My experiences with the performance management process at different companies varied drastically, often depending on the company's size. However, I would argue that the performance management process should be very similar whether your company has 5 employees or thousands.

If I were to categorize my experience in broad and non-technical terms 🤠

  • There are workplaces where Performance Management just does not happen. You would be lucky if your manager spent more than 5 minutes a year giving you feedback on areas of strengths, areas of improvement, or supporting your career goals.
  • There are places that just wing it.  The performance review process is in place but no one can really describe how it's structured. The expectations from individuals involved are not clear, therefore the process does not always achieve the goal of accelerating employee growth and impact. In short, the performance review process is only in place perhaps just to say there is one. (I hope this does not come across as too cynical.)
  • There are places where Performance Management is a well-thought-out process for managers and individual contributors. The process is created to help individuals achieve their potential and grow in the company. However, getting it done is a herculean task and dreaded by everyone who is involved in the process. 💪🏼😩

Why is Managing Performance so Important?

Taking care
why should we care?

People naturally want to grow in almost every aspect of their lives. At work growth means (well, should mean) the ability to deliver more impactful results.

The increase in impact comes when  complex, impactful projects (both technically and/or organizationally complex) are delivered.  The skills that are required to deliver such projects are acquired over time with practice, conscious focus and coaching. Without guidance, feedback and a plan there would be very few individuals would would be able to acquire the skills to deliver these complex projects.

For the business,  an individuals' growth should translate to business growth since these people are able to delivery more impactful results for the company.

Performance management is a critical tool  in a Manager's toolbox which allows managers to ensure individuals on their teams are getting continuous and  actionable feedback to meet what is expected at their current level and the next. Well-defined expectations for people on your team provide you (the manager) with a set of tools to help you guide your team's growth and impact. Without this conscious effort you would not be able to help people grow to their potential and that would be just sad...

How Can Good Performance Management Go Wrong?

Happy Singles Awareness Day
Performance Management 

For engineering managers, the performance management process can be anxiety-inducing and exhausting. Some coping mechanisms include:  

  • Going away for vacation as soon as performance management is done 🏝🏝 (usually for more than one week)
  • Talking about the dreadful experience with fellow managers usually over a 🍷 or 🍷🍷
  • Coming up with some way to reduce the workload next time around, by doing more work now. 📜
  • ...

In all seriousness, we need to ask how we can run a performance management process which will provide team members with feedback on strengths and weaknesses, encourage their growth and move them towards their goals, without losing so much sleep. How can we drastically reduce the overhead required to evaluate your team's performance?

Here are some ideas:

  1. Instead of running an annual, bi-annual, or quarterly process which is heavy on everyone involved and ineffective we should run a process which continuously evaluates performance and provides feedback to people.
  2. Instead of focusing on one rating number or a promotion we should should focus on helping team members gain the skills they need. Promotion decisions can involve looking at snapshot of performance data and deciding whether the individual is ready for the next level at a chosen time.
  3. Avoid recency bias, and loss of good feedback by collecting timely 360 feedback from reviewers and using them to coach your team when this information is most effective.
  • Set Goals / OKRs

    • This should be done at the beginning of each quarter. I recommend setting around 3 goals.
    • In regular circumstances goals should be set by the direct report with the manager's input.
    • Goals are not set in stone. Things change as we learn more about them so goals should be fluid, but always focused on delivering the results that will create a positive impact.

    As discussed here previously, keep in mind your expectations for an individual at his/her level while setting goals.

  • Collect 360 Feedback

    • Some of his/her teammates
    • Coworkers with whom this person regularly interacts
    • Feedback (Self feedback) from the direct
    • Manager's feedback

    I sometimes call feedback signals because the word signal indicates continuity. Feedback should be collected throughout the year on a daily/weekly basis. It is powerful for someone to submit feedback when they see that their colleague has done an excellent job in an area that the company values. Avoiding recency bias is another big benefit of collecting feedback continuously instead of only once or twice a year.

  • Hold Regular Performance Check-ins

    • Monthly alignment check-ins.

    You should decide whether you want to schedule a separate meeting for this check-in or use part of your weekly 1:1. Either way, you and the direct report should know when this check-in is going to happen so both of you can prepare for it.
    These check-ins are for light-weight, ongoing conversations which will help you and the direct align expecations, and correct course if necessary. The check-ins are also for sharing feedback from others and coaching.

There are a few key ingredients which are needed for a performance management process that is effective at growing team members: Goals, Feedback and Frequent Check-ins.  Making performance management a continuous process and not a once-a-year thing is powerful. It is also important to separate performance management from promotion and compensation conversations which will serve as a distraction.