Performance Reviews

  • August 24, 2012
  • Scott

When Jean-Louis Gassée has something to say, it is generally worth listening.  His take on a less HR-heavy performance review process is great reading, and he makes recommendations that most organizations could take to heart and apply.

First, he quickly covers the ills of stack ranking:

But Microsoft’s implementation — “stack ranking”, a bell curve that pits employees and groups against one another like rats in a cage — plunged the company into internecine fights, horse trading, and backstabbing.

And of course this turns the focus to politics and positioning rather than performance.

His recipe for better reviews:

A review must start with three key ingredients, in this order:

  • First: Because your performance meets/exceeds requirements, we’ll renew our vows, our work relationship will continue.
  • Second: Here are your new numbers: salary, bonus, stock.
  • Third: We’re sufficiently happy with your performance as it stands today, so feel free to disregard the observations and suggestions for improvement I’m about to make. Now let’s talk…

We have a different approach at BP3, but I think it relies on the same formula.  It requires that you have respect for your team member, respect for their work and methods, and respect for their need for feedback.

If you start from that tenet – that you are both adults in this working relationship and respect each other, then you can focus on the content (feedback) rather than on the formalities.

At BP3 we try (not always successfully) to provide as much feedback as possible along the way.  We don’t hold formal reviews. But bonuses are paid regularly (quarterly) and provide frequent “moments of truth” if we are ever tempted to sugar coat feedback that is negative, or to downplay positive performance.  The raw numbers of the bonuses will contradict us if we do that.

It is really refreshing to see such a respected person in the field of software advocating for a more open and HR-less approach to reviews.  There’s hope for our industry yet!


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