A reader writes:
A company owner hired me to open a new country with no resources whatsoever, then canned me after two and half months because I didn’t sell anything. However, being unwilling to accept failure, I wrote a report that explained how the current approach was doomed and recommending an alternative approach. But even though I was firm but gentle, the owner took it as personal criticism. However, as it turned out, all my feedback was 100% accurate.
Writing a report after you’ve been fired doesn’t accomplish anything, because you’re already fired. Also, I suspect that what seemed “firm but gentle” to you may have seemed a little bit different to him. Your primary mistake was not managing expectations. For future reference, here’s how it’s done:
STEP #1: Discover What’s Expected. Yeah, this seems obvious, but you’d be surprised at how many people simply assume that they know what they’re supposed to be accomplishing. You need to ask, very specifically, what it is that you’re supposed to do, when it’s supposed to be done, how the boss would like it done. You also need to know if there are secondary goals that are also important. For example, building a network of contacts in a new country might be important and valuable, even if no sales are made.
STEP #2: Negotiate the Expectations. If you are given goals that are entirely unrealistic using the resources you’ve been assigned, then you must either negotiate a change in the goals, or a change in the resources assigned to help you acheive those goals. In your case, you were asked to “open a new country.” You not only needed to identify what that meant exactly, but also ensure that you had the kind of support that would make that goal achievable.
STEP #3: Agree Upon a Plan. Once you’ve confirmed that the goal is achievable and that there are sufficient resources to make it possible, build a plan that shows, step-by-step, how you’re going to achieve that goal. Make sure that your boss understands the plan and agrees that it makes sense and that it will work. If there are action items for the boss (e.g. secure sales support resources for first customer), make sure that they’re explicitly identified and given a deadline.
STEP #4: Report your Status. You’re now in a position where you can manage expectations. Both you and your boss know what needs to be done and how you’re going to do it. However, you must frequently (i.e. at least weekly) provide a report of how your actual activities are tracking against the plan. Important: NEVER identify a problem or delay without an actionable plan or recommendation to fix the problem and get the plan back on schedule.
Readers: Just a quick reality check — is the above list complete? Or am I missing something?