It's Performance Review Time

Christmas usually means two things for people who work for other people: vacation and annual performance review. Now, I would like to talk about the latter. During the last couple of years I have been doing certain things in order to make these reviews and this period stressless for myself. First, I have a journal about events that happened to me during the year. I’m doing this because I cannot really remember what happened to me last month and therefore how can I remember what happened to me the whole year? Impossible. So when I get the feedback request email I just open my journal and copy-paste things from the journal to the form. Second, I’m giving feedback for the whole year. It is not fair to underrate somebody who was excellent during the whole year but is having some problems at the moment. I remember a guy who was always nice to others and did everything for everybody one or two months prior to the review time. He knew that people cannot really remember things that happened earlier than that and therefore he always got better feedback than he deserved. Third, I’m formulating the feedback in a way that helps the reviewee to change or keep a certain behaviour and I also try not to hurt his or her feelings.

Let me go back to the journal for a moment. One can ask why I am writing a journal instead of just giving the person feedback at the time when the event actually happened. I’m telling him or her right on the spot, but the performance review is official, has a certain form and a process, and finally most probably I won’t be the person who will run the associated performance review meeting with the reviewee. So good examples will make this event even smoother.

I try not to submit feedback that I wouldn’t tell the person face to face. I think it is easier to write bad and good things about somebody than telling him or her. Moreover, I don’t see the performance review as a punishment tool that I can use anonymously to retaliate on a colleague. This doesn’t mean that I won’t write bad things about a person if I have that opinion. It means that I must formulate my opinion in such a way that I’d be comfortable reading it directly to the person in question if they were sitting in front of me. Will you ever tell somebody at your workplace that “you are lazy”? I don’t think so. But would you be comfortable saying so via an anonymous performance review tool? It depends. But it is not a definite no. And my last question: would you like to hear during a review that somebody from your team writes that “he is lazy”? Maybe not. I believe the good way to handle this is to provide a concrete example when that person’s behaviour seemed to be lazy and how it affected my life.

I believe in anonymous feedback because that forces me to provide better feedback: context, actors, and the action. If I add my name I might skip some important details and that will make the performance review meeting ineffective.

The next thing is rating. Personally I don’t put much effort into rating because I find the written feedback more effective. However, I have to give a number, so I try to figure out what a person can actually do and how he did the last year. Let’s say we have an absolute rating system 1-5. I know that the reviewee can do a solid 4 but this year she didn’t so I’m giving her a 3. If she is a good 3 (can match the expectations) but shows some extra good things she will get a 4. One can get a 5 from me if she has already been on level 4.

I left my favourite section to the end: room for improvement and what to continue to do. I believe that should be the main event of the review meeting but since it is a review, we talk more about the past than the future. I usually recommend things that the reviewee cannot do now, but with some extra effort she will be able to. For example, if I’m reviewing a junior manager I’ll suggest her to create the next plan for her team but she is not allowed to be part of the execution. It is easy to create a plan and execute it. However, creating a plan that others will execute is a different thing.

If you still have to do your review I hope these ideas will help you do that.

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