In my last post I talked about how we made the decision to shift the focus from performance to development and what we hoped to achieve with the change. What I deliberately left out was the detail on how our development reviews work. I made this choice as I wanted to take the time to explain the process and the intentions behind each step.
I’m lucky enough to be able to use our own product to power our development reviews, building workflows with our onboarding tool to facilitate team member and manager interactions. This means that once it’s all set up I can kick off the workflows for each individual and the process then runs without further input from me. You’d still be able to run the process using email however it’ll obviously require a bit more admin and coordination effort.
To make my explanation a bit easier to read I’ve used two characters:
George – Back-end Developer
Rachel – Back-end Lead / George’s manager
Step One – Information gathering
The first part is all on George and is probably the most challenging part of the whole process. It requires a decent amount of self-reflection and many of our team found it useful to talk to their partners and families to help them clarify their responses.
George is sent three tasks to work through:
Motivational pie chart: The first task George is asked to complete is his motivational pie chart. While I’d love to claim this as my own brilliance, the concept of the motivational pie chart comes from Jennifer Dulski (currently Head of Groups & Community at Facebook). I’ll refer you to Jennifer’s post to explain how the pie chart task works as any attempt by myself won’t be as good!
The reasons for starting with the pie chart exercise are two-fold. Firstly, as Jennifer discusses, understanding what motivates your team will enable you to be a better manager. Secondly, for your team members, understanding what motivates them enables identification of the elements that will ensure role satisfaction. When we consider goals we can reference these motivations to make sure they are aligned and not taking people towards outcomes that will ultimately disappoint.
It’s worth adding that I do disagree with Jennifer’s assertion that, as a manager, you should be looking for ways to move all of the pieces of your team’s pie to green. I believe this responsibility lies with both parties and that sometimes it’s just not possible to move the needle. An inability to change a piece of pie to green isn’t a bad thing, it just means that either the role or the company is not the best fit for that team member. If it’s a small percentage of the pie that remains red it might not matter too much, but for a large piece, especially one the team member feels is essential, then it may be time for a conversation about whether remaining in the role/with your company is the right path forward or if it’s time to part ways in constructive manner. I see it as an opportunity to facilitate an open conversation.
Goals: George is then asked to think about his goals. We encourage these to be aspirational – things that will take a while to work towards. As discussed in my previous post, potential career progression, salary increases or role changes are in no way impacted by development reviews. We want to encourage bold goal setting and not limit people to achievable goals so they look good at review time. It might be career related, eg. a new skill to master or a role to pursue, or it might be something something a role and career can help to fulfil, e.g. owning a home or supporting a family. We don’t set boundaries on the scope of the goals, appreciating that everyone is different and this is reflected in how comfortable they are sharing their goals and dreams. We also ask them to think about their goals and how they relate to their motivations – do they make sense?
Role expectations: The third task asks George to review our expectations for his role level and spend some time identifying where he could improve. George is encouraged to think about how this relates back to his goals and motivations to make sure the places he is putting his effort leads him to the results he wants.
For both the goals and role expectations tasks there is the opportunity to document responses to the questions being posed. These responses act as a starting point for the next step. All of the information is shared with the individuals manager to give them time to read and absorb it ahead of the next step.
Step Two: Turning the information into objectives
It’s one thing to spend a whole lot of time thinking about your goals and motivations but it’s an entirely different, and often more difficult, task to figure out how to achieve them. The whole process is built around the idea that we can facilitate small and steady steps toward achieving bigger goals and it is step two that each team member gets some outside perspective to figure out how exactly to do this.
Together, George and his manager Rachel discuss all of the thinking he undertook in step one. They’ll work through each motivator to uncover exactly what they mean to George (for example we’ve found work/life balance can mean wildly different things to different people). This is important as it ensures any changes Rachel makes to move George toward a green piece of pie (or to maintain a green piece) are in line with what George meant instead of Rachel’s interpretation of what he meant.
