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Performance Reviews Are a Waste of Time (bradfieldcs.com)
597 points by ozanonay 8 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 321 comments

Paraphrasing what a manager told me once: "If anything in your performance review is a surprise, then I have failed as a manager."

Coaching is not a purpose of a performance review. The coaching and communication should be an ongoing process that happens before the review. Problems should be brought up early enough that you have a chance to change or improve before it gets to the point of being written in a review. If this doesn't happen, it's a sign that the manager is either terrible at communication, not even trying to coach and improve their employees, or even sabotaging you on purpose.

Instead, the purpose of performance reviews is documentation. It can be for good or for bad, depending on the person's performance. It makes info available to others and preserves it in case you transfer departments, your manager leaves, etc. Like any other documentation, it creates overhead, but you have to weigh that against the value it provides, and IMHO that's what should determine whether you do it (and how often).

We have performance reviews not annually, but every few years.

My last review, the head of our division got really angry with me and gave me a very negative, punitive review.

What I am infuriated about is that never in that few years did I receive any negative feedback, and I tried to do exactly what our subdivision had decided as a group to do, and what the immediate superior had wanted. My last review was glowing, perfect. So I go from a perfect review to being treated like a failure, fireable, with no negative feedback in the interim.

Imagine if you in your area had discussed things, come to consensus decisions, you were willing to do everything asked of you, and then four years later someone higher up singles you out and yells at you for not doing what you're supposed to etc. As if you've been getting feedback that whole time.

The worst part of this is that I know someone in our area is close friends with this division head and basically complains about everyone except one person in our area.

So now I have this negative review, as if I were just being lazy, even impaired in my duties, and not doing my part when the whole time I just thought I was doing what we were supposed to.

It's depressing as hell to me, and also angering.

I had something similar happen at my old company, an 8 person startup.

I was more or less asked to quit (coincidently I was planning to hand my notice in that day anyway) by the CEO. Never once had the CEO actually pulled me aside or talked to me about his perceived problems with me. He was perfectly happy with the quantity and quality of work I put out, but apparently there were cultural and attitude issues or something.

I was supposed to have a performance review/catchup every 3 months, I was very low contact with the CEO as he worked remotely and traveled a lot. I had never heard any problems from my supervisor before this final meeting with the CEO.

It was pretty shitty when he started bringing up things that he had problems with that happened 3 or 6 months ago. Things that I had never gotten more than a snarky slack message about.

Maybe if I had had those reviews, I would've worked on whatever issues he had, I may have been a happier employee and not wanted to quit, and he may have ended up with a nicer employee he didn't want to fire.

It really pissed me off and unfortunately (for both of us, really), I never got to tell him how I felt about the whole situation, as I wanted to get a good reference for my next job (which incidentally pays double what I was earning).

Same here but different reason. I worked in Software Engineering for a financial organization when I announced the arrival of my first child to head of HR (Monday). My performance review was scheduled for Tuesday but my manager postponed to Friday. I was fired (because of my baby) that Friday by head of HR instead of sitting down in 1-1 with my manager or CTO. They just didn't have the guts to tell me that my productivity will drop b/c of lack of sleep, etc. Shitty move but lesson learned: don't announce the due date of your unborn child BEFORE a performance review! Better don't announce it at all if you wanna keep your job.

I take it that in the USA, pregnancy discrimination isn't illegal, or at least isn't for the father?

Terrible move from the company either way. Firing people is expensive, first you lose a whole lot of institutional knowledge, then hiring a person is expensive (especially if you use a recruiter), then you have to train a new person up, which takes about 3 months to get them up to speed.

The sensible option is to discuss options, such as working reduced hours (e.g. only afternoons) for a time. Of course, in many developed countries (the USA excluded), paid parental leave is legally guaranteed or even mandatory.

Apparently pregnancy is a protected status, but parenthood isn't: https://www.nolo.com/legal-encyclopedia/federal-antidiscrimi...

It could have been a positioning move to justify firing down the road. I freelance now but when I went through 9-5 I found the key to positive outcomes was always tied to confidence. The confidence I tried to harness cane in a form of acting like I was the boss with nobody above me. I found that my own bosses saw this as a strength and never questioned my judgement. Even when someone came back with logical counterpoints I'd stick up for my opinion very aggressively.

I can't imagine working in a place that yells at me - that would be the final nail in the coffin where I would that that person everything I think of them and their inaptitude to "manage". I guess that's why I no longer punch the clock.

> Even when someone came back with logical counterpoints I'd stick up for my opinion very aggressively.

I hate this so much. I hate it even more, because it's mostly true that it works. YMMV, and I'm talking of non-technical organisations or organisation where tech is a cost-centre rather than value-add.

Those who don't fully understand it (it being whatever technical disagreement or choice made), which is usually the majority, will side with you. The remainder are usually people who can see that the organisation is structured this way and either give up out of apathy or leave for greener pastures.

If someone literally yells at me, I'm out. Notice in that day, usually within the hour. If the organisation is willing to allow that behaviour, it's usually toxic. If I'm on contract (which I always am now), my opinion within that organisation will no longer be respected. Notice of non-renewal immediately.

Do you tell your clients before taking on work about your requirements, or is it first strike you're out?

I alternately contract and consult, and I wouldn't think it necessary to tell a client that, if they endorse yelling as interaction, I'm not sticking around. That's normal-people stuff--they should already know Because healthy environments don't do that.

To be clear: I wasn't endorsing yelling. I was just wondering how consultants pre-empt negative results.

Surely some clients do yell, and presumably if they think it is acceptable to yell, they would be surprised at an abrupt end to a contract!

