Goodbye, performance reviews

If we automate continuous feedback across the organizational mesh, we can end performance reviews forever.

Before agile software development, existed a time where teams would work for months sometimes years on a product release before end users saw any value from that time and energy. We now look back on that, and talk about how ridiculous it would be to run our companies this way. Which begs the question, why do we run performance review cycles, the same way?

At the moment, the expected and accepted cadence for performance reviews is somewhere around every six months. Everyone braces themselves for a heavy duty time wasting exercise, where each individual spends significant amounts of time try to remember things they and other people on the team did months ago. They try to remember actual deliverables, or behaviors with examples and then explain how that might correlate to an individuals overall performance. I don’t know about you, but remember what happened two weeks ago is enough of a challenge, never-mind six months. Additionally, many in leadership work quite hard for engineering teams to remove distraction and do everything we can to enable our thought workers to drown out the noise and focus. It seems strange that twice a year, we ask them to switch gears and operate in such a detail oriented, introspective way - with the escalated perception of importance.

So if we think about the intended outcome of such a process, we consider that the individuals on the team get feedback about how they are doing and that they will take that and apply it to how they operate on a daily basis. Often the results of this process are tied to compensation in one way or another, and that the perceived performance from themselves and the peers of an individual should yield new information that can be directly applied to how much of the total possible compensation increase should be. All this should then be wrapped up with goal setting so everyone understands what it will take this person to reach the next “level”, or whether things have gone terribly off the rails, and it’s time to talk about a “wellness plan” that will guide an individual back to the good graces of the organization.

This process is wrong and a waste of time.

Feedback needs to be collected and delivered from 360 degrees around an individual at all times. It needs to be looked at as a whole, and not spikes of brilliance both positively and negatively. Useful criticism or positivity need to be delivered to individuals in a time frame that they can be connected directly to a memorable action and point in time, allowing the peripheral environmental variables to be integrated in to the memory. This should be happening constantly, for everyone in the team in order to constantly and iteratively guide individuals into the great performance we all want.

Collecting this feedback, cannot be a significant time sink, or disruptive - otherwise it becomes something you dread, ignore and “schedule” to deal with later. Collection of this data can be done with short, pointed questions can be distributed to relevant individuals, phrased in a way that invokes an emotional response. These interactions need to appear in the places where ones brain is used to quickly jotting down some thoughts and reactions - like a chat medium.

In the way that passing a college course by cramming for the final provides very little signal, so does an infrequent performance review. Therefore it is an unreasonable way to allocate compensation. The individuals on your team should be paid fairly, at market rate, and as long as they continue to do their job properly and you want to keep them around, their compensation should be regularly adjusted to reflect market rate changes and to reflect the evolution of the individual and what they are able to contribute to your team. This is doable, but challenging and you can read more about how that is done in a separate blog post. The important take away is that you can do yourself and your team a big favor by decoupling compensation from an “introspective” performance review process.

All of the tools required to facilitates your migration to a performance process free organizational are built into the activecove product, but with some elbow grease, you can also whip out your spreadsheets and make it happen on your own.

Happy managing!


Posted by: Archimedes