Every year, managers write performance reviews. They often consist of 360 feedback and goals for the next quarters, written in a document by the manager and discussed in a meeting with the direct report.
Writing good performance reviews is tough. At least it has been for me. It isn’t fun work. At the same time, delivering a useful performance review is so fulfilling. One that makes the direct report feel understood, challenged and motivated. So despite pouring long hours into writing reviews, I’m always looking forward to performance review periods.
Prior to the manager review, there are two other sections on the performance review. You can read my reflections about them here:
The final section of a performance review is the manager review. It’s written by the manager and includes the additional insights and feedback that the manager can offer.
I used to write long documents, almost like narratives. They had one paragraph for each area of feedback.
I’m a fan of well written narratives. But when I received, as a direct report, a structured review organized with sections and bullet points, I realized the narrative format wasn’t the best format.
Following the example of Eamon Bisson-Donahue, now I break the manager review section down into the following parts:
What you did well.
What I want to see more.
What you struggled with.
What I don’t want to see more of.
How we will work on these things over the course of the year.
Here’s a fictional example for a manager position:
What you did well:
Adapted quickly to many changes and adjustments.
Handled yourself before you got burned out.
Supported me on the hiring processes of two software engineers.
Represented your team VERY WELL to the rest of the organization.
What I want to see more:
Throughput of your team. I need you to start thinking more on process bottlenecks and team dynamics at play in order to produce value at a more consistent quick rate.
More involvement on hiring processes as an autonomous hiring manager.
What you struggled with:
Communication at high levels. Your communication with the individual contributors is good, but you’ve had situations of misunderstanding or lack of alignment with other managers.
Reducing shadow work. We’ve discussed previously, but I’ve noticed you still do a significant amount of work that goes under the radar and isn’t documented anywhere.
This format enables the direct report to have more clarity on each aspect. They can process each bullet point separately. It sticks better.
What’s the goal of a review?
When I started at Splash, we used to do “[P]reviews”. They essentially were performance reviews, but framed as “previews” of the future. At the beginning I loved this concept. It felt less corporate.
Over time, I’ve changed my mind. Performance reviews should be taken seriously for what they are: a detailed review of past performance coming from peers, managers, direct reports and data. That’s it.
However, their goal is to influence future behavior. They achieve it by making every person aware of their performance as seen from multiple angles. A performance review is successful if it leaves reports self-aware, motivated, challenged, and wanting to be better at their job or continue growing.
Discussing all those next steps isn’t necessarily part of the performance review meeting, but part of following 1:1s.
Does the manager review or not?
Some companies choose to reduce the input from the manager in the performance review process, or leave it out completely. That scales well for large amounts of direct reports. It enables managers without the time or skill to write constructive feedback to still deliver a “good enough” review based solely on peer feedback. It also reduces the risk of biased reviews.
But I’m an advocate for managers spending effort in writing thoughtful constructive manager review sections. They are essential to reinforce good behaviors and set a clear path for what’s important for the direct report to work on.
Managers need support, tools and processes to produce valuable reviews consistently across the organization. How to do that at scale? I’m still figuring that out.