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Performance Reviews

How often do you give performance reviews and what do they consist of?  How much of a review is quantifiable stuff (sick days taken, number of projects completed, number of semicolons used) and how much is more subjective (quality of code, teamwork)?

Thursday, March 4, 2004

I don't do performance reviews and consider them to be a bad management practice.

Joel Spolsky
Fog Creek Software
Thursday, March 4, 2004

Then, how do you reward employees for hard work? Is this through the company ownership plan?

Josh E.
Thursday, March 4, 2004

Simply pay and treat them very well. The management should know who the performers are.

John S. Dawson
Thursday, March 4, 2004

Isn't it important to give your employees an idea of how you think they're performing, where they could use some improvement, what they're doing really well at, and a path for their career over the next year or so?

Yes, I've had reviews where I came out pissed off, but that's life. A good review gives the team a chance to clear the air, and to re-establish their plans.

How is that bad?

Thursday, March 4, 2004

That type of information should be coming to employees every day, not just one or 2 days a year.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Assuming the purpose of performance reviews is to tie them to some kind of reward, I much prefer Joel's concept of "Superstar Adjustments" that include the condition that, "they must be universally acknowledged and recognized by their peers as superstars."  How cool would it be to work on a team where everyone was secure enough to openly acknowledge these kind of qualities in their team mates?

Thursday, March 4, 2004

I am the sole programmer for our company.
My work alone probably brings in £70k per year - i am not on a third of that amount.
Since i am the only programmer - nobody really knows what i am doing - and nobody at all understands it. If i take 2 weeks holidays - i am faced with possibly a huge headache when i come back to try and fix any problems customers may have found when i get back.

We are supposed to get bi-annual appraisals (done on the Joel favorite 1 to 5 scale). My last one could be summarised as saying "yes you are technically very good but you can be grumpy". Its very difficult to explain to the managers the kind of pressure i am under because of the amount of work they have taken on and the real headaches i get when i come back off holidays - they say yes i can take 2 week holidays as they dont have a problem with it - i say i can't because when i come back from holiday there can be a nightmare awaiting me.

Joel's article on appraisals is spot on - a poor one doesn't motivate you - especially if it says your technically great at your job - but you can be grumpy at times - maybe if they helped try to find why i was grumpy it would of been ok.
An appraisal that is as you expect doesn't motivate you to try harder.
A really good appraisal boosts your morale but if companies do this then they need to give a good raise to go along with it.
If the company isn't planning on big raises - i think (in my case anyway) emphasise negative points to make the appraisal worse than it should be and therfor justify lower raises.

I wrote up a 7 page document last month trying to justify why i should get a 25% raise (yes its a large amount but the actual salary amount would be 25k after raise) so its not exactly a huge amount - for the sole programmer who brings in £70k worth of business per year. I have 90% convinced myself that i won't get this amount and it will probably be £2k at the most.  I was planning to go through my document at the appraisal - i was just preparing it well in advance - so basically thats what bi-annual appraisals have done for me - it doesn't sound healthy to be worrying like this - but the way the IT situation is over here, i am kind of stuck.

Anyone else have these sort of problems too or am i alone?

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Based on personal experience, Joel seems to have this one right.  Formal performance reviews every 1-2 years is a really bad idea.  Especially considering in most organizations, the ones doing the reviewing are very poorly qualified to gauge employee performance. 

Immature programmer
Thursday, March 4, 2004

I favor annual reviews. I use the process to assess the big picture (strengths and shortcomings, etc. ) as a means to determine focus points for the coming year.

If someone consistently flakes out on the last 5%, then that's what I'm going to focus on in the coming year. That means I've got to commit to get involved and I've got to commit to give the person the time to train (or re-train).

For performance, I hold almost daily quicky meetings with staff and I keep my ears open to the banter.

I'm blown away with managers who only discuss problems with their staff at annual review time. It would drive me crazy to watch someone screw up for 4 months and not say anything.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

amos -

you're a micro-manager


muppet from electric-chipmunk
Thursday, March 4, 2004

> you're a micro-manager

He's a good manager.  It's better to be in touch with your team and give them any appropriate feedback on an on-going basis than to give it to them all at once, possibly months after the fact. 

