Heeding the Warning Signs

This past week has been a (recurring) lesson in paying attention to the signs around me. It made me think back to the many clients and employee’s I’ve worked with over the years, who have simply ignored the warnings their manager had given them about their achievement standards.

But first, here’s how I re-learned this lesson.

1. Falling Rocks

If you have driven in the mountains or an otherwise unstable area, you have probably seen this sign. Like many of you, I became desensitized to the inherent warning – rocks can fall down the mountain. Growing up in Colorado, it’s something you see every five miles or so in the mountains, so these signs are easy to overlook. That was my excuse. And then this happened:

falling rocks on mountain

While rare, there is a reason drivers are warned about the possibility of rocks encroaching on the roadway. I missed this rock slide by about a minute, but I can tell you, that was close enough.

2. Hackers want to hack

A few weeks ago I saw this blog post in various iterations, that WordPress accounts were being hacked at alarming rates. Particularly those with an admin login (which I have – by design). I usually ignore these types of things because  I trust my password (stupid – especially after reading this Wired article about it), and don’t think that anyone would really want to hack my site.

For some odd reason, I did change my password after reading everyone’s warnings, and… let’s just say thank goodness.

I received this ball of joy:



Whoa. So, someone attempted to hack me (SIXTEEN times), and was unsuccessful. Don’t think I didn’t change all of my password settings to Fort Knox status. Luck kept me from being fully hacked this time – I definitely will heed these lessons going forward.

Getting the Warnings at Work

My week aside, people miss feedback and lessons all of the time, throughout their career… which is why HR tends to create a long-period of “performance improvement” time before taking action of any sort. The manager usually walks into those conversations saying that they have delivered the feedback various times, while the employee is completely blindsided by the feedback.

Both scenarios can’t be true. But because delivering difficult feedback and having crucial conversations is not high on most people’s “love to do” list, the message tends to come out bungled and the employee misses the point. So here are a few subtle hints to listen to going forward…

You’re not getting the cool projects. For whatever reason, you used to be responsible for highly visible or innovative projects… and now you aren’t being asked to lead them. Your boss may present it as an opportunity for your colleagues to shine – to share the wealth so to speak, but don’t be fooled. If one project gets passed off to a colleague, if you were a rock star, they would replace it with an ever cooler project.

Your boss has requested to be “more in the loop” or receive more updates. Either you dropped the ball somewhere, or pressure is coming from above to have a better read on what’s going on. Regardless, you have lost some of your cache of dependability and deliverability, if more info is needed.

Your merit increase and/or bonus decreases. Yes it’s a slow economy, and yes you can’t have a fabulous year every year. But if you see a trend of being considered an outstanding performer to average, warning bells should be ringing. Whether your performance has decreased or your perceived value to the organization has decreased, either way it’s not a good sign.

You haven’t been promoted and it’s been five years. While I don’t believe in a specific time frame before promotion, in fact, I’m ardently against that, but if you have been in the same role without any movement for four or five years and you want to be promoted, something isn’t working. You aren’t delivering at the level needed or your work persona is hurting you.

The feedback you receive is middle-of-the-road. If you aren’t receiving impactful and helpful feedback from your boss, you aren’t being memorable enough. Without specific feedback – good or bad, you will not be able to push through the top performance. Start making an impact and requesting specific notes/examples from your boss so you are able to continue to tweak your performance throughout the year.

Your hours are being watched. For most people in a salaried position, there are general guidelines about when you show up and leave work, but they don’t tend to be 100% strict. If your boss starts mentioning that you aren’t staying late enough, or you need to start working more hours, you need to read more into that message. Essentially that means that you aren’t delivering the quality and quantity of work expected of you during “business hours” and/or your performance is not aligned with that of your colleagues. Pick up the pace – this isn’t about actual time worked, but about your delivery and capacity levels.