Performance reviews and awareness

July 10, 2019

A few weeks ago, in our weekly director’s meeting, my peer director brought back the subject of performance reviews. We were discussing whether we should do them or not.

The organization I work for has taken a longstanding stance against doing formal, regular performance reviews. I don’t want to go through the reasons (that would be a whole different article), but I can say reviews do not make sense for us on a broad level. I’m sure there are other people out there who are not doing them either, and they have their own good reasons for not doing so.

The reason my peer brought this up was that he was finding it hard to track performance improvements for ICs and managers. Also, informing upper management about people’s strengths and weaknesses was done as-needed, not proactively. After some discussion, we decided to come up with a set of competencies to assess our engineering managers, and do the performance evaluation against that set of skills as a test.

We weren’t looking to change the organization’s policy about performance reviews. These reviews still wouldn’t be delivered. They would, however, serve as a tool for tracking performance and communicating it upwards. Also, this isn’t the 360º reviews that seem to be the norm in the industry. In our case, we had managers do an assessment of their direct reports.

This was a very enlightening exercise. Once my test evaluations were done, I realized there are significant upsides of performance reviews that I was not aware of. Here’s what I noticed:

  • The first, and most important one, is awareness. It was one of those “I thought I knew” situations. I thought I had a pretty good idea of my report’s strengths and weaknesses. The reviews exercise was excellent for developing a keener sense of their skills and areas of improvement.
  • It also helped communicate those strengths across management layers. Us directors and our VP were not on a completely different page about the managers’ performances. Nonetheless, comparing notes sparked a very productive discussion about what we could be doing to guide our reports in the right direction. Doing periodic reviews will help to keep track of who’s improving and who’s stagnant.
  • Before doing the assessment, we had to come up with a description of the role. Writing down our expectations for that role in terms of performance was an enlightening exercise in itself. I brought me incredible insights on things I should be discussing with my reports. After going through this process, I had a lot of material to cover in the next 1-1s.