Promises, Promises.....

Dear Coach,

I hope you can address my situation. I have been with my current employer for 20 months. This is my third job since college and I excelled at my first two. At each, I worked two to three years and left for a better position. When I took this job, I’d heard the industry pays poorly, but the professional image and opportunity to help others was irresistible.

I was hired about mid-ladder with the understanding that once I completed some advanced training in certain products, my income potential would increase. My customers praised how I handled their (routine) needs and I soon earned recognition. I was assigned to a new, showcase office and the word “Senior” was added to my title. 

My new Manager – a company star – was a little intimidating but I accepted him as my role model. He praised my routine work, encouraged me to study the advanced products on my own time and finally sent me to the training.

When I returned, I began helping him with more complex transactions and that is when my problems started. Now I carry my usual workload as well as help my boss. I often stay late – off the clock – to complete the delegated work.

Six months after training, I expected to be working more with the advanced products and making more money. Instead I never seem to live up to my boss’ expectations on his grunt work and he seems to have become dissatisfied even with my routine performance. Rather than mentoring me, he watches me like a hawk and has no patience. Worse – yesterday he yelled at me in front of my co-workers.

I no longer feel proud or fulfilled here and I am disappointed in my earnings. I’d quit except I wonder if I’d get a decent reference and I’m afraid that staying less than two years is a mark of instability.

- Failing Fast

Dear Fast,

I’m glad you wrote instead of bailing. Without diminishing your plight, the kind of “failure” you describe is most likely the result of a whole system of off-target expectations and miscommunication. Let’s troubleshoot.

First – I get the sense that you are bright, goal-oriented and hard working. Disappointing anyone is not on your agenda and your boss’ reaction to your work is a new experience.

Twenty months ago most companies had little idea we’d be in a recession now and yours may have expected to have more staff for routine work while people on your career track spent an increasing proportion of time with the advanced products and transactions. This alone might account for a significant portion of your situation.

Now, your manager – you say he’s renown for his sharp wit and ahead-of-the-curve achievement record and I’ll wager his communication style is equally fast paced. Managers with this style can miss subtle cues regarding the extent to which they are understood and end up shocked to find they’ve lost a potential protégé in their jet stream. (You say you found him intimidating and so your cues may indeed be very subtle.)

What to do? First – get a reality check on your expectations from someone else in the company. If it is indeed standard to have moved from routine to more complex transactions at 20 months, find out how the transition is handled in a normal economy vs. the current one. And consider your local market – are conditions different for your office? Someone at corporate should be able to put these issues into perspective for you.

I’d also recommend talking with whoever conducted the training you attended. Ask for some honest feedback that you can use to ensure you’re realistic about how difficult mastering the advanced products may prove for you.

Then, collect some hard data about your workload. On average, how many transactions of each type do you handle daily and how long do they take? Share these numbers with your boss and clarify your priorities, given the staffing level of your office and the amount of business it does.

Finally – share your perception that he has lost his confidence in you. Be prepared to acknowledge his feelings (whatever they may be) and to ask for a process whereby you can master the areas where your work falls short. You might also request that he discuss errors with you in private to facilitate your ability to learn from his instruction (vs. feel publicly humiliated).

These may not be easy conversations for you to have, so be sure you verify what you believe you’ve heard in each case and then use what you learn to re—balance what you can expect of your company with what they need from you. Above all - don't lose faith in yourself...

My Best to You,
- Sylvia