Are You Making Concessions or Confessions in Your Annual Review?
by Lisa Gates. Originally posted at Forbes Woman.
Jane Doe is at it again. She learned the hard way that making concessions without proper planning—and reciprocity—is like confessing your weaknesses to a wolf.
Jane Doe landed her job as publications manager for large, publicly traded corporation. She’d had a string of editing and writing jobs mostly tucked inside the administrative assistant level, and decided it was time to up her game.
- She nailed her title. She came in mid range between the company’s opening offer and her researched value in the marketplace. Good.
- She asked for telecommuting options to have uninterrupted editing time, and to be productive on days when one of her three children were sick and got it. Great.
- She even convinced her soon-to-be boss that paying for her MBA in year two of her employment would create long-term value for both her and the company. Score.
Almost a year passes and she’s produced more slick content than BP, her workshops and training manuals rock, sales are up, the department is raging busy, and in her annual review, her boss is pissy.
Jane Doe—A secretary with benefits?
The meeting. It seems that “mistakes were made.” A couple of costly errors that required do-overs. Add to that her boss believes the rumors that she’s abusing her telecommuting arrangement and now claims that it was a “mum” arrangement not to be disclosed to her coworkers. In fact, he says, “everyone’s talking about your ‘time off’ and asking for similar benefits,” and claiming that he told her disclosing their arrangement was a fire-able offense. So he nixed the arrangement.
The crown jewel of the whole debacle was that she needed to understand that she was "a manager and not in management." In other words, you’re still a secretary with benefits.
Here’s where things went from bad to worse. When the discussion turned to salary, she made concessions that were more like confessions of wrongdoing. When they moved into the discussion about a raise, he said, “I can’t justify giving you a raise this year. And given the level of work we’re producing, you’re going to have to table enrolling in the MBA, probably indefinitely. And you can forget about telecommuting—it’s ruining morale around here.”
And Jane’s response? “I understand. I half expected as much.”
Fail, yes. But why? As we’re fond of saying, every accusation is a cry for help. Jane failed to realize that her boss’s venting was an opportunity to understand the complete story of his frustration and use the moment to solve problems—to take responsibility, offer solutions, make concessions, and demand reciprocity. She failed to manage up. To lead.
She also failed to see that her boss was using her as a doormat for issues, some of which were occluded and very likely beyond even her boss’s control. There was an elephant in the room and both were pretending it wasn’t there.
Here’s how the script could have been written:
JANE: I am so sorry about the costly mistake. I understand how frustrating it is—for both of us. To be fair, that mistake was less than 3 percent of the project budget, and I’d like to offer a solution so that we don’t get into this bind again.
BOSS: I’m not spending dime one on a so-called solution.
JANE: Right. I understand. I have some detailed solutions in this proposal. One element of the proposal is that when we’re at the final edit, I’d like to take the manuscript home and work without interruption, while also getting Dave and Joe into the production process earlier on to handle the sales and administrative details.
BOSS: Look, your title might say “manager” but you’re not management and I can’t have my guys working for you. It’s bad for morale.
JANE: I’d like to offer a different perspective here. Dave and Joe and I work really well as a team, and they’re just as frustrated as we are.
BOSS: They’re frustrated because you’re the only one in the building with a telecommuting agreement.
JANE: I understand the gossip might make it look like that. If we were to be transparent and disclose how and why it works, we’d get buy in from everybody.
BOSS: And then I’d have everyone asking to work from home. No can do.
JANE: I have some research here you might find incredibly valuable about the benefits of flexwork with several case studies about the impact on morale and productivity.
BOSS: The guys don’t need it, and it makes it look like special treatment for an admin role.
JANE: But writing and project management are not admin skills. The more you see the work I do as secretarial, the more it hurts you—and the value of our department. If you want to meet and exceed our sales targets, use the best of my skills where they matter most—and that goes for Dave and Joe too. They are under utilized as well.
BOSS: I’m sorry. Telecommuting is off the table.
JANE: I’m willing to forego flexwork for say three months if you’re willing to support my ideas for re-structuring the work flow with the whole team. If my solutions don’t create the results you want, I’ll be happy to take it off the table permanently.
BOSS: I can live with that. I don’t like it, but I can live with that.
JANE: I’d also be willing to table my raise discussion for three months so we can evaluate my worth as a manager accurately.
BOSS: We can take a look. I won’t guarantee a raise, but I’m open to the conversation.
JANE: With all due respect, the guys don’t have any issues with my role or my ideas. Why do you?
BOSS: Okay. Let’s talk turkey. And you better keep this under your hat. You’re one of the best hires I’ve ever made and things are changing faster than any of us had imagined. I don’t want to lose you to someone up the chain.
JANE: Got it. I’m happy you have my back. It’s the risk we take by managing well, and up. Isn’t it?
BOSS: Get outta here.
Yes, we’ve got some gender issues going on in this scenario, but rather than be undone by them, and Jane took the high road. She focused on the big picture. Sometimes it takes incredible patience and strength to stay at the table until you get at the elephant. Making confessions in place of creative solutions, and concessions without reciprocity not only weakens your future options, it undermines your leadership capacity.