No I don't tell clients that up front - although I don't think it's necessary to. It's like saying if someone assaults me, or my shortcomings are going to be publicly broadcasted throughout the company, I'd tell them that's not something I'm okay with. Nobody should expect either of those things to happen.

On being yelled at, it's only happened once - and I'm pretty sure the person doing the yelling was having a bit of a breakdown. Getting yelled at is a very strange thing in a work environment.

Those are very fireable clients, though.

"Review" sounds official and somehow based on a methodology, but in reality it's just the subjective feelings of some dude. A dude that often has to pretend that he/she understands the technology, what is difficult or not, and who is doing good work.

As you have noticed, you can output the same quality of work and it can be seen as very good or not so good at different times, or with different people, because feelings.

> because feelings

That is so true. Probably why people leave every couple of years. I hate performance reviews. They try to be objective and yet so many personal feelings involved.

Finding a good manager is hard. Someone who understands tech and gives frequent objective feedback. That’s really really hard.

Most managers I’ve seen go into Management because they don’t like coding. They then want to be far away from it. That creates problems because they don’t understand why things are constantly regressing. They blame it on their engineers and start handing out shitty reviews when the actual problem was there is just a metric ton of code debt that they don’t want to hear about.

The other thing is they like being people managers. All the way up to Group managers (managers of managers). They truly enjoy re-orging people around. I guess that’s how they feel important. But they forget it’s the product that matters. As the org gets bigger, less and less people actually give a shit about the product as a whole.

I have yet to find a manager that takes code debt and product seriously. I’m on my Manager #10.

If you are a manager, I kindly urge you to listen both to your customers and your engineers. Get a reverse performance review. The world will be happier.

Sounds like it's time to move on. Every once in a while you'll run into some incompentent manager like that. The best thing to do is look for better opportunities elsewhere, move on and never look back.

That really sucks. But also what's the point of even having reviews it if it's going to be years in between them? There doesn't seem to be any upside, but lots of downside

> what's the point of even having reviews if it's going to be years in between them?

Unfortunately, I would bet the point is to do exactly the kinds of things that "really sucks" which this individual encountered. I'd hazard a guess that the multi-year review situation isn't consistent, either. It probably is decided "it's review time" when management has decided things aren't going well, so they use the reviews to crap all over staff. I wouldn't be surprised if this review cycle comes immediately before a round of layoffs/redundancies, as well.

That sounds like Seagull Management


The whole experience in hindsight made me realize that annual reviews would be a lot better. Although I deeply empathize with the idea that performance reviews in general are kind of misguided, because you should be getting accurate feedback continuously.

How long ago was this? You could take it up with someone higher up the food chain, providing you can demonstrate your successes and prove the review is unjust. A decent company doesn't want to lose talented, hard working employees through the malicious actions of middle managers.

Same thing has happened to me before. I was in a funk about it for a while, but it gets easier--especially if you polish the 'ole resume and start looking for alternatives.

An opposing viewpoint from Andy Grove's High Output Management:

Let's talk about surprises. If you have discharged supervisory responsibilities adequately throughout the year, holding regular one- on-one meetings and providing guidance when needed, there should never be surprises at a performance, right? Wrong. When you are using the worksheet, sometimes you come up with a message that will startle you. So what do you do? You're faced with either delivering the message or not, but if the purpose of the review is to improve your subordinate's performance, you must deliver it. Preferably, a review should not contain any surprises, but if you uncover one, swallow hard and bring it up.

I don't think that's an opposing viewpoint.

If a manager discovers a long-standing issue whilst preparing for the performance review, then yes, they absolutely must "swallow hard and bring it up".

But not having noticed or provided feedback about that issue at any point in the past is still a failure of management.

I was a manager at Intel during the Grove era. The ranking & rating process of those days forced a team of 8 or so peer managers to look at the performance of all of their reports together. Having 7 other managers point out an issue with one of your reports tends to help you get calibrated. Is it a failure of management to be poorly calibrated about your own people? Yes, a common one.

Hence the hard swallowing.

The cost-benefit still doesn't make sense to me. He's talking about doing a very expensive & generally counter-productive activity in the off chance that you might uncover some insight about your employee. I usually tell people the first half of High Output Management is good, but to skip the second half...

In my view, giving someone a negative review is only one among many options for dealing with a performance issue. You could always give a neutral review (in terms of the overall rating) and discuss the issue with them verbally, or pledge to resolve the issue in the next year.

If it means you have to let someone have a neutral review that they don't deserve... swallow hard, and start managing after the review is done.

Remember that your employees will be interpreting the review in light of the corporate culture, which they are fully aware of. They will also know whether the problem that you discovered is real or not.

> swallow hard

I think that's the moment the "failure" is realized.

That's an opposing viewpoint to "If anything in your performance review is a surprise, then I have failed as a manager" if and only if managers are infallible.

> If anything in your performance review is a surprise, then I have failed as a manager.

I hear that a lot and tend to agree with the statement. I even used to say it in the opposite "If I get a bad review, that's a signal that I need a new job, because I think I'm doing well and I must have a terrible manager if he'd wait a whole year to tell me otherwise".

And though I'm going to counter it, it's not inaccurate -- an employee shouldn't land in a review expecting that they've been doing wonderfully only to find out that they've been stinking up the place (or vice-versa), but the best manager that I have ever had, Lou, did surprise me at my first review. I wrote about it in another comment on this post so I won't rehash it, but I came to understand this as one of the benefits of performance review time.

