Career Advice

How to write a performance review

We are in the final stages of our annual performance review process here at FirstRain and it’s a great time to visit what really matters when writing a performance review.

My first principle is that everyone deserves a performance review – it’s a benefit and a right. I believe we owe it to every employee to listen to how they see their own performance, listen to their ambitions and what they want to learn next, and share our observations, advice and encouragement at least once a year. In reality it is something I like to do on an ongoing basis but at least having a formal review process ensures the conversation happens at least once a year.

So to the content of the review. We use SuccessFactors which (while not perfect!) structures an easy to use process to move the performance review documentation through the process.

The structure of our reviews is
section 1: assessment of the employee against our 5 core values
section 2: assessment of the employee against specific job skills (only 1 or 2 per job)
section 3: summary and overview assessment

It is the managers responsibility to communicate to the employee that the review time is here and what the steps are going to be so the process is clear.

First the employee writes their self assessment. How do they rate themselves against the values and job skills (on a scale of 1 to 5 and a brief description for each category)? What’s going well and what isn’t. Where would they like to improve, what help do they want from their manager or the company.

Next the manager talks with the employees peers and senior management. What is their observation of what’s going well? What behaviors should be praised and reinforced? Where are there opportunities for improvement. This is a 360 process of getting input around the individual to be able to give them useful and grounded advice.

The manager then writes up their assessment. Rating each category and writing up what is great about the employees performance, what could be improved, and advice. I find myself writing the phrase “I encourage you to…” many times. I manage senior people – there is very little I would ever “tell” someone to do because how they perform is their choice. I try to encourage and advise but it’s up to them what they do with that advice.

The step of the conversation about the employees performance is the most important step. This is where absolute honesty and integrity makes all the difference to whether the review is a positive or negative – useful or destructive experience. I believe it is very important to be straightforward, kind, use humor and above all else be direct but non judgmental. If you are direct you have a much higher chance of being heard and understood, rather than the employee shutting you out. This is a process that really should be going on continuously. I feel I have failed if there is a major surprise in the conversation – although this does sometimes happen.

Finally the employee has a final step of being able to edit their review, or comment on your comments, so the complete conversation is documented. And then you both sign.

I had 10 reviews to write this year. In each one I was able to give positive feedback on the many things that are going well and the great progress and growth we have made this year. And in each case I thought carefully about the one or two areas of advice I would give to help each person grow in the coming year. It’s the least I can do for a team that is working as hard and being as creative as my team is being.