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It’s a common theme we hear when coaching: “My boss doesn’t really know what I do.” Unfortunately, more often than not the evidence supports this. Let’s look at the proof.

When we conduct 360-degree feedback surveys, we often find a clear disconnect between the ratings provided by a supervisor and those provided by other groups of raters. For example, as we examine the feedback provided by a person’s peers, she may have received stellar reviews from her peers. However, as we look at the scores provided by the supervisor, her supervisor rates her performance as merely “average.”

Even more common, perhaps, is the disconnect between the boss and the person being rated. The boss may see the person as an “average performer,” yet the person being rated may see herself as “excellent.”

As we speak with supervisors throughout the world, most would claim to have a fairly solid understanding of how his/her direct reports perform. However, according to our database of well over 10,000 360-degree feedback reports, the evidence shows a significant disconnect.

Let’s take it one step further. In the past year DecisionWise has amassed a database of more than 10 million employee survey responses. On nearly every question dealing with performance and communication, we see a significant disconnect between the way the boss sees performance, and the way the employee sees performance.

Why the disconnect?

There are numerous possibilities, but here are five reasons your boss is clueless:

  1. Matrix Organizations: In today’s organizations, many people report (whether formally or informally) to multiple departments or supervisors. Because of this, communication about what’s getting done is often not readily disseminated across the matrix, so a supervisor may only see a portion of the employee’s true performance.
  2. Differing Viewpoints: A boss may see an employee in one setting or light. However, that same employee’s peers or subordinates may see that individual in completely different settings. Performance, then, often depends on the setting in which we see that individual.
  3. Unvoiced Expectations: Bosses are notorious for saying one thing and expecting another. When a supervisor has not made his/her performance expectations known to the employee, that same employee may think he/she is doing a stellar job, yet the boss is still seeing that his/her unmet unarticulated expectations are not being met.
  4. Differing Priorities: Our work in 360-degree feedback shows us that supervisors often base performance evaluations on operational metrics, such as sales results, production, quality, attendance, and compliance. However, an individual’s peers and direct reports may focus more on non-operational performance, such as communication, teamwork, delegation, and mentoring. Bottom line? Bosses often put weight on factors that differ from others’ hot buttons.
  5. Poor communication: Communication is really the “all-of-the-above,” in this case. Each of the above issues often stems from poor or inadequate communication. Fortunately, the same problem that caused this disconnect in the first place is also the same factor that can resolve the employee-boss performance disconnect.

While this list is certainly not comprehensive, it covers some of the most common areas of disconnect. While nearly every supervisor we ask will indicate that he/she has a clear understanding of how their employees perform, the evidence suggests otherwise.

So, boss… employee… talk about performance!

Related Post: Withholding Feedback about Poor Performance

Related Post: Performance Reviews Stink

Related Post: Undercover Boss” and Employee Engagement


Tracy Maylett
Tracy Maylett

Tracy is the Chief Executive Officer and President of DecisionWise, and is responsible for guiding the overall strategy of DecisionWise, as well as leading large-scale change efforts for clients throughout the globe. View Bio

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3 comments — View
  • Unfortunately, I believe that is much more common than not. This also assumes that the employees get reviews. I believe a good majority of bosses today, just don’t care. Oh my, so cynical, but my reality. So if they just don’t care, they just don’t ask, they don’t want to waste the time observing, keeping track, monitoring, etc. It is my perception that many bosses just have their favorite people and they can do no wrong. Then there are the people, who can do no right. Of course, you have the people in the middle who get left overs. They are average,

    Is this a smart thing to do for the future success of their company? I believe these individuals from the past who look up for guidance. They were tremendous employees and they were “Petered” as I call it = promoted to their level of incompetence (Peter Principal) or they were just so good at doing what their boss told them to do – the old paradigm. The times when people didn’t have to think of new things, they just had to find the errors and inaccuracies in the old things. So why should they care about the people who reported to them. They were doers and the people who worked for them were supposed to be mind readers. Have anyone ever had a boss like that? You would be reprimanded for not doing what your boss thought you should be doing. One little problem, the boss never told you.

    I believe these bosses couldn’t see the future if it hit them between the eyes with a 4′ plank of wood. They do what they do because they have always done it. If they had been trained about the future needs and trends in business and the economy, they would understand everything will be changing. The major change appears to be that the employees will be playing a much larger role in those companies that understand that the employees are the company.

    This morning I was listening to a show that had the former head of Starbucks, Howard Behar, said some wonderful things about companies and people. He ran a company that is known for nurturing and inspiring the human spirit. He does not believe in training. “You train animals and pets. You don’t train people. You educate and develop them.” He suggests that organizations are just aggregations of people and when the leadership forgot this and got greedy, selfish and forgot why they were there is when the company started losing money. I think he made a wonderful simple analogy about someone pushing a broom at the company. He thinks they should be educated just like everyone else. The person should know that by sweeping the floor so it is the shiniest floor in the city, they are doing their best job. He also said that this person should be able to decide which broom is used and not dictated to.

    Other companies should start realizing why and when a company can be successful. As
    Mr. Behar said leadership should be following and developing the people and not the bottom line.

  • Another reason the boss could be clueless is because they never had to do your job. They might have been placed as your supervisor but never did, and don’t know how to do your actual job. Then they would be more in the dark about how well you are actually doing in your position. If your boss is just there to manage you and make sure that you are getting results, then how could they rate you “accurately” on your 360 review? That is why comparing perceptions is so important and noticing those gaps are key to developing in your job role and future development. Communication can help manage these misperceptions as well.

  • How about absolute incompetence? My boss is totally clueless about her and my job. She is Director of Marketing but she wouldn’t know what marketing is, even if it hit her in the face. She talks and talks all day with only fluff but nothing substantial coming out of her. The team knows she is an “idiot”, the problem is that my job is more technical and she has no clue what it entails so her idea of marketing is to do whatever the other teams ask. I am surprised she is in her job for 3 years, but then again not that surprised. Our company makes money without trying so the need to upgrade to higher quality employees is very low. I got here from a top company recently and this is ridiculous.

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