Managers are rarely thinking about ways that a top-performing employee can improve, but everyone has something they can improve and a good manager will provide feedback to a staff member if there are areas that they, and others are noticing, that the employee may not be seeing. Because "top performers" don't require the attention that other staff might, a formal review may be the only time that a manager really takes the time to think about them in the context of "improvement". In addition, it's easier to bring up areas of improvement during this time, because it is set aside as one of the purposes of a formal review. In the couple of decades that I've been working, I've had two managers offer me anything in the way of "areas for improvement" -- both times were at reviews -- outside of a review it has never come up.

So yes, it is obscene for a manager to wait until review time to bring up a year's worth of failures, but being surprised by a bit of negative feedback -- provided it's not "Fix this or your getting a pink-slip" kind of feedback, isn't necessarily a management failure. It was quite helpful to me and I count Lou among about 3 people who I feel honored to have known[0] because their impact, caring and advice was life-changing for me.

[0] The other two were my HS programming teacher (who's class I enjoyed in Junior High), the late, great, Mr. Dzwonkiewicz who made me love writing software at a young age, and the woman who cured my social anxiety and made me enjoy public speaking -- the director of To Kill a Mockingbird that I performed in as a young teenager. Her name, though, escapes me. :)

If I get a bad review, that's a signal that I need a new job, because I think I'm doing well and I must have a terrible manager if he'd wait a whole year to tell me otherwise

This exactly. I've had two and half performance improvement plans in my 20 years.

1. My performance and attitude really did suck. I had been at a company too long (9 years), raises were anemic and the bonuses had gotten cut over the years to the point that in year 9 I only made $7K more than I did in year 2. My skillset had atrophied because I was both dealing with personal issues and concentrating on other "working hobbies" where I was making extra money. It was a horrible cycle. The further behind I fell salary wise, the worse my attitude got. I finally left 10 years ago and learned a lot from that mistake.

2. The second time (two jobs later, the company I worked for after the first event went out of business) wasn't because of performance but because I stepped on the wrong coworkers toes - a team lead that wasn't my manager. I learned this time around. I played the political game long enough after the PIP to get a set of skills I wanted (about three months) and left and got another job making 25K more. I did learn some political skills from that experience.

3. I went to another company where I was hired by a manager who was told by his manager to bring people in who could "affect change". The old guard won over, my manager's manager was laid off and my manager was forced out three months later. I got a bad review from my new manager - as did everyone my manager had hired - and we all left within 3 months. This time I left for $13k more and got a job as a team lead.

- I was now working for a company that wasn't a software company, I was brought in to create a modern software department and then we got acquired and the new edict was that they "didn't want to be a Software company". But they did need at least two major projects done that I was responsible for, but they would only let me hire contractors and the red tape to get anything done was ridiculous. After realizing I was going to be made the fall guy and getting a preview of what my review was going to be, I started looking for another job and had one in 10 days making $7K more with less official responsibility but more decision making ability and I'm able to get more done with no red tape (i.e. I'm admin for AWS)

My official PIP at job 2 happened about four years ago. Since then and three jobs later, I'm making 40K more and I am a lot smarter politically now.

Any tips you can share on how you improved your political game?

Robert Greene's 48 Laws of Power. There are one or two that I feel are unethical (Law #7 in particular).

They should rename this "48 Laws Of Getting By In Mediocre to Poor Organizations".

Poor managers are threatened by underlings smarter than themselves. Good managers seek people smarter than themselves then try to get the best out of them.

Poor organizations are those where everyone tip toes around afraid to mention reality lest it offend someone. These are organizations on the path of decline. Growing organizations are those that value them who perceive reality and lay out reality so that it can be worked with.

Great organizations and teams don't have time or tolerance for much of the stuff in this doc, they are too busy doing.

Organizations where people don't have enough real work to do are places where these approaches win. And these are places that have generally devolved to survival by some form of legalized theft or lock in rather than innovation and production. Most big Co's. and .govs certainly. It's sad really but I think it's a natural cycle. The new comes up and replaces the old as the old gets corrupted, only to itself become infected with this kind of corruption over time. I don't know that there is a cure once this kind of thing starts and it inevitably seems to.

There are ways to do things and affect change without stepping on toes. By nature, I have very low emotional intelligence. It was a skill I had to learn. I start off building and nurturing relationships, slowly proving my effectiveness, and then slowly start implementing change.

This goes along with the three types of power in an organization - relationship, expert and role power. You'd be amazed by the things you can accomplish in smaller organizations with no role power if you build the right relationships and you prove yourself.

>>Poor managers are threatened by underlings smarter than themselves.

That's law #1, "Never outshine the master."

>>Good managers seek people smarter than themselves then try to get the best out of them.

Fundamental laws of power say, Never hire anyone that could be become your boss.

>>Great organizations and teams don't have time or tolerance for much of the stuff in this doc, they are too busy doing.

No such organization exist. Power structures are an axiom of the very groups existence.

Sadly, not many organizations of this type do exist, you are correct, particularly I'd imagine, in some parts of the globe.

But on occasion, temporarily, teams and organizations like this do exist. I've worked in them. It's how stuff gets built initially before the game players take over.

Because these power structures are _not_ axioms of groups but rather symptoms of productive decay.

Statistically, the majority of organisations are mediocre.

Are you for real with this? This is the dumbest books I've seen in a while. Don't outshine the Masters? Wtf kind of cringey corporate hell scenario did this come from...


Real world examples:

1. I went into one company knowing I knew more than the “team lead” who was 10 years younger. I wasn’t careful not to step on toes.

2. At work, especially at a large company (the same company as #1). Everyone was jockeying for position and to get known. “Friends” were more than eager to stab you in the back. Also, a lesson I was too naive to know early in my career was that your manager is not your friend.

