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Two Questions Every Boss Must Answer for Every Employee

Updated on October 17, 2012
Is this really this woman's job?
Is this really this woman's job?

Get Answers before it is too Late


Mel has been called into his boss’s office for his first performance appraisal. He is a little tense and anxious, but he is not worried. He knows he has done a good job over the past year. His boss has not said that directly but he has not chewed him out for anything, and with this boss no news is good news. His only concern is how big of a raise he will get.

When he walks into his boss’s office he sees him looking down at paper on his desk. He barely looks up as he tells Mel to take a seat. Then, with a solemn expression he says, “Mel, I can’t say that I am very satisfied with your performance here. In fact, I’m downright disappointed with you.”

Mel cannot believe what he is hearing. His boss must be mistaken or out of his mind. But the boss goes on. “You have not even done all of your job. For instance, I never once saw you—and you never even attempted to—“.

Mel starts to feel sick at his stomach. He wants to yell that no body ever told him those things were a part of his job. Why didn’t the boss say something earlier? But the boss goes on, “What makes matters worse, the things you did were way below standard.”

Standards!? What kind of standards? Mel asked himself. Why hadn’t anyone mentioned standards before?

Have you ever had to face this kind of situation before? The chances are better than even that you have or know someone who has. What is the problem here? It is a very common one and caused by the supervisor failing to volunteer and the employee failing to get the boss to answer two very basic questions, the answers to which can mean the difference between being assured and successful at work or being confused and a failure, as with the case of Mel. What are the questions? Here is the first:

1. What is my job?

I know this seems like a totally unnecessary question. Should not this have been covered in the job interview or on the first day on the job? It should have, but it seldom is covered-at least not in the way it should be covered. I do not mean the stuff that frequently is listed in the job description-“The employee does this or that.” Or, “you are supposed to do this and that. Those kinds of things are activities that you engage in, either every day or from time to time. I am talking about much more than that. I am talking about what am I responsible for producing, accomplishing or what results of my efforts will I be held accountable.

All jobs involve numerous activities or things that the employee does. But all of those activities should be geared to accomplish the key results for which the employee will be held accountable. These key results areas may be few, as in some semi-skilled and skilled jobs, or numerous, as in the case of professional or managerial jobs. For instance, a building cleaner may properly mix cleaning chemicals, sweep the floor, mop the floor and wax the floor. He may also do numerous related things, all designed to accomplish his key result area of accountability, which is to keep his assigned area clean and spotless at all times.

So when the cleaner ask his boss what his job is, the answer should not be to sweep, to mop or to wax. It should be to keep his assigned area clean at all times or to make certain that it is spotless whenever it is inspected by the supervisor. That is what the cleaner is held accountable for and what all of his activities should be focused on accomplishing. The same kind of answer can be given for any job because all jobs have things for which the employee is accountable.

But for the employee to perform as expected, he or she must know more. Therefore, we move to the second question:

2. What must I do to be considered SATISFACTORY?

Here, the employee would be asking what standards of performance he or she will be held to in performing each key area of accountability. In other words the employee must not only know what he will be held accountable for, he must also know what are the minimum expectations of the boss for how much and in what quality the employee must produce or accomplish. In the case of the cleaner, the standard for clean floors might be that there should never be an instance in which a list of cleaning imperfections are found during the daily inspections, if the standard is very strict; or there should be no more than two instances per month in which cleaning imperfections are found, if the standard is more tolerant or reasonable.

The important thing is for the employee to be clearly informed of the performance standards or minimum expectations of performance. If the employee does not know the standards, he or she cannot be expected to meet them. Similarly, if the employee is not informed of all areas of accountability of his job, he cannot be expected to attend to them.

If the boss does not volunteer answers to the above two questions, the employee has to ask for the answers. But the big problem is sometimes the boss does not know the answers. He may not know the answer to the first question because the job is newly created and is in the process of evolving. And there is a high chance that he will not know the answer to the second question because standards that are fair and reasonable are difficult to set for organizations and for managers. Therefore, many tend to be ill-defined or vague or not defined at all. Still, it is best that the employee knows this up front and before it is too late and is not shocked by the boss’s belated revelations of his expectations, as happened to poor Mel.


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