No supervision? Beware

[Disclaimer: This is not about my current job.  Carry-on.]

Once a guy (or gal) gets enough experience under his belt, you are going to come across a potentially dangerous little condition called “I hired you because you know what you are doing”. It sounds like a good thing. Somebody is finally acknowledging the value of your accomplishments and your generally responsible nature. It feels great. These people really “get you”. How could anything this perfect go wrong? Yes, it really seems like this is a best-case scenario. However, sometimes these rosy scenarios are concealing a nasty thorn or two. If you don’t know what to look for, you could get impaled.

Of course, you aren’t scared of responsibility. This is because you really are as good as you say, and you really know what to do, and your projects always end up “all smiles-for-miles” and five gold stars. It seems unlikely that this is the project that will end your winning streak. What would it take to do that? How would you know if this was the one? What would you be looking for?

What could go wrong?

There are 3 possible bad reasons behind this great trust that has been invested in you

  1. The boss is too busy to give you the support that you require, he is letting you know it, up-front. You will be flying blind. You will do a good job at whatever you assign to yourself. Let’s just hope that “the man who signs your checks”, agrees with you. This doesn’t carry much risk, because hey, you really do know what you are doing.
  2. Somebody else has tried this (before you) and didn’t succeed. The current assumption is that your predecessor didn’t know what he was doing. If they bring-in someone who does know his stuff, then this will all be easy and things will naturally go well. The root cause of the previous failure(s) could not be some kind of internal problem. Heck no! Oh no, no, no. Preposterous.
  3. The boss already knows the deal and is intentionally staying away. The less involved he can be, the less stuff that can be pinned on him. You are the one holding the ball. In fact, you are the only one. Gulp. The room sure did get really quiet, really fast. Nobody will make eye contact with you because you are a “dead man walking”. Surprise, you were slated to fail before you even showed up.

You sir, may have been hired to be a fall-guy. Your ego ate the bait and has dragged you along with it.

Now, I am not saying that this is common. It is actually quite rare. Unfortunately, this also is why it might get you, by surprise.

There are a handful of adjacent problems (which often go along with #2 or #3). They are easy to identify, and will help you recognize/confirm if you are in one of these bad scenarios.

Why this happens

Start by considering the rationale behind the original statement. It goes like this, “experienced people already know what they are doing, so they don’t need a babysitter”. It sounds good. Yes, experienced people know what they are doing, so they don’t need somebody breathing down their necks and micro-managing them. You bet. Thank you. However, the risk lies within the motivation behind this statement. Sometimes, this statement indicates a desire by the leadership, to be DIS-involved. There is a pretty big difference between [implicitly trusting you] vs. [the boss doesn’t want to be involved, at any level, in this endeavor]. You can guess which one is going to eat your lunch.

Sometimes, skill or quality is not the key to being successful, and neither is determination or attention to detail. Normally, each of those are great and they will take you far, in life. They are a great foundation on which to build a career. However, to get consistent wins, there is one primary (subtle) underlying goal: meet the expectations of the people who evaluate you. Simple logic will tell you that if you do a good job, then people cannot expect any more than that. However, experience should tell you that this is not always the case. If you are not familiar with this seeming paradox, then this concept will seem a little funny to you.

So, back to my original point. If you were hired because you know what to do and you don’t need to be babysat, then you will be the one who assigns yourself work too. And how do you know that you are doing the right thing? Hopefully, it is because you are of the same mindset as the guy who dreamed-up this assignment and picked you to handle it. If you do, then you are on a good road. However, if you are not sure, then this is the trap that you need to disarm (or avoid altogether).

What to do right

Start with the right objective: meet expectations of those who evaluate you. If you are in charge of yourself, then I guess you will evaluate yourself, right? Wrong-o (unless you are also signing your own paycheck). The person who decides if you keep your job/get paid, is ultimately the same person who will evaluate you. It only works if that person is aware of your accomplishments. Otherwise, you are not earning your keep.

The obvious risk is two-fold, infrequent contact equals infrequent reporting of your progress (and infrequent recognition), and also a lack of feedback. No matter how much awesome-sauce you are cranking out, the people with the checkbook are always going to wonder if they could have gotten the same quality for less money. Once your work is done, there will be a nagging thought in the back of their minds, that you could have done it quicker.

Don’t be paranoid

Less involvement from the top is not always a bad thing. I have worked at places where the management/manager/VP was too involved and needed to step-back and let the experts handle it. Things went better when the VP let us do our jobs and limited his involvement a little more. However, with places like that, it would have been a gross over-correction if we had cut-off communication altogether. Things would not have turned-out well, under either circumstance.

The job of the people above you, is to make sure you are doing a good job. You will seem more successful and valuable (and liked) if you make that job easier for them. Give them the comfort that they need and you will earn your autonomy (and prove your value).

So, once you make it to the point in your career where people are allowing you to work un-supervised or self-supervised, be sure to manage your ego as well. Report your progress, regularly, to a supervisor (somebody with clout) and solicit feedback (maybe even demand it). It is the best way to remain elite and paid.

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About Tim Golisch

I'm a geek. I do geeky things.
This entry was posted in Career, Professionalism. Bookmark the permalink.

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