But unlike Joel, I think a yearly review also has its place.  It's an oppotunity to summarize all the feedback given over (e.g.) the past year and discuss any actions that need to be taken.

Thursday, March 4, 2004

I think Joel's point though is you shouldn't need to do that if you are speaking with them constantly anyway.

In my case it is basically just every 6 months or unless something crops up (and they didn't do it 6 months ago - so my next appraisal thats due about now is a year since the previous :|)

Thursday, March 4, 2004

Performance reviews are waste of time. Anyone who ever  tried to train a group of up to 20 people might readily agree with me that its really easy to assess everyone's performance before examination.

Exams bring no or very little surprises and generally help stress-test skills and formally evaluate them.

Drawing a parallel - manager who doesn't know his team's  performance on day by day basis is a bad manager and not a leader.

Performance reviews cause bad morale, because everyone understands they are used not to evaluate a performance, but rather gather an evidence for forthcoming redundancies.

Prove me wrong now.

Vlad Gudim
Friday, March 5, 2004

I don't think they are used to gather evidence for forthcoming redundacies alone - but i think they are used to provide reason for poor wage rises etc

Friday, March 5, 2004

I wholeheartedly agree with Joel's policy.
My own experience with reviews: fear and trepidation before, followed by deep anger and resentment afterwards - and that's for the good reviews - lead me to feel, with a bit of self-analysis,  like I'm one of these primadonna programmers who thinks his shit doesn't stink and every line of code he writes is a nugget of gold.
I'm not one of those programmers. (No really, I am truly humble, much humbler than all my colleagues put together ;)
And yet even the stellar reviews I sometimes get seem totally condescending and looking a back I breeze past them with no good feelings to the prior review that was less than stellar and end up angry again.
I mean, the idea is clearly meant to be that I should think "Wow I've really improved in these key areas in order to go from reivew 1 to review 2", but really what are the chances that that's going to be the effect.

To top it all off. In an act of stupidity that even the managers are railing against - the kind of decision-making that makes Dilbert's world like like some sort of corporate Utopia that my employer should be striving for - the HR organization has decided that too many employees get good reviews and each manager is forced to pass out reviews to match a pre-specified bell-curve where usually only one employee can get a really good review,  the majority have to, I say HAVE TO, be given average grades (yes let's just stop pussyfooting around with MBA buzzwords - they're fricking grades. In fact grades is perhaps too sophisticated a concept: they're more like the golden stars or animal stamps you got at kindergarten) and someone has to, yes they HAVE TO be given a low grade to make the curve truly bell shaped.

So the smart managers can't even use Joel's  trick of always giving great reviews.

You can just see the HR types patting themselves on the back at the wonderful success of this strategy. Because it works well. Just imagine the process:
1. HR: "What's this, we have way to many employees being graded as Excellent and not enough as Average, or Low. The graphs just look nothing like that bell curve in my Statistics for HR Dummies book.
Solution, we'll grade most of them lower than they deserve"
2. The employees morale plummets productivity goes down.
3.  Very few employees are now doing an Excellent job.

In a way, its brilliant, because what starts off as being forced low-rating of employees becomes very accurate in the end.

David R.
Friday, March 5, 2004

So do you think that the managers believe that giving an employee a non justiified negative review will

a) motivate them to change
b) upset them and make disillusioned
c) not affect them one way or the other
d) upset them a little but they will forget it in a week or so


Friday, March 5, 2004

Reviews suck for everyone except the bean counters.  Most managers hate giving them, people hate getting them, and most of the feedback is useless.

One of my review pet peeves is finding out 6-9 months after the fact that my manager (or lead, whatever) was unhappy with some aspect of my work. 

Big freaking help that is!  Why didn't you tell me back then?  I can scarcely remember the task now, much less what happened.  I *like* to do well and if something was wrong odds are it was a misunderstanding and I would have much preferred to know then and FIX it, than know now and get a black mark on my review.