3. I’m not going to let anyone know that I am jumping on the new high profile, new to me technology to pad my resume. I’m also going to act like I care about my review and that Im happy with the meager raise all the while I am looking for another job.

5. Once you get a bad reputation - it’s impossible to recover from. Even if it’s not your fault. Once that happens, it’s time to jump ship.

I could go on.

Nothing that corporate America does is in the best interest of their employeres. Working is a simple transaction. They pay me for 40 hours a week, I do my best work while working for them but there is no loyalty from the employer so why should we be loyal to them?

Of course I’m not implying being unethical - goofing off, corporate espionage, competing against your employer,etc.

Which “law” do you disagree with? I’ve already said that I think 7 is unethical.

This book might seem dumb at age 20 until you get blindsided by the rules at age 40.

#1 is fantastic advice. If you make your master insecure you are finished at that location. You either have to quit or move up/elsewhere in the organization.

If you are going to shine then you have to shine in ways that are not in direct competition to your immediate masters.

Even a seemingly great workplace can turn toxic very quickly

Oh wow, Law # 7 is my boss’ favorite.

Machiavelli's The Prince?

My tip: Don't.

I stick with three general rules:

Don't ever complain. Don't complain about coworkers, the quality of work they do, their attitudes. That guy/gal who complains to you about everyone you work with is complaining about you to everyone else. When you do complain about others, people assume you're complaining about them, too. The only way to be a "safe person" is to avoid this reputation. Don't complain about the customers you work with. That attitude will unconsciously cause you to do poorer quality work and will make you dread doing the work that you have to do. Don't complain about the company. Do this frequently enough and the rare occasion where there is a reason that truly warrants complaining and you'll be listened to[0]. You won't be directly recognized for not complaining, but people naturally prefer to work with non-negative people.

Genuinely thank and compliment people when they do good things. The key is "genuinely"; this means making sure that your thanks/compliment isn't taken as flattery, which can wreck a reputation quickly. Make it a point to find a way to thank people in a way that helps them out, too. Pointing out how someone did great work at the end of a meeting while the boss is packing up their laptop/notes is better than a simple e-mail. The same can be said about complimenting someone in front of a coworker that they have difficulty with. I generally deliver all praise verbally, as well -- this is mostly because I can only put myself in my own shoes on this one - a verbal, genuine, "thank you" feels better than a written note.

Beware of advice about improving your political game, in general. Everyone can see through a "corporate politician's bullsh!t" (except for the person they're applying it to ... but they'll notice it once it's too late). Those sorts of political games are designed to control other's behavior. The laws of nature cause us to resist those who seek to control us. You can only slightly, imperfectly, manipulate others. Stop trying and tackle your own behavior instead. The real benefit to these two rules is that it makes you happier which makes you better at your job.

And the final bit of advice is if you've done or are doing those two things and are still surrounded by politics/unhappy, it's time to leave. In our industry, there's a better job elsewhere. It's not worth sticking around in a dysfunctional environment and it does nobody any favors. Your employer is paying you to do a job. If you're not happy, you're not giving her/him the return they deserve for that payment -- they'd be better off finding someone who thrives in that environment and you'd be better of finding one that you thrive in. And if the environment is simply toxic, sticking around and trying to fix it isn't going to work and will, instead, re-affirm that the toxicity is a good thing. Leaving is the strongest signal you can send to an employer that things are not good. I've watched an organization change due to the "pot boiling over effect" where a few key folks left, causing a large exodus of others who realized, finally, that they couldn't do their own job in addition to the jobs of those who left. It happened over the course of three months and resulted ended when HR stepped in and worked with the managers to sort out large raises, retention bonuses and the firing of some historically toxic managers. Don't fear leaving a job. You managed to get proficient enough at the work you're currently doing to be where you are -- you'll do the same, elsewhere, though if you take the time to find a good job, rather than having that forced on you via a layoff, you're much more likely to end up somewhere that is dramatically better than what you're slogging through at your current employer. Find the environment that you'd want to work in until you retire and take that job[1].

[0] There's a long story behind this that I'm happy to share if someone's interested, but this worked astoundingly well for me on the one occasion that I took a very serious issue with a very strong complaint to a manager. It works like profanity. When the gal/guy who never curses drops a well-placed F-Bomb, whatever that person just said is remembered. You even see this in stand-up comedy -- the "clean comic" who drops a single F-Bomb in the middle of what would have been a pretty weak punch-line ends up getting roaring laughter, unlike the guy who throws them into every sentence.

[1] It also helps to learn how to interview well. Out of about ~20 jobs I've interviewed for in my life, I've gotten an offer at 19.5 of them. The majority of them I have turned down and almost all of those were met with counter-offers, all of which I also turned down. That sounds like gloating and it's not intended -- so I'll clarify that most of these interviews came to me (I wasn't looking at the time and was directly solicited) and all of the jobs I've interviewed for, I was also well qualified for and they were jobs I really wanted (the "one-half" situation was because I told the interviewer that I was no longer interested in the position at the end of the interview, so I really have no idea if I would have been given an offer, but I suspect not). My childhood involved a lot of community theater (and two paid gigs) so I am lucky in that all of that practice results in me lacking the typical nerves when public speaking, which isn't all that different from talking to strangers across an interview table. It comes across as "confidence" when in reality it's just a matter of it not being a terribly big deal for me. The best advice I can give on that is for the week or so prior to an interview, practice talking to strangers (and brush up on techniques around that -- there's plenty of advice in that area on the internet)

The redux version of your comment is "Don't show your emotions in front of others, but actively plan your moves in silence"

Laws 3, 4, 5 in the 48 laws of power.

