On Performance Reviews

April 3 2015

This blog post is for my current and future colleagues, but I’ll get to that later. It’s currently performance review season where I work and many other medium-to-large organisations. I’ve heard a mixture of fear, uncertainty and doubt recently when it comes to performance reviews so I thought I’d write down some thoughts on how I feel about them.

If you’re not familiar with the term, performance reviews are commonly an annual process. It’s where you, as an employee, are measured against a set of predefined objectives. For each of these objectives it describes: what you did, how you did it, and what you need to do next. However it’s rare for that last point to be covered.

When you get your performance review back, it’s likely to be summarised with verbs like needs improvement, met and exceeded. These words are easy to understand. We’ve got used to seeing grades and assessments appear on school reports in our early years. However, these performance review verbs don’t define you. They don’t tell you where you fit in your organisation and barely begin to scratch the surface of where you fit in your industry.

The reality is that a performance review serves one main purpose for individuals: to be a record of reference that can be used in the event of you moving jobs. Performance reviews do this really well. When you think about it like this, do they really matter? We get hung up on these assessment verbs because they’re so easy to consume, but they rarely give us the insight we need to better ourselves: a discussion of what’s next.

As a result, I’ve started to run my own feedback process. I’ve been doing this for about eighteen months and it’s easily one of the best things I’ve chosen to do in my career and I don’t see myself stopping any time soon.

It’s a short questionnaire I send out to members of my team and people I’ve worked with. I send it out every 3 months or whenever a project I’m working on comes to an end — whichever comes first. I ask the same set of questions to be consistent, take answers anonymously and once complete build out a plan to work on the areas others have seen I need to improve on or continue doing more of.

The questions I ask are:

  1. What did I do well?
  2. What didn’t I do well?
  3. What should I do more of?
  4. What should I do less of?
  5. Anything else?

Each of the questions is optional and can be submitted by writing into a free text box. It’s hard convincing people to take the time to provide feedback and I don’t want to add any undue stress on them.

I use this feedback to get better. To improve. To build some feedback cycles into the coming weeks and months. Other colleagues I’ve sent this to, or have talked with about it, have done something similar themselves and found it useful.

At the start of this post I said that this post was for my current and future colleagues. Hopefully you have a better understanding of why you’re receiving that short questionnaire. It does matter to me, and it really does help. I fully intend to take the time to work out ways to improve based on your feedback. Thanks again for taking the time to fill it out.