People will lie to you.
I caught up with an old work colleague and friend for a coffee yesterday. She was in this situation where her work — where I used to work — is telling her a bunch of things. Top of mind are:
- You are bad at your job, and
- Because of this, we’re going to demote you and pay you less money.
Having worked for the very same place, and experiencing at least one of those things (constant negative feedback, which we’ll get to in a moment) and a partial on the other (due to contract, they couldn’t demote me, but they avoided raises when they were applied across rest of the team), I was a sympathetic ear. I think I was also a useful ear, because I mentioned to her that:
- She is in fact good at her job, and
- She may be working for a pack of ass clowns.
Maybe you’re there now, so I thought it might be worth digging in to the detail a little. When I worked at this place, I was told a variety of things — my writing sucks, for example, which you may or may not agree with depending where you sit on the 1-to-5-star continuum. I was told that the work I did from an enterprise architecture perspective was sub-par — indeed, that it wasn’t EA at all, and I spent a lot of time arguing the toss about solutions and technical architectures with them (they thought EA was a predominantly technical discipline that dealt with IP addresses and domain servers). I was told that my relationship skills were lacking, and that the way I dealt with people needed moderation. I was told that I had no management skills, that I was harmful in management situations — despite taking two disenfranchised staff and making them feel productive. I was told that my technical outputs — say, a good ol’ intervention logic map — was poor and better done by other people.
Fast forward to my current job, where I’m racking up a lot of praise. A recent client has said that work I’ve done is driving its own programme in their organisation, and that my output sets a quality standard. I’ve made friends there, one of whom has been asked to add to the stuff I’ve done and reported back to me that he could do it technically, but not with the same style. They have told me that I turned around the engagement with them — which is great because prior to me starting, they’d indicated they were inclined to take their bat and ball and go home. They have praised my consultative and inclusive style, and my ability to deliver technical quality through a byzantine structure of stakeholders.
One thing is constant here, which is me. I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet but use this as a useful example: I’m not a different person, I’m just in a different place, and I figured if my friend was hitting this barrier maybe you are too. So, take a step back and have a think. Were you previously awesome, but are finding yourself less awesome now? Odds are, it’s not you: it’s more likely where you are, or what you’re being asked to do, that are reflecting poorly on your performance. In my eyes, this is a management problem, rather than your problem, but it’s tricky to get that recognised, especially if you’re in a place rife with white knight managers who want to do rather than manage. It’s about fit; the place you work needs to be right for you, and if it’s chafing despite your best efforts you need to duck and roll right on out of there. As an old colleague said: if you can’t change the people, change the people.
A slight funny story: apparently the place of work my friend is at is upset with me because they hear I’ve been bad-mouthing them. I haven’t, and take pains to redact the actors and location from messaging, but to me this is more indicative of their lack of EQ and general paranoia at their poor performance than anything else. I mean, we all leave jobs for reasons, right? You’re not going to leave if you’re in a perfect place. I suspect:
- What I said: I left there because it wasn’t working out, and I couldn’t be successful. I didn’t have the support of my management or my peers to be as successful as I wanted to be.
- What they heard: Everyone there is an asshole.
Which is a really long way of saying: you are probably awesome. Take a bow, and think about what’s wrong in your situation. Odds are, it’s not you.