“You don’t get what you deserve. You get what you negotiate.”
Lester Karrass, Negotiation Expert
“Communication works by repetition. Repeat, repeat, and repeat.”
Recently Fortune China received the following email from a reader in China:
"I‘m a marketing executive. My boss is not in the same office with me. I never received bad comments from her and I thought she’s satisfied with my work result. But when I asked for a raise recently, she refused and told me she didn't see many highlights in my work. Actually, I worked hard and finished many difficult tasks without any guidance because she was so busy. How can I let her know that? I don't want to argue." – Frustrated
From this short note it is easy to sense that the writer is working very hard, is very committed to delivering results and also very frustrated that her work is not being recognized by her boss. Sound familiar? I hear this kind of thing quite frequently---Asia is a big region and its very common to report to a boss that lives and works in a another country, another city or even far across town. As such, it’s easy for an employee to be “out of sight, out of mind.”
Here are five tips for managingcommunication with an Absentee Boss. (In fact, these tips will work find even if your boss sits right next to you in the same office!)
No. 1. Negotiate Crystal Clear Performance Criteria with Your Boss.
I am always surprised when I ask people that I coach about their agreed performance criteria for their job and they aren’t able to articulate the standards of success for me. Often no written document exists. Usually they will refer to their job description! In reality, your job description outlines the kind of work you will be doing, the competencies required, key job focuses, etc. It spells out your role in the organization.
But a job description is not enough to clarify “What specific results is the boss expecting from me in the next 12 months and over the longer term?” To get that level of clarity requires a Goal Setting Conversation. Sometimes such a conversation happens as part of the company’s Performance Management process, if such a process is in use. Often, these conversations never happen at all. Without clearly defined performance expectations, written in black and white, how are you going to get a fair evaluation of your work? You won’t! You will have zero leverage to manage their perception of your performance. And its likely you will end up frustrated.
If you don’t have such crystal clarity, I urge you to request a Goal Setting Meeting with your boss and insist on clarifying:
• What specific results will you hold me accountable for delivering in the next 12 months
• What specific success criteria will be applied in order to evaluate if the results were delivered as expected?
• In other words, how will you know, beyond all doubt that I have met your expectations.
Don’t accept vague answers and generalizations like “just do good work and everything will be fine.” Often bosses haven’t really asked themselves these questions and so they won’t have a ready answer. If that’s the case, ask them to come back to you in a week (or other agreed time-frame) with some answers.
“But what if they never come back with the crystal clear success criteria?” I can hear people saying! In that case, sit down and draft your own success criteria for your work and send it to them for consideration. Talk to people who have more experience and ask them to review and comment on your draft. In any case, its up to you to ensure that clear performance benchmarks are in place if the boss or HR can’t provide them for you. Show your commitment by taking the lead instead of ‘suffering in silence.’ Are you a Leader? Then lead.
Remember: you don’t get what you deserve, you get what you negotiate.
2. Send Your Boss a Written Copy of Your Performance Goals and Success Criteria
Once you have agreed crystal clear performance goals and benchmarks with your boss, send them a copy via email and be sure to keep a copy posted in your workplace where you can see your goals every day. Let your boss know you are committed to achieve these, and more, and you will stay focused on the agreed goals. Refer to your goals several times a day and make sure you organize around priority work that will lead to achieving your goals. (See my previous Fortune China article on Swallowing 3 Frogs.)