Exceed Expectations

Some not-so-random thoughts on how you can exceed expectations in your job. Whether you are new to the workforce, an experienced worker or have just received a poor performance appraisal, these tips will help you increase your performance in the office. Copyright, 2005, Kevin R Mackie, All Rights Reserved.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Write Everything Down

This is a great habit to get into. Not only will you never forget anything if it’s written down, you will give the impression you are detail oriented and on top of everything in your work-life.

Where to Write

Get yourself a notebook. The whole point of writing things down is so you have the information handy. Avoid the temptation to use a legal pad or loose-leaf paper, because they are too easy to lose and they don’t last very long. For two dollars you can pick up a 100-page composition book just about anywhere. If you want to exude a real aura of professionalism, get yourself a hardbound notebook. BookFactory.com (http://www.bookfactory.com/) makes a very nice and durable notebook for about twenty dollars.

What to Write About

In a word, everything. If you are going to write something down, write it in your notebook. If you are doing something you want to remember later, write it in your notebook. If you have committed to doing, you got it, write it in your notebook. Some things to always be writing down include:

  1. Assignments
  2. Meetings
  3. To-do lists
  4. Decisions
  5. Ideas
  6. Brainstorming
  7. Designs
  8. Outlines
  9. Feedback

A couple of these are worth mentioning in more detail.


Any time you are given an assignment you will want to capture what the assignment is, when it is due and any other salient details offered up. For non-trivial assignments, you will likely be doing some planning and validation, and you’ll want all those details in your notebook, as well.


There will come a time when you are in a meeting and your boss, or another manager, will ask, “What did we decide when we met about this 4 months ago?” And wouldn’t you like to be the one who can flip back in time and definitively state, “You were absent from that meeting, but Johnny agreed to take that on board and send out an email with the results.”

For the most part you won’t get such dramatic opportunities, but you will be surprised how handy it is to be able to go back and see what meetings you attended, who was there, what was discussed and who was given an action item.

To-Do Lists

This is worthy of its own chapter, as it seems as though every person has their own unique way of managing their to-do lists. The important thing is that no matter what system you use, you have a way of capturing to-do’s even when your system is not available.


While writing a document, coming up with a proposal or fleshing out a design, you’re going to be making decisions. While you don’t want to clutter up your deliverable with too much background information, such as why you chose one way over another, you do want to capture this information in your notebook.

If what you are doing is of any value, someone, sometime, will come and ask why you chose one way over another. They will undoubtedly do this long after you’ve forgotten the details of the project. Wouldn’t it be nice to be able to say, “Hmmm, good question. Let me see…” And after flipping back in your notebook you will be able to say, “Ah yes, there were three choices and I chose this one for the following reasons.”

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Always Deliver on Time

This is the prime directive of exceeding expectations and should guide everything you do. An employee who consistently delivers on time will be given visibility and opportunities that others will not, and is the key to success in the workplace.

The two aspects to focus on are what and when. In order to be successful, you and your manager must have the same understanding as to what should be delivered, and when. So long as you both have the same expectations you have a good chance of being successful.


The best time to get information about a new assignment is when it is being assigned to you. The more interactive this discussion is, the better you will understand what you have to deliver.

This is also the best time to find out when the assignment is due. You are looking for precision here; a date and time. “The end of next week” is too vague. You may consider this to be end-of-day Friday, whereas your manager may be thinking Friday morning. Imagine putting in all of your effort and delivering this early at 2pm, only to find out your manager needed it at 9am for a meeting with his manager, and it’s now useless.

If your manager does say “the end of next week,” clarify that by saying, “I will deliver this by 12pm next Friday. Are you OK with that?


Now that you know what has to be done, the biggest threat to your success is not having enough time to do it. The best way to determine how much time the assignment will take is to put together a day-by-day list of when each task will be completed.

  1. Break down the assignment into manageable tasks
  2. Estimate how much time each task will take
  3. Decide the order you will perform those tasks
  4. Map all of the tasks into half-day time slots

At this point you can clearly determine whether or not you can complete the task on time.


So long as this schedule ends before the agreed upon due date, you are in good shape. If the schedule goes past the due date, then you need to make sure you feel confident in your estimate and go talk to your manager .

There are a couple of ways to handle this with your manager. You could go into your their office and say that there is no way you can complete the assignment by the due date. At this point your manager will be thinking, Bring me solutions, not problems!

What you want to do is show your manager that you've thought the problem through, made some conscious decisions about how long some things will take and have a plan of action to get the work done. Now you and your manager can have a meaningful discussion at a detailed level. You have probably made some assumptions and once your manager clarifies those some estimates may change. If not, then you can agree on a date you are both comfortable with.

They key is that you've had this discussion as soon as possible after being assigned the work. You've now turned an assignment that would have been impossible to complete into a situation where your manager has seen you be proactive in managing your work. More importantly, your manager won't be setting expectations with other folks about when this work will be done. One thing to always bear in mind...Never make your manager look bad.


This phase will consume the majority of your time. The underlying premise is that you know how to accomplish the task you've been assigned. If you don't, then you've got problems.

The key here is keeping to your schedule. You have committed to a specific timeline, and any deviations from that will be seen as a failure. To be sure, there may be good reasons for a delay, but you must do everything in your power to stay on track.

In the event something happens that will prevent you from delivering on time, you need to do three things:

  1. Alert your manager to the problem as soon as possible
  2. Describe what you are doing to resolve the problem
  3. Provide a new target date


When you complete the deliverable make sure you manager knows it! Hopefully, you've found a way to deliver it early, so your manager will be doubly pleased. Just make sure your manager know where to find your deliverable or to get more information about it.


There are many books out there that talk about what to do to be a high performer in the workplace, but there doesn't seem to be enough information on how to do them. This blog will discuss what you can do to increase your performance, explain why it's important, and most importantly, discuss precisely how to go about doing the things you can do to be a high performing employee.

The information contained in here is based on my observations and experience as both an individual contributor and a manager. Any and all comments are welcome!

I hope you find this useful.

- Kevin