The day has finally arrived. The boss has girded their loins and is now prepared to tell you – you’ve missed the mark. Your performance is bad. This is the day we all dread. We have friends who lived through this and told you hair-raising stories about deep-seated hatred and paranoia. The boss can’t stand me, the boss is out to get me and everyone “knows”. You feel like a marked person with only a short time in the job before getting the boot. You are dead man walking.
While missing the mark in doing your job is never fun, there are some things you can do to avoid this harsh reality. And, if it happens, there are actions you can take to minimize the risk of getting fired.
How to Avoid a Performance Issue:
Make sure you understand your responsibilities, tasks, deadlines and expectations. While a good manager should cover all of these things with you, sometimes that doesn’t happen or doesn’t get covered very well. You need to take responsibility for yourself. Have the discussion and document what you’re told. Until you know the job really well, occasionally refresh your understanding of these items.
Seek performance feedback on an ongoing basis. It’s hard to go astray when you constantly know how you’re doing. This allows you to course correct before getting too far off track. It also confirms your performance in the mind of the boss, because they are reinforcing good outcomes.
Don’t fail to recognize other’s opinions. The boss may be detached from your work enough that they trust their own judgment less than others you interact with. You need to know who these “stakeholders” are and ask them for their feedback. I have seen bosses think an employee was doing well until someone came to them and filled them in on how crappy their employee was doing. Those opinions matter.
Document your performance. We don’t always think to do this, but it is an important part of solidifying your understanding with those around you. If you work in an environment that requires some kind of status report, this is a perfect opportunity to document what you have done and how it was done. If you can, include data results that will enhance what you’ve written. If you don’t work in that type of situation, then go ahead and produce a monthly recap, even if it is for yourself. You might inform your boss what you are doing to see if they would like a copy.
When it Has Gone Bad
Listen and ask questions. It is hard to avoid being defensive in these circumstances, but it will only make matters worse for you. When you are trying to defend what you’ve done, you aren’t listening. When you’ve been told you have missed the mark, you need to understand the difference between what is expected and what you delivered. You need to seek enough information that will lead you to put together an improvement plan. From my experience, most people simply have a hard time “seeing” their own behavior versus their intent.
Don’t over compensate. When you are having a hard time delivering the basics, you need to stick with really learning how to do them well. I have seen people in performance trouble decide to start doing things out of their scope of responsibilities or take one element of what they are doing wrong and over-correct. The best analogy I can give you is if you were told you drove to close to the center line and you over-corrected to the point you’re driving on the shoulder of the road. The over-correction is also a problem.
Evaluate yourself. You may not want to think like this, but you might be in the wrong job. You may not be suited to the kind of work you’ve been hired to do. This isn’t failure, its awareness. Because we don’t have many tools to help determine the right career, we often end up in careers by default. That default may not support who you authentically are. You need to evaluate, not only your ability to respond to the performance expectations, but whether you can sustain and grow from them. A career that is misaligned will cause you years of stress and unhappiness.
Limit your venting. At times like this, we need to release some of the emotion and frustration. Find a neutral person that will let you flap your arms and say nasty things without judging you or participating. You will find, however, that venting and talking over your situation too much will not improve your attitude, but will only make you feel worse, especially with people at work. There are those people who love a good dust-up in the group. They will gravitate to you like flies to honey. They will do everything they can to set you off into another emotional frenzy. You need to keep your complaining to a limited set of people and only a limited frequency.
The vast majorities of us do fine in our jobs most of the time, yet have a performance hiccup at some point. You can avoid some of it with these few simple actions. When or if it does come your way, you can turn it around and even gain something in the process.

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