Also when you gossip to one person about another or let that person gossip around you, you are "committing" to that person and taking sides - something else you shouldn't do.

Thanks for sharing your experience. I'm still early in my career so it helps to hear this.

That gives me an excuse to give another piece of advice....

In the grand scheme of things, there are three things I think developers should look for.

1. Technology - always look for companies that will give you a marketable skillset. It's worth sacrificing some amount of free time, a not so great environment, and money temporarily. The money will come. Leave a company if you're not learning (of course vesting in stock options, etc. may change the decision)

2. Environment - if you can find a better environment (for you) and still can use marketable technology, why stick around? Wrong environment could be long work hours, a far commute, a small vs larger company (depending on preference).

3. Money. Life is too short not to make as much money as you can doing what you enjoy.

This is excellent advice, and I just wanted to add one thing: under "environment", I would also include "people". I want to be working with smart, driven, friendly, respectful people. YMMV on those specific people traits that you value, but to me who I work with is one of the most important things on the list for job satisfaction.

Good people help you learn along the way, and you can pay if back by mentoring other good people. They will also remember you (and you can remember them) down the road when you've moved on to new companies and someone needs a new job.

This - yes. The reason I love my current job and loved my last one was that I was surrounded by people who knew things that I didn't, who came into work excited to work and who were generally just awesome people.

The key here is to not get complacent. You need to carry that same attitude and approach to work that you enjoy so much out of the people you work with. Luckily, for me, I worked in a very low moral environment for quite a while and outside of my closest friend and coworker, and less than about 7 other people, we had to be the uplifting folks. When I started working at the job that followed the one I stayed at way too long, and people were excited to work on projects, didn't complain before meetings started, and generally didn't have a negative thing to say about the company, the customers or their coworkers, I was in shock for a bit. I didn't believe a place like this actually existed. I'm now moved on from that place at another place with the exact same kind of people. It's amazing how different things are when you are surrounded by people like that versus when you're surrounded by people who are demoralized full-time. I'm a pretty strong optimist and don't require much in the way of external motivation -- (4 kids, single-income family -- a paycheck is the only motivation I need), but it sure is easier to stay motivated when everyone around you is having fun, too.

Definitely. At the job where I was the "architect", I felt lost. I could only learn technical things from reading. I was hired to be the "smartest person in the room" but that meant I couldn't learn. But I did learn a lot more about leadership, being responsible for a project budget, interviewing, hiring, technical decision from a strategic viewpoint etc.

Excellent points and thanks for your two posts; they were both enjoyable reads. I'd like to add a little bit on each, as well.

1. Technology - Also make sure the place you're applying to is willing to give you the tools you require to do your job well. A company that's willing to pay your (very likely) high salary, but then won't drop $2,000 - $1,000/yr on software tools/hardware that make you more efficient is probably an indication that things aren't great over there.

2. Environment - Your job is not your family. Despite the new-speak, you're not on a team with a bunch of team-mates. You are bought and paid for and the person who paid for you expects to get a return for their purchase. If the environment is bad, leaving is the right thing to do[0] for both yourself and your employer. If you stay in a bad environment, you're miserable and you can't provide your best work where you're not happy. Your employer is better off having someone else do your job and you're better off finding some other place to offer your work. And if it's not just a "bad fit", but is actually a "truly awful environment", sticking around simply re-enforces your employer's mindset that everything's fine.

3. Money - I have a feeling you may take some heat for that statement but I completely agree. You'll hear plenty of people complain about other people having too much money but you'll (almost) never hear people complain about having too much money, themselves -- even at, what today, you might consider "absurd salaries". This advice applies somewhat uniquely to our industry where there almost certainly is an opening out there at a company that both pays well and is the specific work that you love to do[1]. I kick myself for turning down four different job offers over the years and chose, instead, to work too long at my first, serious, job. I let "fear of the unknown" convince me that there's too high of a probability that I'd like my next job less than my current job (and I convinced myself that this actually mattered).

[0] Though I would suggest, first, having a direct conversation about things that aren't working for you. It's not easy to do but I've found it to have positive results. And if it doesn't, it'll help reaffirm that you need to do the right thing and get out.

[1] My ex-wife once looked over at the code on my screen while we were sitting in bed watching television and said "Is this what you do all day?". I smiled, excited that she was taking an interest in the work that I was doing and wanted to know more about it. I said "Sure is" (beaming a little too much). She paused, and in a serious voice that, to this day, I will never forget said "I'd kill myself if I had to do what you do."

I specified a bad environment - for you. Some people like large companies others like small companies where they can wear a lot of hats. Some people like structure others don’t. Some people like the “bro culture”. Sometimes it just the commute...

Completely agree - I hope my phrasing didn't come off as otherwise in my prior reply. :)

The commute situation used to be pretty awful for me -- my first "real job" involved a 62 mile round-trip (for 7 of the 17 or so years I was there). My current job is "in the office" and involves a 35-40 minute one-way commute and it's really my only environment-related complaint. It was easily solved, though, through two things. (1) My company is time flexible and having worked for a team in the UK over here in the Eastern Time Zone, I got used to waking up at 5:00 AM, so I get into work at around 6:30 AM, avoiding rush hour on both sides and (2) easily the the best fix -- I got my CY endorsement[0] and purchased a motorcycle ... in the spring/summer/fall months, my commute is all kinds of fun[1].

