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  • Oriana Skylar Mastro

Thinking Deeply about Performance Metrics

As a general rule, I like to overdeliver. And I get very stressed with the idea that the people I work for are unhappy with what I'm bringing to the table. There are probably deep-seated issues behind this, but no time to delve into that! The point is, I'm happier and more motivated with my work when I get to do what I value, and the expectations of my bosses are aligned accordingly.

Some jobs and bosses are more direct about performance criteria. Academia is notoriously bad – what do I need to get tenure? You know, do stuff to deserve it. My military job? Very clear. In some ways, outstanding performance is too narrowly and specifically defined, making it harder to achieve this alignment between what I think is valuable work and what the organization does.

Anyways, sometimes there is an opening for you to shape the way you are evaluated. For example, if you don't get clear criteria, I suggest you come up with your own and share them with your boss. At the very least, you have documentation that you did what you thought you were supposed to if, later on, they are unhappy with how you spent your time. But more often than not, it is a good exercise for you as well. You have an opportunity to figure out what you want to do.

Pay the setup costs. The first step requires some work to figure out where your values and those of your organization merge. First, schedule a meeting with your supervisor to ask what they hope to see. Next, talk to other people in your organization at all levels to get ideas for what they do that works.

Then take some time to think about where you want to go in your position. There are three categories within which I like to brainstorm 1) stuff I'm really good at and know I can knock out of the park, 2) stuff I'm already good at, but I'm not necessarily using at work, and 3) stuff I want to get better at.

Ideally, through this process, you can come up with some things that meet your supervisor's demands as well as yours. For example, I recently had a boss tell me they wanted me to contribute more to the intellectual environment of my institution. She suggested that I attend the two standing research meetings that are on Tuesday and Friday mornings. But the number one thing valued is publications, and I do all my best writing in the mornings. So instead, I came up with some other ideas about how to achieve the same objective and presented them to her for approval. Of course, you may not always have such flexibility, but you don't know unless you try.

Put it all together. Create a document that lays out your vision for your involvement in the organization. Given my job, I broke it up into seven sections – my contributions to the organization, published commentary, public appearances, media engagement, and my book project. In some cases, I put specific numbers (how many commentaries, public appearances, time in office, etc.) to the commitment. Share the document with your boss and revise it together until you are both satisfied.

Produce reminders. Create reminders to assess your progress to meet your metrics every three months. Also, set a reminder about a month before your next annual review to put together a document outlining your impact for the year (make sure you are keeping track of your activities to facilitate this! See this post.

Performance notes. Make sure to take note of where you succeed and where you fell short. Also, if other people in your field are doing that, you think, "oh maybe I should be doing that," make a note to revisit the issue more deeply the next time you assess your performance criteria. Also, keep notes from your bosses and colleagues about your performance here.

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