Preparing Your Direct Reports for Performance Review Season

Photo by Markus Winkler on Unsplash

If you work for a medium-large tech company, you probably had your yearly performance review cycle recently.

We had it at Kry recently, and all employees received great preparation material from HR: a recorded session about how to use the tools, how to give feedback and how to avoid biases, as well as clear documentation on these topics.

Inspired by my Colleague, Ida Rusteberg, I chose to add another session with each of my teams and perform some exercises together. In this post I’ll describe the 4 exercises we’ve done:

Exercise 1: Identifying your feedback needs

In the previous round we’ve had, some people mentioned that they didn’t receive the feedback they wanted, and this inspired me to perform this exercise.

I asked people to reflect on what do they want feedback on. I provided some examples for questions they can ask others. During the session people chose to share some examples, which were inspiring to others.

When we hear a specific request of a person, we’re convinced in a deep way that they really want us to give them feedback and will appreciate it, which increases the chances that we will find the courage to give them insightful feedback that can change their career.

The examples were:

  • What do you think I don’t put enough focus on?
  • What do you think I should put less focus on?
  • When do you think I was too authoritative/used command-and-control too much?
  • When do you think I leaned back too much and needed to be more involved/directive?
  • What do you think I’m doing above average?
  • Where should I focus my growth?
  • Do you think my knowledge on AWS is sufficient?
  • When did I not lean in well enough as a team member?
  • How do you think I’m doing the goalie work?

I gave the team 5 minutes to reflect and then sharing took 10 minutes.

Exercise 2: Me as a feedbacker

The second exercise was a reflection on the quality of feedback team members gave in the past. They had 5 minutes to think:

  • Did you give feedback after an event, or did you wait/avoided sharing, and if so — why?
  • Did you spend time thinking what feedback would be useful to a team member to hear, and in what way to share it with them?
  • Do you have people that you find it easier to give feedback to than others? What makes the difference?
  • Do you give more positive, or constructive feedback? Are you happy with your balance of them?

Then we had 10 minutes of optional sharing which was very interesting as well.

Exercise 3: Preparing Feedback to Others

This exercise was created to provoke creativity and set intentions when thinking about a colleague. In our performance review system there are 3 questions — about things employees do well, about things they should raise the bar at, and about values. I thought that providing another way to think about feedback for someone could help team members when sitting in front of the white paper. The questions are:

  1. Thank you — what would you like to thank this person for?
  2. Strength — what do you think they are strong at?
  3. “Toilet paper in a shoe” — this framing was shared with me by another colleague of mine, Hannes Johansson, and it’s about small things that we might choose not to share with others because maybe someone else will, or they are just not big enough, but it’s actually kind and helpful to share, if we feel comfortable enough.
  4. Precious insight — this is about some deep insight that we could share with someone, that could really change their career and put them of a path to overcome a struggle they have or negative pattern they suffer from.
  5. I need you to help me by — this is about sharing a need. It’s good for the receiver to hear, because they get an opportunity to be helpful and tighten relationships. And it’s good for the person delivering, because it’s a way to share feedback with high chances of being received, because it’s a request and not judgment.

We took 5 minutes to individually reflect on these questions for one person we chose, as a potential basis for the review for this person.

Exercise 4: Time management

It is always a struggle with meeting the deadline for the review while trying to progress with the teams’ goals. We took 5 minutes to prepare our calendars and book focus time for:

  1. Choosing people to give you review: 15 minutes slot
  2. A time to write the reviews:
  • Start with your own assessment: 1 hour
  • Peers/manager: half an hour each
  • After a few days, allocate more time (half an hour per person) to review the texts, make sure they are coherent and contain what you wanted to say.
Photo by Olivia Bollen on Unsplash

Feedback is a gift, and helps preventing bad feelings between team members, or surprises about promotions/consequences of re-orgs/leaving. It also helps people understand what are the expectations from them and how to build their growth plan. It helps in preventing biases, because we need to intentionally share expectations and not just be intuitive with people that do well or not, which might be for example due to them having a similar communication style to ours.

I think performance reviews are good, but they can be draining for many who don’t understand why we do them or how to do them correctly. At the beginning of the presentation I shortly went through why we do it and the deadlines, the SBI (situation, behavior, impact) model, and also shared this interesting Radical Candor video.

The feedback was that it was helpful and inspiring, and I hope you feel the same after reading this post.

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Engineering Manager at Kry. Co-Founder of extend-tech.com. Podcasting @extend_podcast. Twitting @dafnaros.

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Dafna Rosenblum

Dafna Rosenblum

Engineering Manager at Kry. Co-Founder of extend-tech.com. Podcasting @extend_podcast. Twitting @dafnaros.

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