u-turnYou’re doing an excellent job – you’re producing a lot of documents, process maps, diagrams, plans – generally being productive. However your boss doesn’t seem pleased. Eventually your boss talks to you about poor performance and you wonder where this idea is coming from. The boss now has a bad impression of you and we all know once a negative impression exists it can be very hard to change. This post will help you turn that around.

First, find out what your boss’ priorities are

These may be quite different to yours. Although theoretically the work given to you should be contributing to the work your boss is responsible for, the amount of importance you place on each piece and the order you do them in will have impacts. The reason for a negative impression with your boss may be that you don’t know their priorities.

Ask your boss what they want to accomplish over the next month. If you’re working on a project, ask what the key deliverables are for the project, when they are due and what the dependencies and challenges are for those deliverables. This knowledge will help you establish links between your work and your boss’ work, and give you guidance for your proactive activities (described below).

Determine how your work can help meet those priorities

Next, you want to determine how your work aligns to those priorities and change your plans to make sure that what you’re working on at a given point in time matches your boss’ priorities as well. For example you might have deliverables A, B and C on your plate. You had just started deliverable C because it seems the most interesting to you. However, you then consider your boss’ priorities and realise that they don’t need deliverable C till 3 months down the track. However they are already being asked when deliverable B will be ready because another team is depending on that to start their work. With this knowledge you can then change plans and start fast tracking deliverable B.

Another example of knowing how your work relates to your boss’ priorities is the level of importance you place on something vs what your boss or even your organisation places on it. If you are spend a week with a thesaurus trying to make your latest report sound sophisticated when your boss considered that report a tick-in-the-box exercise to satisfy project governance bodies, then the impression you’ll create is that you don’t understand priorities.

Make your boss look good

Once you understand your boss’ priorities and problems, and how your work relates to that, you can make your boss look good to their managers. A big part of this is delivering when you said you would. For example, when your boss asks when something will be ready and you give a date. Your boss may have told their managers that the deliverable will be ready on that date. If you are consistently meeting your own targets, your boss will come to the conclusion that you are reliable and meeting these targets will mean your boss meets their targets as well. If you’re not able to meet a target you can still keep a positive impression by managing your boss’ expectations – keep them informed of progress, make them aware of the challenges and when the deliverable is likely to be ready.

Be proactive

Being proactive in your approach to work is one of the most effective things you can do to generate a positive impression. Downtime between pieces of work is perfect for you to exercise your proactivity. Take a problem that’s been on your boss’ radar and use this time to create options for solving this problem. Do a high level estimate of the work involved for each option, make a recommendation and bring it to your boss asking if they’d like you to proceed further.

Don’t just wait for downtime to be proactive! You may be in a job where there is a constant stream of activity that doesn’t let you do anything outside of your normal duties. Of course, doing your normal duties won’t go very far towards turning around a negative impression. Allocate some time each day or week where you can exercise your proactivity, or work on one of your proactive ideas.

Stuck on ideas? One of my old bosses told me to think: what can I do to help myself be more effective? What can I do to help my team? What can I do to help my organisation?

Make sure your boss is aware of what you’re doing

Make sure you are keeping your boss informed of what you’re working on. This serves two important purposes:

  1.  Gives them a chance to change your direction if priorities have changed or you are going down the wrong path; and,
  2. Lets them know about all the great proactive work you’re doing and what you’re achieving that helps them meet their objectives.

Be consistent and reliable

While one bad action can create a negative impression, it takes many good actions to turn that into a positive impression. Consistency in applying the above is what will really cement that good impression you want to create.

You also want to make sure your boss can rely on you. When you say something will be done by date X, try to finish it by that time. Doing this consistently creates a great impression of reliability.

Once you’ve created that good impression, it’s very important to check-in regularly to be aware of changing priorities and expectations.

Now for some crowd sourcing – How have you seen bad impressions turned around?