How We Improved Performance Reviews – Acting On Feedback

tl;dr No-one really likes performance reviews. But giving your team members good, actionable feedback and setting clear direction with them is very important. In my team we changed how we did performance reviews.

Note: This is the last post in a series on performance management and review. It’s worth reading the other three first:

Acting On Feedback

As I mentioned in the last article, we ran the new process for four checkins, i.e. one cycle and then sought feedback from the team. They told us that:

They Liked

  • Focused sessions are clearer beforehand
  • Keeping track of things and getting constant feedback
  • It’s easier to remember what’s happened in a month
  • Makes the annual review much easier
  • More productive
  • Constructive, thought provoking guidance

They’d Like To Change

  • Some sessions are too similar or too regular
  • Some sessions are too close together
  • The process is too time consuming so could it be shortened?
  • No 360 feedback
  • There’s nowhere to document the managers feedback

So we now had some feedback to work with. Overall the experiment had been a success and was worth continuing with, albeit with some small changes. So what did we change?

New Themes and Timeline

Introducing a ‘Check In’

When we rolled out the initial version of the improved process we wanted to keep things simple. This meant having a small number of different themed sessions (the Atlassian process has six different themes – we had used four of them). One thing that was missing was a session where the team member could just discuss anything that they wanted. This session became the Check In.

It’s a general catch up with no agenda. As with every themed session the team member also discusses how they think they have performed and gives themselves a feedback score, and the manager then gives the team member feedback and a score themselves. Any differences are then discussed, just like in any other session.

Team members are also encouraged to put any important agenda items to discuss into the checkin form beforehand so that the manager has time to prepare.

The session is targeted at 30 minutes only, as usual.

360 Perspective

The second themed session that we introduced was 360 Perspective. Feedback had shown that team members would appreciate getting feedback from not only their manager but also their peers. The company performance management process mandated this should happen once per year.

Feedback is important but most people do not like or feel comfortable giving feedback. There’s multiple reasons for this:

  • Feedback is not requested or given frequently, meaning that people do not get used to giving or receiving it.
  • There is mistrust about what the feedback will be used for. Again, one reason for this can be because it is not received regularly enough.
  • Feedback is requested to be given anonymously, meaning that only the manager knows who has provided it. In some cases this is correct; for example in the case of performance issues, but generally anonymous feedback only amplifies the mistrust.
  • Feedback that is given is either positively or negatively biased rather than being balanced.

The 360 Perspective session gives the opportunity for the team member to collect feedback prior to the session, add that to the form, and then discuss with their manager during the session. Managers are of course free to also collect feedback for discussion as well, but all feedback requests should be open and visible to all rather than anonymous.

In the future we hope to make feedback gathering and discussion a team activity.

A New Timeline

Our team members had also told us that they thought that some of the sessions were too similar. On further investigation this was because sessions that had similar themes (Love&Loathe and Removing Barriers for example) were too close together, resulting in similar topics being discussed in each. Since new themes were also being introduced then there was also the opportunity to change the timeline and space things out better to remove potential duplication and a perception that some or all of the process was not valuable enough.

The new timeline not only spreads things out better but it also aligns key activities such as 360 Perspective with the expectations of the yearly, company wide, performance management process. This enables both processes to effectively co-exist.

This was also a good opportunity to remind everyone of the need to make sessions short and punchy, therefore avoiding making the whole process too time consuming.

Improvements To The Form

As well as introducing the new themes we also made changes to the form (get in touch if you want a copy). We added a clearer section for managers to leave feedback and the results of each session so that the form built up into a month by month record of achievement for each team member.

By doing so we enabled a very simple end of year discussion, as mandated by the companies yearly performance management process. A quick discussion to collate the month by month feedback, combined with feeding back the average of the monthly performance scores is all that is necessary. In order to set expectations as we go through the year then the form also now includes a predicted rating and graph of each team members progress.

So there’s no big performance review session that no-one looks forward to, no surprises for team member or manager at review time, and no concerns or fears about the outcome.

So What Have We Learnt?

  • Feedback is better when it is timely and bite sized. By introducing a monthly, targeted process then we enabled timely and frequent feedback, thus removing the anxiety around performance management. A key aspect of feedback is to amplify the positive and the more that this can be done the better.
  • Regular and specifically themed sessions enable managers to coach team members more effectively. They enable to process which becomes known and trusted by both manager and team member, not a yearly session that no-one looks forward to or enjoys.
  • Regular, short term goals which are set by both the manager and team member create buy-in. Regular reviews and visible progress help motivate and encourage team members to grow and improve.
  • Having each team member propose a feedback score every month enabled far richer and more valuable discussions around their performance than the previous process whereby only the manager told them how they thought they had performed. Many companies, including Atlassian, have taken this further and removed rigid and strict performance scores. Having to work this process within a yearly process where a score was required meant that this is not an option for us. Yet.
  • Encouraging team members to prepare for sessions and document their thoughts in one place not only helps make the sessions short, but it also builds up a record of their achievements through the year.
  • Keep iterating on the process and incrementally improving it. We’re not done with improving performance reviews – the next step is to look at how company objectives can be built into the process, taking the Google OKR concept. The intention is to then be able to use the process not only to help each team member improve, but also to promote consistent and challenging goals across the whole team.
  • Don’t get hung up about tools to support your process. We’ve run this as an MVP for almost one year now and it’s been very valuable. We use a Google Sheet we designed ourselves to document feedback, objectives and thoughts.
  • If you want to change something then do it. Figure out how to work within whatever processes you are required to do so, but don’t let that stop you implementing something new

Further Reading

If you want to learn more about introducing a more regular and valuable performance feedback and review process then the links below are worth reading:

 

 


Also published on Medium.

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