Hey Andy & Emma,
I’ve recently started freelancing and my big question is: How do I manage myself? (To be honest, I was never really a great employee…)
Andy: Congrats on going freelance. It’s brave! Working for yourself is full of simultaneously great and terrible things: You are your own boss, and you’re your own boss. You don’t have to go to an office, and you don’t have an office to go to. You work for yourself and well, it’s you who’s working for you. All of your flaws are on full view and you’re the only one who can solve them.
Emma: When we first got your question, we started brainstorming all sorts of little hacks and tricks. Take breaks, set reasonable deadlines, stick to a schedule.
Andy: I like to make sure I get out of the house once a day. I also make a daily list of goals and slot them into a Day Designer worksheet so I can be reasonable about what’s possible. We have a million more tips like these. They’re useful!
Emma: But we kept coming back to the same thing: The best way to manage yourself is to be a good employee for yourself. And that meant creating a Good Employee scorecard.
Andy: Surprisingly, the expectations of a Good Employee don’t really change whether you’re on a team of many at a large corporation, or on a team of one working for yourself. If you can pass the Good Employee scorecard — even half of it — managing yourself is going to be way easier.
Emma: Like all scorecards, this one is best used as a tool for diagnosis. We all have the potential to be Good Employees. If we’re failing, the scorecard can help pinpoint where, and we can figure out the reasons why. Are those things in my power to change? If yes, great — let’s get started. If not, well, it’s important to know that too.
The Good Employee Scorecard
Try scoring yourself pass/fail using a copy of our scoring spreadsheet to benchmark where you’re at today. Set a couple of goals for what you’d like to improve, and then score yourself again in about six weeks. If you have a supportive boss, loop them in!
I do good work.
- I reliably execute an acceptable level of work on time
- I understand the goals of the work
- I can adapt the work to fit its context
- I add to the work: good ideas, innovations, and solutions
I’m a good teammate.
- I do what I say I’m going to do
- I take responsibility for my work and my decisions
- I champion my coworkers and celebrate the good stuff
- I share what I know, and ask for help when I need it
- I don’t prioritize myself at the expense of the team
I’m easy to manage.
- I’m transparent and I communicate
- I ask for what I need
- I’m teachable with feedback
- I’m autonomous and need little supervision
- I am visibly growing where I need and want to grow
- My frustration is productive
- I’m flexible and quickly adapt to change
Andy: If you’re self-employed, I recommend casting yourself in both sides of the play: the employee and the manager. Score yourself on both scorecards. (Here’s the Good Boss version.) Schedule 1-on-1s and really check in with your manager self, your individual contributor self, your accounting self, your marketing and PR self, and so on. Give yourself feedback the way you would with any report: Where are you doing great? Where could you improve? What kinds of things might make that improvement possible?
Does this mean having real, out-loud conversations with your split personalities? If that’s what works. Does this mean writing down your notes so you don’t forget what you agreed to? Sure does!
Emma: The Good Employee scorecard is hard to argue with, but that doesn’t mean it’s easy to achieve. I’m thinking back to the first time I was a manager. I’d gotten this great promotion, and all of the sudden I was failing most of the Good Boss Scorecard, along with a decent chunk of the Good Employee Scorecard. I was still learning how to do good work, I was scared to admit it, I didn’t know what help to ask for, let alone how. It sucked, deeply, but it was the best type of failure. A lot of it was in my power to change, and I wanted to change it. It would just take time and exposure and working alongside people who wanted me to succeed.
Andy: Any time you’re doing something new, risky, challenging, big, your scores are going to dip. That’s more than okay. We’d all be getting straight As if we stayed in second grade our whole lives. We need to be brave enough to do hard things.
But there are lots of other reasons you might be failing, too. I’ve never had a very easy time celebrating teammates who are assholes, and good luck being transparent with a boss you don’t trust.
Emma: This is very true. I’ve been hired onto toxic teams where the majority of my coworkers wouldn’t speak to each other. I’ve worked under manipulative bosses who wouldn’t or couldn’t provide feedback. I’ve joined chaotic, understaffed orgs where no amount of frustration could result in change — just bitterness and resentment. I think of this all as the bad kind of failure, not because I was bad, but because there’s very little I could do to not fail anymore.
Typically, that’s when I start looking for a new job.
Andy: Indeed. Please know: it’s impossible to be a Good Employee in a bad situation. And you don’t need to be one at the expense of your health, your morals, your dignity, the rest of your life. It’s taken me nearly a decade to learn this.
Emma: In the case of our lovely letter writer, it gets a little more intertwined. If you alone are the boss, the employee, and the entire organization, pretty much everything on the scorecard is in your power to pass. Maybe not right away, but eventually. That is both inspiring and absolutely daunting.
Andy: Good luck. Please keep us posted.
Good *Employee* Achievement Stickers: Scorecard Edition