Preface:  Workplace Undercover is a recurring segment of this blog, featuring a workplace scenario and a response by a guest consultant. The scenario below was written by Carole Marmell. Jennifer Joyce, cofounder of LeadershipSmarts responds. This is the first of a three-part segment.

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Molly is a 30-year-old bank employee. The bank has a very structured environment, with formal performance appraisals after every project as well as every year. The appraisals go both ways, for supervisors as well as line staff. All appraisals are done by committees consisting of supervisors and line staff. In addition, the supervisors have procedures for providing coaching and feedback to all line staff to help them advance step by step.

In practice, Molly feels she does not receive appropriate coaching and feedback from her immediate supervisor and project manager. She feels that they assume she knows more than she really does, simply because she is so good at figuring things out for herself.

Molly is fairly confident of her approaching yearly appraisal. When her supervisor decides to provide an advance heads-up, Molly believes she will receive supportive feedback for her hard work. Instead it is barely mentioned. She feels her supervisor is telling her she is not conforming to expectations that she didn’t know existed.

“The perception around here,” says the supervisor, “is that you are a bit arrogant and feel you are smarter than everyone else. Your appraisals of others are more negative than we expect, and we worry this is an indication that you are not able to work well with others.”

Molly is not upset with her supervisor; she is actually relieved to hear this feedback before going in front of the whole committee. For that matter, she feels that this supervisor, who is new, is much better at communicating than the previous one. However, she now worries whether her work is considered substandard, rather than high-quality as she assumed. She has totally lost confidence in her own judgment.

What can Molly do now?

  1. How can Molly explain she was unaware of the appraisal criteria without appearing defensive or critical?
  2. How does Molly—or any employee with high standards—not come across as superior when assuming others share her standards?
  3. How can Molly learn to hear constructive feedback and see its potential for growth?
  4. What organizational support should be provided to Molly and her supervisor by bank administration to improve the effectiveness of their feedback system?

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Jennifer Joyce responds:

In this scenario, it may be easy to find problems with how Molly’s supervisor and the appraisal committee are providing feedback. The feedback doesn’t appear to have a strengths-based approach or include positive feedback. It is entirely negative. The information is not specific and full of judgment (arrogance) and assumptions (Molly thinks she’s smarter than us). And it sounds like there may be issues around Molly receiving the direction and guidance she needs to do a good job on tasks with which she is not familiar. Finally, Molly is blind-sided by the information as she is expecting a glowing evaluation.

Nonetheless, making a case for “poor Molly” would take Molly down the path to powerlessness.  Handled well, the situation could prove to be a gold mine for developing interpersonal skills, building more trusting relationships, and gaining new self-awareness about blind spots that have been undermining her success at work. In order to turn this situation into a positive career win, Molly should focus on three things: Self-management, “be in the question,” and “uncollapse” the issues of personal effectiveness from quality of work.

[to be continued in the next post]

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Jennifer Joyce, cofounder of LeadershipSmarts.com, is a leadership development consultant and coach.  She specializes in diversity, continuous quality Improvement, team effectiveness, change leadership, strategic planning, meeting design and facilitation, leadership development and executive coaching.  For more information, see www.leadershipsmarts.com

Carole Marmell, LMSW-IPR, C-SWHC, is a hospice social worker.

Filed under: building effective relationshipsconscious use of selfhealthy organizationsinitiating changemaking positive changesstrength-basedworkplace dynamics

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