[0] It seriously cost all of $25 and involved a weekend with most of it spent riding a motorcycle. I can't think of a cheaper form of entertainment and I've convinced two other people to drop the $25 bucks -- both are licensed, now, and neither own a bike.

[1] This is my 6th year as a motorcycle owner/rider and every year, including this one, the day that I know is going to be my last day riding for the year is actually depressing. And I wait in anticipation for the day that I'll be able to ride into work every day, again. There are mornings that I wake up excited just to hit the road. So, at least for me, it hasn't gotten old yet and I don't see it getting old anytime soon.

I like to distinguish between a toxic environment - one where you are being constantly harrassed, bullied, demean, forced into doing things that are illegal or unethical, etc. and a "bad fit for you".

I would never suggest someone suck it up and deal with sexual harassment for the chance to learn new technology and build thier resume. But if you have to deal with a long commute, long hours, or the red tape of a large company for a little while to build your resume, that's a different story.

Having the one large well known company I worked at for 2.5 years opened a lot of doors for me. But now that I have choices, I wouldn't go near a large company unless I was desperate.

Not only that, a performance review is a synthesis.

You don't just staple your semester of class notes together and hand that in as your final paper.

A good performance review will identify trends, make recommendations, and use examples while still separating the signal from the noise.

I think there's another reason for annual performance reviews ... to remind management that it's time for a COLA without it becoming a big deal

The only way to get some COLA is to get a new job.

What's a COLA?

Cost of Living Adjustment

Maybe you shouldn't frame your compensation in terms of a "COLA adjustment" although I'm quite sure your employer would prefer that meek mindset.

I've been in this biz for 40 years, I've had years of way above average salary jumps - I expect a COLA every year, not something unreasonable

My experience is just the opposite in my 22 years. I've only twice received a raise of more than 3% - once in 1997 when I was "promoted" to a junior programmer from a computer operator ($11K) and once again in 2000 at a different job with a ($10K) market adjustment.

I learned my lesson after 7 years of COLAs (I was a slow learner /s). Jump ship at the first sign that the company won't pay you your market rate.

Now 10 years, 5 jobs, and $70K later, I don't expect major jumps anymore. I'm within $15,000 of the most that any company in my local market is willing to pay an individual contributor. I have no desire for management and I live a comfortable life.

What does COLA mean? I've no clue and googling the term just brings up soft drinks and cocaine. I guess a fancy term for bonus/raise?

Cost Of Living Adjustment

yes, exactly that - basically correcting for inflation

Cost of living adjustment?

I usually say this to my direct reports- "we have to do the review, but I promise there won't be any surprises!" And then I focus the review on how I value their contribution, how they positively influence their coworkers and clients. And if we are in-progress on improving something, we set those things as written goals for the next year.

This doesn't really work in organisationa with a high manager turnover. Where I work, I've had 12 managers in 15 years, so each manager doesn't really know me, or the 'goodwill' I have within our organisation and with our customers. They really are a waste of time at some orgs.

Performance reviews sound so cringey, I don't know how people can subject themselves to such practices. I guess it's one of those legacy practices to allow people to move up the ladder.

Done right they are actually helpful for everyone involved, especially if everyone goes in with a growth mindset.

I was a young employee during a recession, and finding work was difficult. When I landed my first job I was I was grateful and focused on ways I might make my work contribute to the company's bottom line, by pushing the limits of my job description and tasks to ensure my role impacted revenue and value creation. I appreciated training and feedback, but forced myself to deliver results autonomously through self-teaching and long hours. Perhaps it was because I grew up as the son of a small business owner, or because I worked throughout high school and college, I was closely attuned to the businesses needs and I delivered results that met or exceeded expectations. How do I know? Because as I look back on what is now a long career I can't recall ever having a performance review, a counseling session, or retraining. I only remember anticipating needs and delivering results.

Today I have my own company and I try to hire the same type of person. It is a profile increasingly hard to find. Someone who "needs" a review is typically not a good fit for my management style, and someone who can anticipate the needs of my business I try very hard to retain.

No offense, but this is the kind of thinking that leads to workplace bias. Working styles like this tend to reinforce hiring single, young men who are otherwise unencumbered so they can work long hours and push the envelope of the job description. That leads to a lot of group think, and products that are built for a very small subset of users — so there is real business value in diversity.

Reviews are important for someone with whom you don’t share a lot of built in cultural cues. Your experience with this working style has been positive, because you were born and raised speaking the jargon. If they come from a different background, they may not actually know what is important for the company because they haven’t spent their whole life interpreting these cultural cues.

This is what we call a “blind spot” — you have had success with your working style, and start to assume it’s the only effective way to do the work. I promise you it is not, and as a manager you should be doing more to communicate needs/value opportunities to your direct reports. Your view of what those are may be different from theirs.

He spoke about being a young man willing to put in the hours starting out to learn his craft. Yes, the young need to learn a lot after schooling just to keep up.

After that, he spoke about figuring out how to provide the most value for the business. I've had a 25+ year career and can verify that everyone should follow this advice.

Whatever hidden biases we are concerned about in the workplace, they all pale in comparison to the metric of fulfilling the purpose of the company. It took me a few years to realize that businesses were less interested in paying me because I was smart and could solve hard problems and more interested in how I could measure and move the purposes of the company.

The only direct value a manager provides to a company is a regular calibration of employee purpose with the purpose of the business. This is best done with regular 1-on-1s, not through semi-annual reviews.

