Track Your Own Performance Every Step of the Way

Track Your Own Performance Every Step of the Way

Based on It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss (Jossey Bass, September 2010)

If you want your boss to consider you meticulous and trustworthy, you need a tracking system to document your performance on a daily basis. You need a system that is simple and practical so you and your boss can stick with it.

One approach is to keep a notebook or diary in which you take notes all day about assignments received, goals set, guidelines provided, intermediate and final deadlines established, as well as tasks to complete and concrete actions taken. Include tools such as checklists to guide you in the performance of your work. If you have multiple bosses, consider creating a template for each boss. If you have some recurring tasks and responsibilities, consider creating templates for them. Refine your system to make it easier for you to keep track in writing.

If you prefer to keep track using electronic tools, all you need is a database and a scheduling program that allows you to create a data record for each boss and/or each separate work matter. As soon as you receive a new assignment or a change to an existing assignment, enter the information into the electronic record. Create templates for each boss, as well as for ongoing tasks, responsibilities and projects. Use the electronic tools to create an ongoing record of your work.

The advantage of electronic tools is that they usually force some logic and organization into your documentation system. Also, your notes are captured digitally and are automatically dated and time-stamped. You can also cut and paste key emails, including messages between you and your boss that help document your performance, and keep that text right in the notes section of the appropriate record in your tracking system.

Whether you use a notebook or an electronic tool, be sure to capture these key pieces of information:

  • Expectations: Goals and requirements that were spelled out. Instructions given or to-do lists assigned. Standard operating procedures, rules or guidelines reviewed. Deadlines set and timelines established.
  • Concrete Actions: Your actual work as you complete each to-do item, achieve each goal, fulfill each requirement and meet each deadline.
  • Measurements: How your concrete actions are matching up against the expectations: Have you met or exceeded requirements? Did you follow instructions, standard operating procedures and rules? Did you meet the goals on time?

When you are keeping track, remember that you are creating a contemporaneous record of your work performance. Never write down anything personal about a boss, coworker, customer, vendor or anyone else. Keep notes only about your work. Use specific, descriptive language, such as, “Followed interviewing guidelines to interview three job applicants,” or “Submitted final report for XYZ project three days before deadline.” Don’t use vague language or broad “naming” terms like ”slow,” “successful,” “good,” “sloppy,” “incomplete” or “difficult.” Stick to clear descriptions of concrete actions in terms of goals, guidelines and deadlines.

Then take notes at every step. During and after your one-one-one meetings with the boss, make notes as necessary. In between the one-on-ones, keep notes of anything of consequence. As you think of things you want to report or ask about in your next meeting, write them down.

During your one-on-ones, use your written documentation as a visual aid and point of reference. By showing the boss exactly what you are writing down, you will increase the clarity about your understanding of the expectations for your performance. As you both take notes, you can check with each other: “I’m writing this down. What are you writing down? Are we on the same page?”

[Bruce Tulgan is an adviser to business leaders and a sought-after speaker and seminar leader. He is the founder of RainmakerThinking, a management-training firm. Tulgan is the author of Managing Generation X, It’s Okay to Be the Boss and many other books, including It’s Okay to Manage Your Boss. He has written pieces for numerous publications, including The New York Times, USA Today, The Harvard Business Review and Human Resources. He can be reached via email, on Twitter and on Facebook. His free weekly workplace video is available on his Web site.]