My first bad working experience
It’s that time of year when the financial year has come to an end and you’ve either just had or about to go into your performance review discussions with your manager. And depending on your organisation, you probably also have to go into a system and punch in details about what you have achieved and worked on throughout the last year to demonstrate you’ve achieved all your KPIs. This is where it’s useful to dig deep and reflect upon exactly what you have accomplished. But not for the sake of filling out the paperwork. Rather, for your own personal reflection on where you are, where you want to be, and question whether your actions throughout the year just past have supported you in getting to that end game.
One of my earliest work experiences was as a sales assistant at a fashionable womenswear brand during my university days. It was also in this job that I had one of my first terrible, astonishing, slap-in-the-face-awful working experiences. The job paid a wage of about $18 per hour, and I worked about 2-3 five hour shifts per week. On any given shift you would be working with 3-4 other girls. Each of us had an allocated sales target to try and reach during the shift. We didn’t get penalised for not reaching the target, nor did we receive commissions. The targets weren’t really there for any reason other than as a gentle stick to push you to make sales, which was really not hard if you just smiled and engaged in conversation with the shoppers that walked through the door. Anyhow, I had been working in this job for about three months and things were going swimmingly until the regional manager called me into the back office together with the store manager for a chat.
“We obviously have a problem with you Jorden”
Excuse me, what?
“You’re stealing all the sales from the other girls. The girls are saying you’re not putting sales under their names when you should be and Lana* has spoken to you about this several times already, but we’re not seeing any change in your attitude”.
Whoa. I was gobsmacked. This was literally the first I had heard of any issues. I looked at Lana, who would not make eye contact with me.
“Sorry I’m actually not sure what to say. Lana hasn’t said anything to me about any of this?”
“So you’re calling my store manager a liar too?”
Ummm. “No, I am saying that Lana has not spoken to me about this and regardless I haven’t been ‘stealing’ any sales” (no commissions, nor penalty, why would I?!)
“Look this is obviously a problem. We can have another try at working this out or we can just end it now, what would you like to do?”
I resigned. In a state of confusion and shock, but dignified nonetheless, “Given these circumstances I think it’s best I just end this now”.
Lessons I learned at the tender age of 18:
Never assume that your perception of your work performance is the same as the views of your manager and peers
Achieving your KPIs, does not necessarily mean there aren’t other workplace issues you should be aware of and need to address
Regularly seek out feedback, both formal and informal, from your colleagues and managers – both direct and indirect ones
Think carefully about your behaviours and how they might be received versus your intentions
These were the coherent thoughts I eventually had after I recovered from being shocked, upset and angry. And these things still hold true today many years later in a corporate working environment. When we do our performance reviews each year, it often can be a mechanical and tedious process that is largely focussed on meeting KPIs and achievements to justify a pay rise or promotion. Push yourself to think about not just your accomplishments but also mistakes, how you’ve dealt with challenges and your relationships with your colleagues. What is your professional brand in your workplace, and does that branding align with what you want? If not, what steps should you take to re-brand?
Consider your thoughts in the context of where you are right now in your career and where you want to be in 1, 3, 5 and 10 years’ time. I had some discussions with several people who all recently had sudden realisations that they wanted more or something else out of their careers – but hadn’t quite been building the right experience and skills to get to where they actually wanted to be. If you regularly self-reflect, rather than only doing it once a year in a piecemeal performance-review focussed way, then you will hopefully be conscious of taking deliberate actions to achieve your objectives. If you aspire to be like Richard Branson, then start taking steps within or outside your workplace (ideally both) to develop the necessary skills, experience, networks and importantly brand, to achieve that aspiration. But the key is to heighten that self-awareness by reflecting about what you’re doing on a regular basis.