There are other indirect things that a good manager brings to the table which mostly revolve around increasing employee happiness and satisfaction, but all of it pales in comparison to aligning employee and company purpose.

counterpoint: the harder he tries to provide value to the business, the business typically only offers the exact same basic salary value to him.

sure, there are exceptions -- but they are exceptions.

my career has taught me that adding as much value as you see the potential for adding is a surefire way to get a promotion, complete with an extra 2% salary and the new expectation of you continuing to work at 110%.

oh yeah, and you get a good reference.

but seriously give me a break. if you're in a position to add so much value to a company, you should be elsewhere in another company, two levels up. good companies don't leave easy pickings hanging.

It’s all virtue-signaling in the end, and a manager from the same background is going to be more receptive to virtue-signaling from their own cultural background than from someone with a different background.

Formal reviews distill virtue signaling into a standard process with explicit rules rather than an informal set of norms that individuals may or may not be aware of.

I think there are a lot of ways to make the rules explicit that don't require formal reviews. A formal review process can be equally biased by incentivizing people to game the system by targeting easy wins rather than tackling harder, more important problems.

For instance, tackling existing bugs or documenting code often seems to be undervalued compared with writing new code, when writing new code often just introduces new bugs and requires new documentation. If you start tracking bugs, people will benefit from creating and tackling easy bugs, while tackling harder bugs is effectively a punishment.

Goodhart's law: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goodhart%27s_law

Regardless, defined performance metrics are better than none at all. You have to create the formality around performance evaluation or else you end up with those who understand the informal rules outperforming those who don’t simply because they grew up in a certain environment. I don’t think anyone would claim that’s fair, but that’s how the “meritocracy” works when you don’t define these things formally.

On the flip side, when you do define these things formally, you end up with those who can and will game the formal rules more effectively outperforming those who don't. This isn't fair either, and there are probably all sorts of biases in who is willing and able to game such metrics (for example, I have seen men game them more often).

Evaluating performance is tough. Evaluating performance without greatly distorting incentives is much tougher. I agree fairness should be a consideration, but it is not the primary purpose of a business.

By not defining them, you leave the priorities of the business up to what amounts to a popularity contest with each manager. Raises and promotions thus get handed out to the people who are most likable.

Senior executives (usually VP and above) at major companies typically sign contracts explicitly outlining their goals for the next 12-24 months. They are incentivized or fired based on meeting those goals. And it’s the executives who demand this, not the companies.

Point being, if the executives are demanding clear performance goals for themselves, it’s probably good practice. Managers typically are not responsive to demands from below, so guess where the mandate has to come from.

You can signal virtue by actually being virtuous, or you can just talk about it.

Give me somebody who can actually do the work instead of talking about how great they are — or about how unfair others are to them.

Once you start to manage people for real, you’ll realize that the truth is often very subjective and it’s easy to appear awesome to your boss without being so when he has 8 other people to evaluate.

Getting to the bottom of it all is hard, if not impossible given the power imbalance. So yeah, virtue signaling is important when different cultures teach you to show virtue in different ways.

> That leads to a lot of group think, and products that are built for a very small subset of users — so there is real business value in diversity.

I am not sure this is true to the extent that people want it to be. You see the main benefits of diversity when groups of users use products in different ways depending on who they are. However, a large majority of products are used the same way by all people (almost all b2b products / services that I can think of and many if not most consumer products / services), so for those products I'm not sure it matters who your creators or developers are as long as they understand the industry they are making products for and they talk to users.

I can see the benefit in having a diverse workforce when it comes to discovering new markets or uses for technologies or products, but I think it would be far more important to shoot for having people from a variety of industries and backgrounds on your team to spot these opportunities as opposed to trying to preferentially hire minorities, women, parents, the elderly, lgbt, etc regardless of their backgrounds.

That being said, I do agree that communicating cultural values, mission, and expectations regularly is very, very important as many people have a suboptimal idea of how their work meshes with overall goals of the organization and what is expected of them. Regularly checking in with direct reports can help them internalize these ideas better.

I’m not talking about preferential hiring; I’m talking about removing bias from the hiring process. This must be done by the company because I guarantee the prospective employee is doing everything they can to try to virtue-signal the company in the ways they know work.

There’s an entire industry devoted to helping women and minorities better integrate with the business climate (Lean In, et al). I guarantee these people are doing a ton of work just to be able to “fit in” and close the cultural gap.

In that context, it’s not unreasonable to ask companies to do something as well. The workers most definitely are.

I agree that companies should try to help all of their employees grow and thrive, that people don't have the same cultural starting conditions, and that company led efforts need to be tailored differently for different people / groups.

It's somewhat unclear to me what you are asking managers to do in terms of removing bias. It seems natural to preferentially reward people who push the bounds of the position, who add out sized value, and who work hard. Not rewarding these people for their efforts will lead to them leaving and finding other jobs that will reward that behavior. People have different priorities in life, different aspirations, and I'm not sure why this is a problem. Those who want to work very hard and don't pursue familial obligations lose out on the benefits of having children or spending time with a SO and in return get rewarded career wise. There's an opportunity cost either way.

If I'm totally missing the point here or am off base, please correct me.

It’s more that there are people who could be rockstars, but because they weren’t immersed in startup culture or entrepreneurship since childhood, they don’t know what’s important to the business. That’s why clear goals and responsibilities are important.

Ultimately it's not about the value the people generate for a business, but the value a business generates for the people.

I'm confused on what you mean by this. Businesses don't exist to hire and pay people, and the value a business generates for users has little to do with who they hire as long as a high quality product or service is being outputted.

> This is what we call a “blind spot” — you have had success with your working style, and start to assume it’s the only effective way to do the work.

