Saturday, December 20, 2014

The most dreaded day of the year

No, not the holidays. I am right up there with Buddy the Elf – spreading good cheer and joy this time of year. My most dreaded day of the year has, over the last decade or so, been my SDR (staff development review) that conveniently occurs every late fall. Even when I was promoted a few years ago, I walked into my SDR with dread. It is hard to explain how even in that one year where I jumped a level, that I still had a lingering amount of dread and frustration when leaving the meeting. And it was warranted. I had no idea I was actually being promoted because my written performance review (provided to me 24 hrs in advance) gave me nothing but dread and 24 hrs of mental preparation for going in and ripping someone. Because, you know, I am so prone to ripping people a new one. (Not.)
This year I had a lot of anxiety building up to the day of my review. I switched groups almost exactly a year ago after my SDR ( and had no idea how this year was being perceived by management . I thought that things have gone swimmingly the last year. My work load has increased substantially, my acceptance by others has skyrocketed (from my perspective at least), and my happiness. I have been the happiest I have been in my job this past year, maybe ever. I feel as though I am a valued part of a strong team and not the lone wolf looking for scraps. I have received praise and recognition from my coworkers.
But all that can go out the window in a heartbeat when you read that sheet of paper telling you your manager’s interpretation of your year. I know that far too well.
Last year I sat stonefaced, accused my managers of bringing up legacy crap and asked for an example of how, in the prior year, the issues they cited were still an issue. They flailed a little and landed on that I was trying to usurp the leadership of the current PI of this one project in my role as PM. Neat. Except that I was not the PM of that project and I was instead the Co-PI. Try again. Because if they were at all engaged with my work or even just read my input for the year, they would have known this. Instead I just shook my head and the meeting ended with an agreement that I should probably leave the group and head over to the one where I had been doing most of my work and that they would be very supportive of this.
I did it. It was hard to leap out of my nice cozy (most of the time) shell with a large-ish office overlooking the river over to a small-lish office with a door that opens to a window. But I did it and this SDR was to be my mental calibration. Was the entire year a big delusion of my self-worth at work? Was it time to jump ship and think about that move to Alaska that AB and I keep dreaming about?
Ah well. Sorry to AB, this year was not to be the year that I came home and started packing it in and sending off resumes.
I am at a happy level right now at work. I told my team lead a year ago I wasn’t looking for a promotion, I have enough stuff on my plate with work and in my home life that I just can’t see pushing it this year (or next for that matter). I will push to excel at the tasks I have and will examine opportunities as they come up, as I have every year. But as far as examining the criteria for advancement and striving to hit all those buttons. Not in the cards. 
But it is amazing how a well written, well thought out review of one’s performance can make you walk on clouds for days after. He noted actual metrics. I was told how happy they were to have me in the group. My review stated that I had made a difference to these people. That I was a valued part of the group and the management of the group.

I have friends who are or have been group managers and have heard horror stories of how much time writing SDRs takes and how they rip themselves to pieces internally over what is to be delivered - often only to be yelled at (I never yelled. I countered points diplomatically with my lips pursed.). I know it is no walk in the park this time of year for them either. (And this is part of the reason when I was approached about a TGM position for another group this year, I ran the other way.) But for those managers who take the time to be thoughtful and not start the majority of sentences with "You need to...". Yay you. You rock. It matters.  
I didn’t score the highest tier. But it didn’t matter to me what that rating on the last page was because there was genuine gratitude and appreciation for my work.

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