Thoughts on Performance Reviews

I have always struggled with reviews. Initially, as a young manager, I was overcome by the perceived solemnity of grading a person. Even beyond that, though, after it had become a familiar duty, I struggled and still struggle with what to say, how to say it, and what examples to draw from. How to provide an effective performance summary to the reviewee that was also blessed by HR. Thus it became about my ability to write the perfect review… again and again for many employees.

Well the Manager Tools guys just released a couple of podcasts that have clarified much for me. The actual subject of the podcasts was beneficial, but it is the philosophy behind it presented in passing that opened my eyes and makes much sense to me…. and somewhat relieved my burden. They said reviews are for the organization, not for reviewee. Their advice:

  • Evaluations Are Organizational Documents – Treat Them As Such
  • Write The Evaluation The Organization Can Use
  • Deliver Verbally The Evaluation The Direct Can Use

They go on to discuss how reviews originated from the military and follow a fundamental format where deviation has dire consequences.

What this tells the modern IT manager is that we have to be familiar with how the other managers review: the amount of candor, the grading scale used, and specificity of the criticisms and instructions for improvement. Any thing more than a few standard deviations from this mean the organization will not be able to “process”. In other words, “when in Rome…”. That means we need to spend some time reading historical reviews. Likely the only reviews we will get to read are the reviews of our people by our predecessor, so those may or may not be good examples. Thus we need to engage and rely upon our HR reps to ensure our style melds with that of the organization.

Regardless of what style we adopt to fit the organization, we have to consider the following.

  1. how to appropriately describe the performance in terms of organization nomenclature
  2. how to provide the appropriate feedback to the employee
  3. how to protect ourselves (and the organization) if the employee attempts to “game the system” of organizational performance review culture

More later…