They’ll talk about goals, time frames and how these connect to George’s motivators. Rachel will be able to provide guidance on career path opportunities – be that promotions, sideways steps or complete career 180’s. We aim to be as transparent and open with each other as possible and if that means George’s next career goal is to be an engineer for NASA then awesome – we’ll discuss things that can be worked on while he’s at Ento that will bolster his skill set and move him closer to reaching his goal.
Pulling everything together, Rachel will then help George identify a couple of tangible objectives he can work on to help him move closer to achieving his goals. We suggest sticking to just one or two objectives, making sure they are things that are actionable within a three month period (the quarter ahead). It could be anything from completing a stretch project, attending a training course or a conference, spending time shadowing a colleague or focusing on improving a particular skill.
It’s super important that these goals resonate with the individual. As a manager it can be easy to be swept up in identifying and encouraging your employees to improve in areas you can see would be of value to the team/business but that’s not the primary focus of the development review – it’s intention is to help each team member find new ways to reach their own personal goals.
It’s also super important to allow enough time. We were surprised by this the first time round and I’d suggest allowing an hour for the conversation and then 30 minutes afterwards to write notes (the next step!)
Step Three: Putting it down in writing
After meeting with Rachel we ask George to write down what has been discussed. We’ve definitely found this step to be most effective if done immediately following the conversation – otherwise the detail, flow and inspiration quickly slips away.
We originally used a fairly simple template describing “big” or longer term goals and then breaking out the specific objectives that would be worked on over the next quarter. We’re now looking at using something similar to a performance improvement plan to document our goals. We’re re-considering our approach for two reasons:
- A performance improvement plan is structured nicely to allow for the breakdown of objectives into really actionable pieces – who is going to do what, when they’ll do it, any resources they might require and any potential roadblocks they might come up against.
- We’re always looking for ways to normalise performance management and performance conversations and taking the stigma out of PIP’s was identified by our team as a key way to do this. Making them part of development plans is one way they suggested we could achieve this.
Step Four: Keeping it all front of mind
George and Rachel now use their fortnightly 1:1 catch up to keep personal development front of mind. This is an opportunity for Rachel to listen to George, offer her support, help with removing blockers and suggest ways to tweak his objectives if required. The onus is always on George to complete his objectives – Rachel doesn’t take on the responsibility for his development, only he can do that. It’s also okay if George can’t complete his objectives, sometimes work gets hectic or life is busy and different things take priority. As already mentioned, development goals are an added extra and viewed outside of performance and promotion discussions.
This last step is so important! While we’ve gone to the time and effort of identifying goals if we forget to make them a part of our daily conversations then they’ll almost certainly lie forgotten for three months until we repeat the process. While we’ve opted to use our 1:1 catch ups to keep them front of mind each business will have their own ways of working and will easily find a way that makes sense for them.
This is actually the second iteration of our development review process – and I’d be very surprised if it was the last! I expect that every time we conduct it we’ll tweak and improve and change it to suit the needs of our business.
For anyone considering implementing something similar I’d encourage you to focus on what your employees are looking for. For us it boiled down to an opportunity to talk about them, their careers, their development and their goals. Not Ento, not KPI’s and not a comparison to their colleagues. Each time we conduct development reviews we’ll go looking for more feedback to make sure we’re meeting the needs of our team and we’ll course adjust accordingly.
In the process of editing this blog post I’ve realised that I’ve referenced a couple of points where your team members might realise that the role or company isn’t quite right and to begin the process of exiting. While it’s easy to latch onto the negative connotations of this – remember that for everyone who does stay it’s an opportunity for them to re-evaluate their role fit and “opt-in” again.
Complacency sinks in when you’ve been doing something for a while and by reconsidering your options and opting in again you re-awaken your enthusiasm for what you are undertaking. If you don’t take the chance to reconsider the pros and cons you’ll wake up 3 years down the track a million miles from what you set out to achieve. In life, in love and in your career – choosing to be present by opting-in over and over will help you derive value from your everyday.