Chris Kessel
Friday, March 5, 2004

Not having reviews requires managers to have the stones to actually tell you when something is not quite right about your performance at the time it is happening.  In my experience there are a small percentage of managers that do have the stones to tell you that, and of course those are the good ones.  Looking at the managers that I have had less than 10% have the stones...

Personally I am also against the whole review thing as well because it ends up turning into a game.  If I can *convince* my manager that I am doing a good job (and only my manager counts, I don't have to convince any one else on my team, in fact I can step on them to help prove my performance case to my manager) then I am more likely to do a good job.  In the example of grading on a curve (which happens where I work and I hate it) it is to my advantage to try to make others on my team to either stumble or look bad.  In short, my self-interests are not aligned with the company's interests.  In my day-to-day work guess whose interests I am going to be concerned about? ;)

Room full of monkeys at typewriters
Friday, March 5, 2004

Heh, yea, at one company a fellow routinely about 2 months before review would start loudly complaining about how much overtime he worked and that he was "up to his ass in alligators", "putting out fires", "giving bigtime at the office".  His status reports would suddenly start listing pages of activity (built release 107, built release 108, fixed bug 20394, 30494, etc, etc).

It was a running joke amongst us engineers and none of us had much respect for his abilities, but he always kept his job.

Chris Kessel
Friday, March 5, 2004

> Then, how do you reward employees for hard work? Is this through the company ownership plan? <

You mean the bionic office isn't a way to reward employees for hard work? What about letting them make their own hours? What about actually caring about them and not needing a piece of paper to tell them that?

"You don't care about me unless I have a piece of paper that say so" ? Do you want a gold star too?
Friday, March 5, 2004

"I don't do performance reviews ..."

"... every six months, Fog Creek management will review the performance of everyone in the company..."

Change of plans, I suppose :-)

Ryan Tate
Friday, March 5, 2004

... Or maybe Joel was meant performance review in a more specific, traditional sense. From the second link above:

"Our biannual reviews are done internally by management; they are not intended as a way to give employees grades or gold stars. Their goal is simply to make sure people stay at the right level and are recognized when their work improves with experience."

Ryan Tate
Friday, March 5, 2004

You spin me right round baby, right round
Like a record baby right round round round...

I'm sorry - but that is nothing but pure spin control. It's the classic "oh, when *Fred* gives employee reviews it's abusive. But *my* employee reviews are necessary and proper"

More to the point, methinks Joel now finds himself in a position where he realizes why people give reviews in the first place - it's an attempt to objectify something that can otherwise be purely, unfairly subjective.

We all know John's the best worker in the office. He's always here early, works late, is cheerful, attends every meeting, participates in every email thread - he is definitely my 4.0 star guy. So this eval should be easy to write. Okay, this year he... uh... he fixed that, no, that was Karen... oh - there was that time he... no, that was Jeff.... Wait a second, has he really done *anything* productive?

And having employees submit their accomplishments gets stealth work on your radar. (Some people don't need the boss to know every single thing they do)

Sometimes evaluations force you to actually look at substance over form - they keep you honest. And just like "make people report bugs in FogBugz" ensures your QA is all in one place, forcing yourself (and your subordinate managers if you have them) to do reviews ensures you keep all your employee history in one place.


Saturday, March 6, 2004

Philo, how do they do performance review at MS?

top 5 employee
Sunday, March 7, 2004

I kind of agree with the idea of not doing performance reviews.  The managers (people managers) should know how the employee is doing every day (or close enough) and so should the employees.

However, I do recognise that something needs to be in place for companies that have some form of career planning and skills development in place.  In that case, reviews are really a historical record for how you have performed, however, there should really be nothing in them that an employee doesnt already know about.

For myself, I make notes on each employee and keep them in a folder for that person.  I'll tell the person when they have done well, or when they are not doing so well.  Come review time, out comes the folder so I can remember what happened a long time ago, and thats what the review is based on.

Andy Watson
Thursday, April 8, 2004

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