Performance reviews

Performance reviews are nearly universally hated. Whichever side of the review you’re on, they can be awkward and (even worse) useless. The technology industry, in particular, has tried various experiments to improve the utility, fairness, etc. of performance reviews. Google does “360 reviews”, Netflix decoupled pay from performance reviews. A startup called Zugata developed a tool for “continuous performance reviews”.

Performance reviews, in my experience, are better when they’re less formal and more frequent. The technology used to conduct them is less important than the conversations that happen as a result. When I worked at Purdue, we had a performance review system with sliders for the goals and behaviors. The ratings were recorded once a quarter and  that was used…for something, probably?

I had different managers all using the same system and the experience was vastly different. On the good end, when I had bi-monthly 1-on-1s, the goals were discussed and sliders were adjusted, but it was all in the context of my daily work. On the bad end, the discussions were perfunctory and did nothing to contribute to my daily work or to my career goals.

In my current job, I helped design the regular 1-on-1 framework we use, so it’s pretty much in line with what I want out of a review. There are no scores or relative rankings assigned. The goal is to keep the employee’s and the company’s interests and efforts mutually aligned. We try to hire smart people who don’t need babysitting, and to treat them accordingly.

Our 1-on-1s are ultimately designed to answer the following three questions:

  • What should I be doing more of?
  • What should I be doing less of?
  • What can I do to advance my career goals?

We also note likes and dislikes, and any specific challenges. These don’t have to be employee-specific, I frequently tell my boss about company wide concerns that I have in our 1-on-1s. He gets a very clear understanding of what I want, and I get a clear understand how how I can make that happen.

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