Establishing a performance review program is one of the most daunting challenges for early-stage Heads of People Ops. There are numerous stakeholders to please and a lot of ways to get it wrong. But, at a certain stage of an organization’s growth, the performance review structure becomes necessary.
Here’s the story of how one Head of People heard, “We want more feedback!” and turned it into an actionable 360 Degree Performance Review program.
Noah Warder is the Head of People at Guusto, an Employee Recognition software for HR leaders. Previously, he led People Operations at Dyspatch, an interactive email experience software.
The performance review process that existed at these companies prior to Noah joining may sound familiar to you, as it’s typical of many early-stage companies: Feedback was given infrequently on a biannual basis. The team dreaded performance review season. There were no overarching performance review directives.
When Noah started at each of these roles, he created and perfected a 360 Degree Performance Review process completely from scratch.
While each team had its own unique context and culture that required customization, there are a few foundational elements of Noah’s program:
When Noah first started at both companies, he met individually with every member of the team. He noticed a common theme in his conversations— everyone wanted more feedback. Generally team members said they received enough praise, but rather wanted to understand how they could grow in their career.
Feedback and growth sessions needed to happen more than once a year. Noah set up structures for weekly 1:1s to open communication lines in between the bi-annual performance reviews.
The process of a performance review is multifaceted. It’s not just a chance for managers to give feedback to employees. It goes both ways. Managers need feedback too.
Every six months, Noah’s team has a structured review process (in combination to the weekly 1:1s). Prior to the review, both employees and managers submit their own evaluations. The form provides a structured, anonymous way for employees and managers to reflect without biasing each other’s opinions.
Employees fill out the following:
Managers fill out the performance potential quadrant. Here’s the model:
...are not performing nor do they have potential.
Solution: Managers to maintain a highly structured relationship including setting clear milestones and direction.
...are very keen, but unmotivated. Perhaps these employees are working on the wrong project or role.
Solution: Discover the employee’s motivators. Switch the employee to a new project or team if needed.
...are very good at their role and not interested in changing. This employee wants to stay in their current role, and they are very good at it!
Solution: Find out what projects this employee likes so they keep learning and excelling.
...take any project to the next level, don’t need any direction, and continually improve.
Solution: Managers should be concerned about the employee’s leave risk. What action can both the employee and manager take to ensure the employee stays and continues excelling?
During the review, managers and employees look at the self-eval, peer-eval, manager-eval, and quadrant together. Then, the manager and employee decide on action items for one another.
The focus should never be “what did you do?” in the past six months, but rather the analysis: How do you want to grow? What are our strengths and weaknesses? How can we improve?
Let the employee take the lead!
Keep the evaluation focused on the future. What’s the next step in your career: A raise? Becoming a manager? A new role? What skills are needed and how do we obtain those skills?
If you’ve made it this far, you’re likely starting to build a performance review process for your team. If you’re reading this article, you’re already on the right track. But as you begin to build this process, do your research. Talk to People Ops leaders and communities. Follow HR leaders on LinkedIn and Twitter and look at their resources.
Most importantly, experiment. It will not be perfect on the first try and understand that things will be rocky. Be open with your team that this is an experiment and iterate based on your team’s feedback and needs.
Noah’s founders and C-level executives complete evaluations just like the rest of the team. However, since they don’t have managers giving them feedback, the leaders share their reflections at an all-hands meeting. The effect? Increased buy-in and morale.
You can build and iterate on your templates without any fancy tools! Noah recommends using spreadsheets and Google Forms for the evaluations themselves, up to a 60-person team.
Announce upcoming reviews and deadlines through Slack, email, and at an all-hands meeting.
Give people plenty of reminders! It’s important to remind people four days before the review is due to ask if the due date is still realistic for the team.
The point? Be proactive, not reactive. If someone cannot complete a task by the deadline, push the deadline and inform the relevant teams.
Creating a Performance Review process is not easy. However, by increasing review frequency, establishing a pre-review evaluation form, and keeping reviews future-focused, your team will never dread a performance review again!