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Performance Management Part 2: Career Development and Performance Reviews

August 06, 2023

In this article I will cover the topic of career development. I will structure things around performance reviews as most companies have some sort of a formal process that promotes employees to focus on their career path.

Before the performance review

Start by figuring out if your company has a terminal level and if yes, what that level is. Let’s define what a “terminal level” means. This is the level at which you can stay without getting promoted and be at the company pretty much indefinitely if you are meeting performance expectations. For most companies that would be senior individual contributors. Based on that you will likely need to adjust your strategy. If someone is at the terminal level you should still help them grow and push them however from this point on it’s more on the individual to create opportunities for themselves. This can also vary from company to company but usually past the senior threshold it is expected from individuals to tell you what needs to be done. Your job as a manager is to ensure they are meeting their current level’s expectations and support them in their growth.

If the person you are working with is not at a terminal level you have to set clear expectations that they are required to grow within a specific timeframe. This is where having a formal document that outlines expectations for each level becomes essential. In many places this is called a career ladder. Find out if your company has one. If not, I would strongly encourage spending the time and creating one. It helps to align on expectations within the team but also across teams and company wide. It promotes fairness in how people are evaluated and also it is a vital tool in keeping your high performers and helping them progress.

Next up I would like to cover a topic that I am taking directly from the book “Radical Candor by Kim Scott”. In a high performing team, people are usually either “rockstars” or “superstars”. The idea is that you will have people you work with that want to climb the corporate ladder as fast as they possibly can. Those are your “superstars”. They are going to challenge the status quo and help your team grow. On the other hand you will also have those who are perfectly fine staying at that terminal level and doing great work. Those are your “rockstars”. Organizations need them to sustain high levels of productivity at every level. Your management style needs to adapt to their preferences if you wish to retain both types of high performing individuals.

Some people will know exactly how they want to progress in their career. Those folks make our jobs as managers a lot easier. That said, you need to be able to handle the situation where people you work with don’t have a clear career plan. It’s your job to help them figure that out and create that alignment of what their vision and ambitions are. There are plenty of career exercises just a google away but let me know if you would like me to write an article on the topic.

Having a formal performance review is nice and gives some structure but when working with someone you should have plenty of conversations before the performance reviews. My recommendation is after your initial career conversation to check with the people you are working with every quarter.

Lastly, document your career conversations. I always recommend to the people I work with to have a running brag document where they capture their career progression and most importantly achievements they are proud of. There are plenty of tools out there but if you don’t have access to one a simple gDoc will have to do it. Make sure you write down achievements, growth areas, goals and their progress.

I have a separate article on managing individuals which contains more important information so feel free to check that out but with all of the prep work you should be in good shape when performance review time comes around.

During the performance review

We, as fellow human beings are inherently biased so in order to minimize this I am a big proponent of 360 reviews. What that means is that you will get information about someone's performance from a couple of places. The first one is asking the individual to evaluate their own performance. The second one is from their peers and the third one is from you as their manager. Furthermore, to reduce the recency bias, here is where writing things down is going to be very important.

After you gather that information it’s time to prepare for the meeting in which you will deliver the performance review. Make sure you spend enough time here. Preparation is key. I like to carefully read and process everything and write it in my own words. In the case of peer feedback, I also make sure that I understand the context and ask for clarifications if necessary. Additionally, I often ask if their peers are open to delivering this feedback directly if they haven’t done that already.

When it comes to the delivery of the performance review itself, I like to experiment and change things around. Today I will share one format I’ve used in the past successfully:

  1. I like starting with the self-assessment of the individual and making sure that we are aligned on that. There might be areas where you disagree with their judgment and that is okay. It’s part of your job to make sure that the assessment is fair and everyone is being evaluated following the same criterias.

  2. Next up, I like talking about peer feedback. I split this part into two sections. Praise and constructive feedback. Here is where doing the preparation work is essential. My favorite thing is when I deliver feedback to hear that they know who gave that feedback and that they have discussed this already. This means that you have created a safe environment that promotes sharing feedback amongst peers.

  3. After that, I go into the manager-review. Similar to the peer review I split this into praise and constructive feedback. It’s important that there are no surprises here. There shouldn’t be anything new that your direct report hears for the first time. All of the feedback should have been discussed during 1:1s. I like to summarize their achievements and strong qualities and also walk over the growth areas which we’ve already discussed in our 1:1s.

  4. The last part of the performance review is goal setting and next steps. I like to spend the majority of the time here. Going back to each section and extracting information on areas of improvement. Set specific, measurable goals with timelines and discuss ways to achieve them. We already covered that in the previous article on goal setting.

After the performance review

After the performance reviews are done, your part as a manager is to keep the people you work with accountable for making progress and improving. I would recommend discussing goals and growth areas at least once a month. Ask what they need from you as a manager to make sure you are setting them up for success. You need to make sure to provide the support they need and ensure they have clear, actionable and measurable steps to do so.

I hope at least someone can find value in reading this article.

Keep a growth mindset and take care!

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