Home > Uncategorized > Lightweight performance review system

Lightweight performance review system

There I said it. Those two phrases are not supposed to used together in the same sentence unless there is a ‘not’ or ‘no’ in the sentence.

Roughly an year ago I read a great commentary on Performance Review Systems in the Great Leadership blog by Dan Mc Carthy via Wally Bock’s Three Star Leadership Blog. I forgot to bookmark the link when I read it last year. Over the course of the year I have searched for it more than a couple of times in vain. Yesterday I had the motivation to search for it again, Yes its Performance Review time again :-). In the process I came across more articles, blogs on the same theme.

All the articles seemed to state:

  • Keep the system / process lightweight and simple
  • It has to be a continuous process.

Seeing this community opinion, just like development / delivery, support groups (in this specific case the HR) also need to embark the agile bandwagon soon.   What follows after this is strictly not my words, all information copied and quoted from the articles. I do not claim credit to any of the information which follows.


…Poor performance review processes are rarely the real cause of any legitimate business performance issue – like increasing revenue, market share, reducing costs, etc… and they don’t really contribute to employee satisfaction of productivity (other than generating a lot of complaints). The reality is most employees don’t like getting them and most managers hate doing them…


  • A half page for goals, quotas, performance standards, or any other way that describes an employee’s accountabilities. It should pass the “would my mother understand it?” test
  • The other half page has no more than 6 qualitative competencies or critical behaviors required to be successful in the role. Managers could pick from a menu or use the same ones for every job
  • A one page development plan
  • Managers and employees review these two pages at the beginning of the year, and periodically throughout the year
  • At the end of the year, the manager would assess each goal or standard, and provide a simple rating for each competency or behavior, along with a 1 paragraph overall performance summary. All on the same two pages. And then have an authentic, constructive, give-and-take discussion

When two guys develop code they’re both developers. If one of them is 4 times more productive than other (which is possible in that area) I see no problem in paying the better performer 4 times as much as the other guy. Now they still develop code. They’re both developers for me. The very same role.
In majority of organizations it won’t be possible to call both guys with the same title and have such difference in remuneration. You have to call one a junior software developer and another senior software specialist. And you have to develop a bunch of documents showing which qualities a person should have to become one or another.
Of course you still can have great performance appraisals as far as a manager do a good job in that area but usually this formal process is used as an excuse for not doing good job here. "Listen, you’re only a junior software developer, I just can’t double your salary. You know, procedures."

from http://www.greatleadershipbydan.com/2009/03/no-bull-performance-review-process.html

The solution to today’s mostly dysfunctional performance appraisal systems isn’t to create another superstructure of a system with different forms and jargon. It’s to make sure that real, effective performance appraisal happens several times a day on the front lines.

from http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2008/10/21/abolish-the-performance-review.aspx

Quarterly? Periodic? That’s idiotic. You don’t wait to praise a good behavior or correct a different one and hope to be effective.  You want to talk to people about what they’re doing as close to the action as possible.

That means you don’t do this by blocking out key review dates on the calendar.  You check in frequently with the people who work for you. And you take every contact as an opportunity to coach, counsel, encourage and correct.

That day-to-day counseling is the important work.  Do it right and those formal reviews will go well. Neglect it and every formal review becomes a contest.

from: http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2007/05/07/performance-management-systems-that-dont-perform.aspx

"Let’s put it diplomatically and take the emotion out of it: The whole performance-review process, now in season, doesn’t exactly exceed expectations. Whether these annual events are meant to weed out laggards, reward achievers, assist development or act simply as a liability shield against discrimination lawsuits is anybody’s guess. Whatever their purpose, they attempt to give employees an individualized and intimate portrayal of their performance, but can end up saying more about the company than the individual."

The core problem is pretty simple. In most places the performance review is seen as an event that’s centered on a form that gets filed every year. It should be a process centered on individual workers that’s implemented every day.

If you see performance appraisal as a process that’s a routine part of daily work you can make lots of small corrections in behavior and performance. You don’t have to put in extraordinary effort to try to make big corrections at annual appraisal time.

from: http://blog.threestarleadership.com/2007/11/20/everybody-knows-the-performance-appraisal-system-is-broken.aspx

Q. And how do you give feedback?

A. I have the puppy theory. When the puppy pees on the carpet, you say something right then because you don’t say six months later, “Remember that day, January 12th, when you peed on the carpet?” That doesn’t make any sense. “This is what’s on my mind. This is quick feedback.” And then I’m on to the next thing.

If I had my way I wouldn’t do annual reviews, if I felt that everybody would be more honest about positive and negative feedback along the way. I think the annual review process is so antiquated. I almost would rather ask each employee to tell us if they’ve had a meaningful conversation with their manager this quarter. Yes or no. And if they say no, they ought to have one. I don’t even need to know what it is. But if you viewed it as meaningful, then that’s all that counts.

from: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/10/18/business/18corner.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print

  • TWO PEOPLE, TWO MIND-SETS – Boss and Subordinate


    …Raises are then determined by the boss, and the boss’s boss, largely as a result of the marketplace or the budget…


    …when people switch bosses, they often receive sharply different evaluations from the new bosses to whom they now report…


    "Employees all come with their own characteristics, strong suits and imperfections that they orchestrate in every attempt to perform their best. Because no two people come similarly equipped, they draw upon the unique pluses and minuses they were endowed with at birth along with compensatory assets they subsequently developed.

    And yet in a performance review, employees are supposed to be measured along some predetermined checklist" …




    Instead of energizing individuals, they are dispiriting and create cynicism. Instead of stimulating corporate effectiveness, they lead to just-in-case and cover-your-behind activities that reduce the amount of time that could be put to productive use. Instead of promoting directness, honesty and candor, they stimulate inauthentic conversations in which people cast self-interested pursuits as essential company activities.

  • from: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB122426318874844933.html#printMode

    Categories: Uncategorized
    1. Srinivasan
      April 4, 2010 at 4:46 pm

      Thank for the links Sendhil. if you have not seen this before, I would like you to look at the video presentation " The surprising science of motivation " from Dan Pink at TED http://www.ted.com/talks/dan_pink_on_motivation.html.

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