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 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.
The first section of a performance review document is the self review. It’s a summary of what the candidate wrote in their self review form. It’s important not to change its meaning or disagree with it. We want to understand the direct and make them feel understood.
In the past, I’ve spent many hours preparing each performance review. Back then, I formatted them as letters. Lots of paragraphs and not many bullet points. I used opinions and connectors to make them cohesive. It required a significant effort. It didn’t scale for me.
But more importantly, it turns out that format wasn’t really helpful for direct reports.
This year (2021), I’ve followed a more structured approach. I’ve saved time. The reviews are more consistently formatted. Instead of writing some paragraphs connecting all answers, I repeat the question name and summarize their answer. Example:
[What were your accomplishments?] You wrote two. The first was establishing good incident response practices. The second…
When delivering the performance review in a meeting, reading out loud the question name can feel too scripted. But it’s easy to speak about it more conversational:
You wrote about two main accomplishments during the last period. The first was establishing good incident response practices. The second…
Now, my summaries are more accurate with what the direct report wrote for each question. Which leads to a better mutual understanding. And sets the right stage for the peer and manager sections of the performance review.
The usefulness of the self review depends on the questions asked on the evaluation form. So far, these are the ones I’ve found most helpful:
What were your accomplishments?
What things didn’t you accomplish?
What do you like the most about your current role?
What things will you focus on to help you grow and develop?
How can your manager support you on those things?
There’s a temptation to ask also about other things that relate to the organization more than to the individual. For example, “what would you change about the company?”, or “what additional support can the organization give you to achieve those goals?”. These questions are very valuable, but don’t belong in a performance review process. Let’s not mix company surveys with performance reviews.