Sooner or later, it happens to everyone. Some people go through it more than once in their careers.
You fail to meet expectations.
You may not discover that you've failed to meet a boss's expectations until a formal performance review. During the review, she tells you that you've dropped the ball, have not successfully taken on challenges and fallen short of goals.
It's a terrible feeling to hear that your boss believes you've failed. But, deep inside, you may admit she's right. Either you knew you were in over your head and didn't ask for help, or you felt that you weren't on the same page with the boss from the beginning.
The problem is that now you've let the problem reach the point that it's in your performance review. That means it will affect your ability to get a pay raise or promotion. You'll have to work twice as hard to diminish the impact of those dreaded four words: "Failed to meet expectations."
So, what could you have done differently to avoid this problem? Here are some more proactive steps to ensure you're headed in the right direction in any job:
1. Make a road map. Before you set out on a road trip, you Google directions or at least get your GPS fired up so you won't get lost, right? But many people don't take the time to do something this simple for their own career. If you get an assignment from the boss, or you have certain project deadlines, you need to make a road map of how you're going to get there successfully and on time. If you foresee problems or conflicts, then what alternate route can you take?
2. Share information with the boss. Your boss is a busy person, but unless she is a micromanager, she does not want to be informed of every detail of your daily activities. But you can give her a general idea of your priorities for the week, what you plan to get done and when. If there are problems, let her know briefly how you're handling them. (She can ask for more details if she deems it important.)
3. Make sure you're being heard. Every boss has a different communication style. Some want to be told of developments in person, others want it through email -- and some want both. Make sure you're clear on the best communication method, and use it to keep her informed. If you don't know, ask her. You want to make sure she hears you and is on board with your plans so it doesn't come back to bite you later.
4. Have flares handy. When you're in over your head, it's time to set off some flares and ask for help. Meet with the boss or other team members immediately to see if there is some way to better manage your workload. Perhaps not everything is urgent and you can adjust your timetable, or maybe the boss is willing to assign a more senior team member to work with you. If you've tried to solve the problem yourself and can't figure it out, don't wait because nothing irks a boss more than to find out you've hidden problems.
5. Show what you've learned. Once you start to make headway again, let the boss know. Communicate your appreciation for her feedback or that of the team, and let her know that you're incorporating your new knowledge or strategy into your road map. This will be important because it can diffuse any "failing to meet expectations" in a performance review because it shows your effort in trying to meet your goals.