I have twelve performance reviews to write this month. I expect to use, on average, 4 hours for each review. That time I will spend reviewing notes, emails, artifacts from calendar invites and code that each person has contributed to our collective.
Years ago, the first time I wrote an appraisal on someone else’s performance, it was distasteful. I didn’t have enough content, and I’m pretty sure I wrote something vacuous. I learned the hard way that it’s not the review that is meaningful. It’s important, to be sure – a piece of paper that gets tucked in the paper file cabinet in the local HR office. These days, hopefully electronically scanned.
When I was in school, the best classes I had were when the final exam of the semester was a culmination of all that I had been taught during the weeks leading up to the test. The test was whether I had paid attention and learned throughout the year. My worst experiences were when a sadistic teacher put all-new content on the final exam. The sickening surprise of not being prepared to answer exam questions was a big turnoff.
Modern performance reviews should not be surprises. If I find myself writing something in the review that I had not at least once had a prior face to face conversation with the team member, it’s not fair game for the review. At least not in a negative or punitive sense.
In fact, each year the whole “write once per year” appraisal process feels increasingly like it’s from a bygone era. In the software industry, goals, team dynamics and performance change so rapidly that writing a one or two page appraisal once or even twice a year is woefully inadequate for effectively managing performance.
The meaningful part of the whole process is those every 2 or 3 week one-on-ones with team members. So, this season, I rest comforted that I took decent notes and consistently communicated with people throughout the year.
For my teams, it’s the 200+ micro-feedback points throughout the year that are meaningful, not the 12 biggies that happen in February. Every season is Performance Review Season.