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Debugging Performance Reviews in Tech: What to Keep and What to Ditch

Last week, I led an unConference session at the MassTLC Building a Best Place to Work Talent Summit. For those unfamiliar with the unConference method, it basically goes like this:

  1. Conference attendees pitch ideas for a session.
  2. Conference organizers pick the best pitches and group similar themes together into sessions.
  3. Sessions are announced and session leaders are identified.
  4. Find and attend whatever session(s) you want!

Because ditching performance reviews is a bit of a hot topic right now, I pitched that as an idea at the MassTLC talent summit. Several other folks pitched similar ideas and because leading conference sessions comes pretty naturally to me (blame that on my academic upbringing), I volunteered to lead it.

There were about 10 of us total, all representing the tech world and most serving in some sort of human resources function. We talked about important and intriguing topics including how to make the performance review process more agile, how to remove the “garbage,” what to rate, how to build trust, and how to make the performance management process an ingrained part of company culture.

To summarize, I’ll break it into two parts: What to Keep and What to Ditch.

What to Keep

It was really refreshing to hear that some folks are pretty happy with their performance review processes. We don’t hear that a lot. Here’s some stuff that seems to be working well:

  • The best performance review systems are tied into the company’s core values. Wondering what to rate? How to rate? Start with your values.
  • Make conversations about performance part of your ongoing dialogue. Talk about it every day.
  • It should be an ACTIVE dialogue — meaning managers need to be proactive in starting these conversations.
  • It should be a COMFORTABLE dialogue — meaning that all parties should treat each other with respect in order to establish trust.
  • Setting performance objectives helps — as long as they are accepted, well-defined, and challenging enough to motivate.
  • Raters need to be trained in how to provide effective reviews and in the biases we all hold because we’re human.
  • Don’t just rate on achievement, although that’s important. Think about rating on other important factors like leadership, engagement, and culture fit.
  • Don’t just rate on tasks but rate on processes as well. In other words, yes, you want to rate WHAT people are doing but you also want to rate HOW they are doing it.
  • The key to truthful/accurate ratings is trust. And trust takes time to build.

What to Ditch

  • In a word, ditch the garbage. What’s garbage? Anything that will make team members feel like the performance review is a waste of time. How will you know this? ASK them!
  • Awkwardness. If you only rate people one or twice a year, it could feel awkward because you don’t get enough exposure to it. Do it more often (every day) and it’ll get less awkward over time.
  • Making it an administrative burden. The performance review process should NOT been seen as a burden. If done well, it’s another way to increase engagement, retention, and strengthen a company culture. How do you do this? Go back to #1: align the process with your core values.
  • Fly-by performance reviews with no follow-up. Doing it every day doesn’t mean, “Hey Sam, you’re doing great! Gotta run.” It should be a dialogue not a fly-by.

Here’s my take-away: If you want to build a Best Place to Work, you need a solid performance management system that aligns with your company’s values. Because values can vary drastically from company to company, there is no single “best” way to do this.

And, if you’re thinking of jumping on the “ditching performance reviews” bandwagon, think again. It may work at Accenture, GE, and Deloitte, but it may not work at your company.

Hey there tech managers! Is leading your team like herding cats? 🐱 🐱🐱Are you sick of making stuff up, without trusted systems to guide you? Are your days filled with useless, time-sucking meetings? Join my Facebook group with other tech geeks who are coming together to build thriving, high-performing teams who don’t need constant hand-holding. No H.R. B.S. Real stories, from real geeks, who understand the nuances of being a techie. Click here to join: https://jenbunk.com/facebook

Written by

Career Coach for Tech Managers. I help tech managers upgrade their careers, their teams, their paychecks, and their lives.

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