Ensure you understand what is being measured says Rhonda Scharf

Mr. Donnelly was the type of manager who believed that no one ever deserved perfect marks on their performance review. He felt that if he scored you 5 out of 5, you would have nothing to strive for.

I felt that if I worked as hard as I possibly could and still couldn’t get perfect marks, then I would never be good enough.

You can see the dichotomy here.

When I would read that he evaluated me at 4 on a scale of 5, I felt he was saying, “You’re good, but…” Whereas he interpreted 4 to mean, “You can do it! You’re almost there. Keep working hard!”

He thought his evaluation system was motivating, whereas I found it demotivating.

What would you do in this situation? Would you let it motivate you, or demotivate you?

I wanted to be perfect. I wanted to be motivated to want to be perfect, and the only way that was going to happen was to understand how the system worked. So, one day, I told him how I felt. I explained that I was demotivated by his scoring and wanted to get an excellent (or perfect) job performance review. I asked him what it would take for me to get a perfect score.

I’m glad I asked. I realized that he had never looked at the situation from my perspective – and that I had never looked at it from his. He never saw his scoring as demotivating, and quite frankly, I never saw his perspective as motivating at all (not sure I do now either).

Once he understood my point of view, he was able to tell me what I needed to do to get a perfect score. But his answer shocked me. I would never have done the things he said I needed to do to get a perfect score. Do you know why? Because what he measured me on was not what I thought he measured me on.

If I hadn’t talked to him about his expectations, I would have continued to work really hard on the areas I thought were important, and he would have continued to grade me on entirely different areas of my job.

It was a double ah-ha! moment for me. The first ah-ha! was about seeing the situation from the other person’s perspective. And the second one was about what was being measured.

If you were to write down three things that you think are the most important aspects of your job, and your executive was to write down the three most important things you do, would your lists be the same?

You might be shocked to realize that what is important to your executive is not necessarily what you think is most important. You would likely choose the things that take most of your time and are the most difficult, such as preparing board minutes, coordinating projects, and overall efficiency and professionalism, right?

Your executive would probably choose the things that fall into the category of ‘all other duties as required’ and duties that you don’t consider the essentials of your role.

I launched the Canadian Administrative Professional of the Year award this year. At the time of this writing, we are still in the judging phase. For the award, we interviewed the five semi-finalists’ executives. I asked them a series of questions, including, “What is it that sets X apart from other EAs you’ve had over the years? What does she do that you value most?” (Our five semi-finalists are all female.)

Here are some of the answers that surprised me:

  • “She sends me a text at 11 p.m. the night before I have a business trip, reminding me of the things she thinks I may have forgotten to pack.”
  • “When I am returning from holidays, she knows not to book many meetings that day because I’ll have a lot of work to catch up on.”
  • “She knows my family and regularly asks about them.”
  • “She feels like a friend to me; like she cares about me as a person”
  • “She has driven to my house to get me to sign documents so I wouldn’t have to drive to the office. She does thoughtful things like that all the time and that makes her fantastic”
  • “She knows my favorite seat on my favorite airplane and books it automatically for me. I don’t have to remind her what I like.”

Really? Those are the criteria for making someone a perfect executive assistant? This is what makes them stand out more than other Canadian administrative professionals?

I would have thought the most important things were the ones that add value or save the company money, like not overbooking the meeting schedule, or understanding and implementing strategy effectively. Things like coordinating high profile meetings, schedules, and complicated budgeting processes.

I was shocked. Clearly, the things listed above (a) were really important to the executives and (b) were things that other EAs don’t normally do. I felt the things they listed were the types of things that all admins did, it was expected, and it didn’t belong in a category of above-and-beyond performance.

Isn’t asking about someone’s family just common courtesy? And booking your executive’s favorite seat is just doing your job, right? Shouldn’t you know their preferences? Apparently not, because those things were seen by the execs as going above-and-beyond.

If I can be so wrong in assuming what was important work-wise, I likely could be just as wrong relationship-wise too.

One night, my husband, Warren, and I were sitting around the fire with a glass of wine having one of those serious couple conversations you have when you are relaxed. I wanted to know what he valued most about me. I have been married and divorced in the past, and I have no intention of ever doing that again, so I wanted to know what he values most about me and our relationship. I want to be sure to give him what he feels is important in our relationship, and if I don’t know what is important to him, I will just be guessing at what I think is important. (A glass of wine is usually conducive to these types of conversations.)

Since we don’t give each other performance reviews in our relationship I didn’t want to assume that I was the perfect wife without knowing for sure! I wanted to know what was important to him, what keeps him engaged in a relationship, and what he needs from me. If you’ve read the book Love Languages, you know what I was trying to accomplish. If you haven’t, it is a great activity to do together to determine what is important to your life partner.

I thought he was going to laugh off my question and answer with something physical about my body, but he took the question seriously. The answers he gave me were not what I was expecting him to say at all. I was expecting him to say that he loved what a great mother I was, and that family was important to me. Instead he said that he loved he loved my career drive and passion, he loved my sense of adventure, and he loved that my outlook on life was so positive.

I could have gone through many years of marriage assuming that my love for my career interfered with our relationship. Instead I found out that he really valued that about me. Imagine if I had put the brakes on my business because I assumed he didn’t like how much I travelled. By trying to make him happy (using my assumption of what was important to him), I could have inadvertently created an issue between us.

Once I know what is important to my husband, it is much easier for me to “deliver” what he wants in a relationship. Once you know what is important for your executive, you can deliver that and get top marks on your evaluation, be invaluable, and help to create a relationship that works for both of you.

Don’t make assumptions thinking you know what is important to your executive. You’ll go through your career just guessing at what they want instead of knowing what they want.

The next time you are having a serious conversation with your executive about performance and expectations, ask your executive what is important to her. Give her time to think about the answer and take notes so you don’t forget what she wants and what matters most to her.

The best way to get a perfect job evaluation is to know precisely what is being measured.

Rhonda Scharf, CSP, HoF, GSF is a Certified Speaking Professional, Hall of Fame, trainer and author based in Ottawa. She helps organizations feel motivated and educated through her interactive, realistic and fun training programs and keynote speeches. If ... (Read More)

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