Monday, March 31, 2008

A Review and Goal Definition Idea

Back when I used to manage programmers, I found that one of trickiest tasks I had was doing yearly reviews and specifically goal setting. Last night, while writing up a recommendation for a former team member, an idea struck me - one that might make reviews and goal writing easier.

What if, before a team member had a review, you wrote up a summary of their performance - for the next year. This hypothetical performance review would be written in absolutely glowing terms. In it, you would describe this super employee, who did everything just right - they learned 3 new programming languages, helped document the existing source tree, mentored two of the team members, and brought in donuts every Wednesday.

Now, what if you took this perfect review and shared it with the employee you're about to review? A few things would happen:

  • The employee would have a clear picture of what you define as perfect performance. It may not at all be what they think, but there, you've at least spelled it out for them.
  • There's no pressure on either of you - what you're describing is a year off and it's not like anyone has failed.
  • You could ask the question - What concrete things could you do to make this your next review? The answers to that question become your goals for the next year. The more fine grained your answer, the better. Example: Hmmm, if I'm supposed to learn 3 new languages this year, then every 4 months I better have a new language under my belt. And if I'm supposed to bring in donuts weekly, I better as heck join a donut club.
  • The employee could challenge and question your view of an ideal performance in a safe and fun way

It would also be an interesting experiment to have the manager write up their glowing review, and have the employee write up his glowing review - and then compare the two. What do each define as successful team member? I bet the manager learns just as much from this as the employee.

Next time I have a team to manage, I'm going to have to give this approach a try.

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