Annual reviews

This post over at the Friends in Tech forum brought back a lot of memories, especially Douglas’ response, because he really gives some insight into the real meaning of those kinds of comments from users.

In the 7 annual reviews I went through at my old job, years 2,3 and 4 all included that sort of feedback. I was repeatedly told that I didn’t communicate enough, I intimidated people, they were afraid to ask me how to do things so they just quit doing them, etc. After the first year this happened I made a concentrated effort to communicate better. I instituted monthly meeting with our support staff, and encouraged them to learn from each other about things I wasn’t as familiar with, I started a weekly email communication to give out tips and keep folks updated on what I was working on, in short, I did everything I could do to change the image I had somehow earned. While I’m glad I made those efforts, and I learned to be a better support person because of it, it didn’t change anything about my review the next 2 years.

The 4th year, however, my boss left, and I was now reporting to a different department head. In my review that year, my new boss praised my communication with users, how much time and effort I spent educating them and helping them find solutions. Basically, it was the exact opposite of my previous review, even though I hadn’t done anything differently than I had been for the last two years.

It was then that I realized that my “image” around the office, wasn’t actually the image my users had of me, it was the image my boss had of me. An image that was not based in anything other than a personal dislike for the way I handled my work, or simply a desire to make sure he “dinged” me on something each year, I’m guessing. By making it about generic comments from users, he never had to produce any specific examples of situations I needed to deal with, and I could never do enough to know for sure that there wasn’t a problem.

Anyway, my point, at least the first part of it, is that you do have to take any generic comments like that with a grain of salt, because you don’t know if they are true complaints of something you need to work on, or someone’s desire to blame technology, and by extension the IT department, for their own failures or attitudes about technology.

The other thing I’d like to point out though, is that depending on your role within IT, it may just be impossible for users to not feel some intimidation from you. For example, I used to be the guy who monitored Internet and email use, and turned in people who were misusing it. I was the guy who had to tell users no when they wanted to send a 10MB attachment to 500-1000 people just using our POP3 connection, or that they couldn’t store 100’s of MB of personal stuff on our file server. When you’re in that position, it’s very difficult to keep an open line of communication with all your users. The ones who understand why that part of your job is necessary won’t see you as distant and intimidating, but we all know not all of your users are going to understand.

Tags: communicating with users, annual reviews

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