so the employee still feels valued and wants to improve.

  12. Riki*

    #5 – Reading reviews on Glassdoor is like reading reviews on Yelp. Be wary of anything that is totally over the top good or bad. The reviews that fall somewhere in-between are probably the closest to reality.

    Also, note the things that seem to be mentioned in every review. If every review, good and bad, states that the work hours are tend to be long, the benefits are good, the food in the commissary sucks, etc. then it’s probably true.

  13. Anonymous*

    Just a general comment about #3:

    Ever since starting work I have had one document that lists everything I have ever done for work. Even that one week placement through a temp agency.

    From that I have filtered a CV down to a reasonable size. However when I come across one of those applications that asks for everything (which last time I was looking happened quite a bit) I do have the information.

  14. Anonymous*

    Thank You so much for answering my question. (#2) What if leaving my job is not an option? Should I approach HR? I asked about my job performance, and was told there were no issues.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      Can you ask him directly what his thinking is for assigning you this presentation? I’d say something like, “Can I ask what’s behind this? I want to make sure we’re on the same page.”

  15. Maurreen*

    About No. 2 — “I have to give a report on why my boss should be happy I work for him”:

    I could be a way for the employee to tell the boss good things about the work he’s doing.

    For example, in some jobs, the boss has little awareness of your work until something goes wrong. This is a way to tell the boss about what’s going right.

    When everything is going smoothly, the boss doesn’t know if that’s because that’s the routine, or the worker moved hell and high water to get the job done well. Such as, all the input to do the work came in late, or the input had problems that the worker excelled at fixing.

  16. Jamie*

    #2 – The why I’m happy to work for my boss essay.

    The request is so oddly phrased that it’s totally normal to be put out by the request – I would be paranoid if it was asked of me…but this could be a super awkward way to gather some pretty normal business intelligence.

    It’s entirely possible that your boss was asked to give a run down on the attributes of his team – either to justify the numbers, discuss upcoming performance reviews, etc. And rather than doing his job and evaluating what each of you bring to the table he’s bullying you into doing his homework for him. Which sucks.

  17. Kelly*

    I think most of the reviews on Glassdoor that have both significant positives and negatives about the job are good ones to look at. I think the retail job reviews are for the most part, pretty accurate. The observations that tend to true are seniority is too highly valued, especially when the ones who have been there forever do the bare minimum, you are underappreciated for all the work you do – most retail departments wouldn’t survive if it wasn’t for all the part time people under the age of 30, the customers are entitled and demanding, and management always doesn’t make the right decisions. Another valid observation is on the importance of credit card and customer loyalty programs. Corporate types in a number of chains place a high importance on those programs and getting people signed up for them.

    Wal-Mart and Target now usually don’t promote from within for positions at the store management level and above. They get criticized for this in many of their reviews from hourly people. I think they have good reasons to because they can get better outside talents with degrees and most of their hourly employees are not management material. I can’t imagine the majority of the people working at my local Wal-Mart and Target making decisions about payroll and how much to order because it seems like it would be beyond their experience and education. The Wal-Mart would be ran worse and in messier condition that it currently is now.

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