Hi all,

I hope someone can help me.

My manager has recently extended my probation because he feels that I am not performing adequately; in the meeting where he told me this he asked me what percentage I felt I was at towards becoming the member of staff they need... I answered 65-70%, largely because it's been made clear by my manager and HR that I'm not doing my job adequately. My boss has now come to me and asked what they can do to help me reach 100%. My employment status is hanging in the balance of whether I can put up a good argument for staying, by giving a sensible explanation of what I need in order to improve.

I have no idea what to tell my boss, largely because the biggest things I need from him will come across as criticisms of my boss's management style - for example for my boss to be clear about what his expectations are (rather than changing his mind every couple of days,) to be realistic about what can be done in a day, and to stop interrupting me (he interrupts me up to 4/5 times an hour when he's in the office to ask if I've seen emails, where we're up to with things, or to attend meetings to take minutes.)

I'm fairly young and relatively inexperienced, working in an internal sales role for a company that make a very technically specific product. The KPIs for my role feature things like being aware of company/team targets, making cold calls, following up quotations, promoting stock sales, and working with my team to develop a marketing strategy every month. These items are supplementary to the basic elements of my job such as order entry, quoting, expediting orders and reporting. The criticisms levelled at me specifically are to do with mistakes made due to lack of attention to detail, time management, not sharing information/work with my team, and lack of commercial awareness.

At present I know I'm not hitting some of my KPIs, but these were only put in place 2 weeks ago, and I've been doing holiday cover since then so doubled my workload of basic admin, so I didn't have time to make cold calls. I also acknowledge that in the past couple of months my performance slipped, in direct correlation with a steep increase in my workload, but I have improved that again now. My commercial awareness is getting better, but it's not perfect, partly because I'm not really sure what my boss expects when he says "commercial awareness".

Basically, I'm going to lose my job unless I can give my boss some solid answers about things I need from him in order to improve my performance, but I have no idea what to answer.

Actually, the biggest thing I need is clearer guidance, time, and mentoring, but I don't know if that will be enough. What do I tell my boss?!?!


joshyeager's picture

First, focus on hitting your KPIs. Especially the ones with concrete numbers, like cold calls. That will show your boss that you are improving. Tell him that you will be doing this.

Then, ask him to give you a small amount of time per week to clarify your understanding of his expectations and priorities and to answer questions. If you ask for 15 minutes, you'll probably get it. More than that, probably now. If he gives you that time, make a plan before each meeting so you can use the time effectively. Target your top concern or confusion each time. If you have time left at the end, ask him if there is anything else you should be doing or thinking about.

Don't expect to be able to make your boss stop interrupting you. Do the best you can to proactively update him so he doesn't need to interrupt you. Anything else is too risky when you are a junior employee.

Finally, don't ask your boss to be realistic about what can be done in a day. That will be received as complaining and/or criticism. Instead, ask him to help you prioritize, or figure out the priorities yourself if he won't. Then do everything you can to finish your top priorities on time every time. If a few low priorities fall behind, he'll critique you but be happy with the result. If you drop a high priority, he'll be upset, for good reason.

I hope this helps.


donm's picture

You said you don't know what they mean by "commercial awareness?" Why not say, "One thing you could do would be to give me concrete examples of 'commercial awareness' as I'm not certain what you mean when you say I need to have it?"

jennrod12's picture

Perhaps you could do a time study of what you spend your time on during the day and see if there are ways to reprioritize to  better accomplish what your boss is looking for.  If that looks impossible, perhaps you could ask your boss which of certain tasks should be deprioritized in favor of the tasks he's evaluating you on.  He may not be fully aware of everything on your plate.


mattpalmer's picture

You've got a gold-plated, walk-up opportunity to use the guidance in "Dealing with Vague Feedback" (part 1, part 2) to extract the essence of what your boss is looking for, and then delivering that.