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Quietly Professional

The conventional wisdom tends to hold that you should trumpet your accomplishments to your boss, though in a way that seems both graceful and humble, a hard combination to achieve at best. There’s a lot of merit to the approach, because many managers don’t know what you do on a daily basis. At a high level they know that you’re the DBA or the developer or the whatever, but they tend to only hear about things that go wrong or go very well. All the stuff in the middle, well, they expect it to get done.

Different managers require different approaches. Some may appreciate you dropping in for a once a week recap of some of the minor stuff you’ve gotten done and a look towards the next week, others might find a short email useful. Some may find both of those approaches just plain aggravating. I tend to fall into that category myself; I want to hear right away about things going awry, things that need my attention, or something that has caught the attention of someone higher up or external, and save the rest for the annual review (you do keep track, right?).

You might not agree with a manager looking at the world in any of those ways, but you’re stuck with it. Change “manager” to “customer” and it’s a lot easier to understand that they will decide what they consider valuable, and from that you can find ways to satisfy the needs of your customer.

But why wouldn’t they care? Mostly they do, but they tend to judge by reflection. When you solve interesting problems or do a great job at serving customers (internal or external) the people you helped will talk about it, and the manager will hear about it. Think about it. Rather than valuing you based on your evaluation, they look to see how well you’re satisfying customers.

It’s tough to find the right approach, you have to watch for the cues, and realize that even the best managers send out conflicting signals at times, and they have different needs and expectations for different employees. There’s no one technique fits all here. Observe, try to get some feedback on what they want, and then watch for the cues. When in doubt, go light and have the notes for the review.


I'm Andy Warren, currently a SQL Server trainer with End to End Training. Over the past few years I've been a developer, DBA, and IT Director. I was one of the original founders of SQLServerCentral.com and helped grow that community from zero to about 300k members before deciding to move on to other ventures.


Posted by Jason Brimhall on 12 January 2011

Sound advice.  Thanks Andy

Posted by Anna on 16 January 2011

Usually that one angry customer screams, yells, and makes sure you know he's upset. The happy customers rarely have a desire to put the effort into saying how happy they are unless you make it super simple for them to tell you. I think your management technical has flaws.

Posted by Mala on 17 January 2011

Very good advice Andy. I must say though that status reporting differs from accomplishments, status reporting is very important and should be done consistently per standards set by the organisation and manager - regardless of how the individual takes care of it. Accomplishments are strongly related to perception and how compliments are given and in return for what. How status is reported is usually something one is told directly about but accomplishments - as you say, one has to learn how to tout them by watching for cues and how they are recieved. Thanks.

Posted by ACinKC on 17 January 2011

I think this goes both ways as well: Just as different manager-customers have different "needs" for keeping track of what's going on, different employee-customers have different "needs" for communicating with management.  I personally don't like the "mountain must come to me" attitude, where the managers don't take an active role in their groups and expect an inflow of information all of the time. At review time they expect their staff to inform them of what they've accomplished over the past year (I had a boss like that once; totally clueless and had a "what have you done for me lately" approach). I expect my manager to always be aware of what I'm doing -- both good and bad -- and make sure they're actively engaging me at all times, just like I actively engage them to keep them "in the loop."  Like all things, this can be taken to extremes, but rational adults usually don't.

Posted by Andy Warren on 18 January 2011

AC, I'm with you that I'd prefer an engaged manager, and I'd prefer that it be ok for me to engage them, but sometimes it's not that way for many reasons. When it's not, trying to force it is painful for someone:-)

Posted by Dave Schutz on 19 January 2011

I maintain a document from one annual review to another that lists what I've accomplished throughtout the year. I list technical, managerial, and training accomplishments. I email this to my boss about 30 days before my review is due just to remind him of what I've accomplished during the year.

I'd prefer hearing from my boss more often but it's not reality.

Posted by Elizabeth Good on 26 January 2011

I keep notes in my calendar of things I've done, but folks can use whatever method works.  I also send to my boss "thank you" emails I've received from customers, but I try not to make that excessive.  On the flip side, I'll also let my boss know when I've messed up or could have done something better. Better he hear it from me.

Posted by Andy Warren on 31 January 2011

Elizabeth, totally agree on the bad news part, surprises are bad. As a manager it's one of my top rules, make sure I know before my boss does.

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