Performing a Complete Role
Bob joined the company six months ago. Bob is working hard and super excited about everything he’s getting done. He feels like he’s doing the best work of his career, cranking out tons of great stuff, going way above and beyond. It feels great and he can’t wait for his review when Gloria will recognize all his effort and contribution.
Except one day, in one of their one-on-ones, Gloria takes a deep breath and tells him that he’s underperforming.
The first thing Bob feels is shock. Underperforming? Really? Then he feels anger at Gloria for not seeing things the way he does. How could she be so blind to all his hard work? Then he feels dejected that his manager’s view of him is so far from his own, and then there’s the wave of self-doubt: maybe his best just isn’t good enough, or maybe this team will just never value his strengths and he’ll have to move on. Resignation starts to set in.
Gloria is just as frustrated, because try as she might to explain what she sees as very basic responsibilities Bob is dropping, it doesn’t seem to stick. Things are suffering because of Bob’s negligence, but the message just doesn’t seem to get through to him. When she suggests specifics that he could work on, Bob reacts with exasperation. To him, it seems Gloria is just piling time-consuming minutiae on top of the real, significant contributions already taking up all his time.
Bob’s problem: he is performing an incomplete role, doing some work exceptionally well but in a way that leaves other necessary work undone. It's "donut shaped" - there is a hole in the middle. He’s doing what he judges is valuable and important, but not the complete role his manager is asking from him.
Most feedback loops don’t address this type of gap well. A lot of review conversations tend to focus on strengths, weaknesses, and specific work results. These seem like reasonable topics, and there’s value there, but I also find this often leads to a review that looks like this:
This the “Dungeons & Dragons Character Sheet” model of professional evaluation. You could literally do that if you wanted:
This is clearly not a good measure of Bob's value to the team.
Many of you may be thinking that Bob and Gloria need to agree on his job description, but how many of us have ever really used a job description to define our role? How many of us have pulled out our job description in a conversation with our manager? Not many I suspect, but perhaps it could be valuable exercise if it leads to the discussion of what Gloria values in the role.
The key challenge in this case is Bob is making his own determination of what is valuable, and his view isn’t aligned with Gloria’s. If Bob and Gloria could align on her view of what work is valuable and important, their conversations would be much more productive. During conversations about performance, Bob and Gloria must start there. If Bob thinks what Gloria is asking for isn't important he needs to ask Gloria about the value of that work from her perspective. He needs to ask her what a "complete role" looks like from her view, and he needs to try to understand the value associated with performing a complete role.
Are you performing a "complete role"?