Sunday, December 3, 2023
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times when you recovered from mistakes at work — Ask a Manager

I have one that may feel a little different to some others that are coming, but I think it’s worth sharing my experience here because I think many people probably go through what I did.

At my last job, I went through a period of underperformance that lasted around 4 months. I was working in a Strategy & Program Management team as an Analyst, and I was asked to create a 3-year turnover, revenue and cost model to help us plan our strategy to 2020.

Some of my underperformance was due to incomplete training (all other Analysts in our Strategy & Program Management team went through rigorous training, and I didn’t receive any, even after asking for it), but some of it was very much because I didn’t take initiative. I didn’t raise BI requests until asked to, I didn’t get information from stakeholders to shape my analysis in good time, and I wasn’t really pushy with teams when they weren’t giving me feedback when I needed it.

My manager & program manager definitely noticed, and they had a number of feedback meetings with me to tell me I needed to improve. I didn’t get much in the way of support from them, so I really did need to pull myself up by the bootstraps.

And I did!! I really did. I really picked up my performance within about 4 months, and created a stellar model that even our toughest stakeholders were happy with. And I took my learnings into my next project, which was a huge customer migration project. That one went really well! I caught the eye of another manager who needed a Program Management function within his department, and I moved over to join his team about 4 months after my performance picked up.

But my reputation followed me. My manager from the first team just never saw me as a good performer. He even went so far as to sit me down and, no kidding, “fire” me after I had already moved to the new team. He told me “your performance hasn’t improved and you haven’t met my expectations, and we don’t have a place for you in our team.” I said “well…I’m actually reporting to someone else now, which is…why I’m not on your payroll anymore?” But he seemed weirdly unmoved by this and just kept going with what was clearly a very well rehearsed speech. With this little half-smile on his face, too, which still irritates me when I think about it. Not only that, but he insisted on doing a performance review 2 months later where he once again reiterated all the points of my underperformance, some of which were 10 months old by that point.

And I had to work with him in the new role, and it was very clear that he still saw me as an underperformer who couldn’t run an analysis correctly. He critiqued everything I created, set unrealistic deadlines for anything we were working on, and gave me incorrect information when I needed his input for my work (which, of course, were always my fault for not being “proactive” enough to catch his mistakes. Even when I did. Apparently I wasn’t catching them “the right way”, or something).

This followed me in other ways, too: I couldn’t get a raise, was working 60 hours a week, and wasn’t seeing any real increase in responsibility in my role (just an increase in workload). By this point, people were coming in at junior levels to me and getting paid more than me. They even planned to hire an assistant for me who – for real! – was going to be offered at least €2000 and at most €12000 more than what I was making.

Up until that point, which was after a year of high performance and a year and a half since I had been having my issues, I always felt that it was fair to pay me lower because I was still doing penance for my old role. And my old and new manager were always quick to remind me of this when I asked for more challenging work, a reduction in my workload to 40 hours a week, or fair compensation. But I started to realize that, “hey, wait a minute, I already have proven myself. If they don’t see it, it’s time to check the market and see if other employers feel the same way.”

It took about 6 weeks before I found a job that paid me 35% more. I’ve been in much more complex roles than the ones I did at my old company. I now get paid 3x what I got paid in my old company, and it’s only been 4.5 years since I left.

So, I guess what I learned from all of this is that recovering from underperformance isn’t just about improving in other people’s eyes. It’s about being self aware of how much progress you’ve made, and having the confidence to stand up and say “heck, I am good, and now that I’ve learned and recovered, I’m worth more!”


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