After decades in the industry, I'm comfortable that my success is repeatable (as I have done) and is the most effective way to do the work. As if there's a debate, I'm really surprised by the endless process and bad management advice circulating on the web, among the good. "This hasn't killed my company yet and I'm happy with what we have" is the refrain from small and large companies wasting time and effort (with things like scheduled reviews). Talented Managers aren't supposed to be listeners, unless you're trapped in a byzantine/hobbesian org (these emerge in different tiers).

> Reviews are important for someone with whom you don’t share a lot of built in cultural cues.

No, they aren't. They are important for you to set standards of accountability, at best...unless you really don't have power to do anything about it, which I've seen. You don't change their culture and they don't change yours, regardless of what you tell yourself. The job description and company-necessary responsibilities aren't changing based on the person. I'm not sure there's any value in going on about it, this kind of thinking is just madness.

It seems wholly unremarkable, to me, that people who work hard, try to anticipate the needs of their employers, keep the big picture in mind, and take initiative are more valuable employees. I wouldn't want to hire indolent and apathetic people, and neither should any business that either is successful or wants to be successful.

If you're worried about building products that appeal to the indolent and apathetic, just look at the entertainment industry, where actors and screenwriters work very very long hours to produce content that reliably keeps the indolent and apathetic entertained.

If you're just worried about diversity, I assure you that there are plenty of husbands, fathers, wives, mothers, and even single women, as well as both men and women of all ethnic and national backgrounds, who are diligent and conscientious.

"It seems wholly unremarkable, to me, that people who work hard, try to anticipate the needs of their employers, keep the big picture in mind, and take initiative are more valuable employees."

Sometimes they are. Sometimes they aren't. Different roles are going to require different personality types. There are scenarios in which "complacent, trustworthy, consistent" are the 3 most important traits someone needs for a role. Those things may also combine with the other skills you're mentioning, but not always.

Some roles just don't have a career track for advancement, and there's plenty of times where advancing an employee is less beneficial to a company overall so it's best to hire for someone who's just going to settle into their role and be happy with a slight pay increase from time to time.

Well, yours is another type of bias: that people are unable to have an honest and just view on their employees/applicants because they have a worls view.

I prefer dealing with people to dealing with black-boxes.

What? you are saying only young single men are willing to work hard and actually function autonomously? That is so offensive I can't fathom you actually believe that.

He never said “only“. For his argument to be true it's enough that the features are more prevalent among young single men, and me didn't say more than that.

The work ethic in question involves “long hours and self learning“ self learning implies that it probably also happens outside work hours. People who are in a relationship are obviously less likely to work long hours and self learn in their free time.

Statistically, young people are also far more willing to do long hours.

I'm a bit torn on bringing gender into it. Women are more likely to work half time, but I would expect them to be better at predicting needs (yes, I'm aware that's potentially sexist).

So basically I find everything very reasonable if you assume he didn't mean the worst possible interpretation. I don't see the gender bias, but I'm sure there are arguments I'm not aware of.


But gender is only a part of it; unconscious bias is intersectional just like identity. The fewer intersectional traits you share with someone, the greater the cultural gap you have to cover.

More formality at work in terms of expectations and progress provides a clear way to cover that gap.

He is saying that people with different background a.) won't be able to guess right what is the thing to learn that will give them advantage later on and would benefit feedback b.) have less free time to play around and thus will perform better if you don't expect tell them to figure via trial and error what is needed.

Through, my experience with this organizational style was bad, mostly because people ended in quite ugly competitive behavior. Mostly due to rules being unclear, resentment being build up, people choosing highly visible tasks instead of needed tasks and so on and so forth.a lot of insecurity everywhere.

There were also a lot of of random attempts by random colleguess to take control and micromanage random people+responsibilities in attempt to look like natural leaders. Did I mentioned insecurity? Someone tring to look like autonomous leader while being completely insecure about limits of his responsibilities and powers is highly unpleasant to work with. You deal with politics like 80% of time as result.

Not that they’re the only ones willing; but they are overwhelmingly the only ones capable of operating in the way OP describes due to a variety of societal pressures, lack of family attachment, confidence/ego, etc.

Other people are certainly willing and able to work hard and independently, but you do have to provide more formal guidance because you cannot expect someone living in a different cultural context to meet all the standards you hold yourself to. There may simply be a misunderstanding, and because I guarantee the employee would be acutely aware of the understanding gap, it’s on the manager to be aware of it as well.

Informality has a lot of benefits, but it’s also necessarily exclusive to people who don’t know the unwritten, informal rules under which you operate. This can and will lead to a homogeneous team that seems productive from the inside, but may miss other goals because they’re just unaware of them.

No I think OP means that the stereotype for what managers expects it looks like usually match that profile. Not that, it's what that takes to "work hard and actually function autonomously"

>but forced myself to deliver results autonomously through self-teaching and long hours.

He's saying that it's harder to compete on self-teaching and long hours if you also, say, have a child that you're trying to teach good values to and need to pick up from school at 3:30pm during the week. Which is a reasonable critique of the parent post, IMO.

I read the comment not as saying that other people are not willing to work hard and function autonomously, but rather that they may have a harder time than the OP did transferring those capabilities into the right practical activities for the success of the company without review/feedback, and if that is not recognized, their lack of success could be incorrectly interpreted as a lack of willingness to work hard or ability to function autonomously, rather than a lack of the same background that allowed the OP to apply the same capabilities without review/feedback.

I think the issue is that many managers and business owners do believe that and confirmation bias leads them to never challenging their own beliefs.

It is an unquestioned, invisible belief, which may bring up defensiveness when pointed out, as it is no longer (as) politically correct.

As we are sloooowly transitioning from institutionalized sexism, it becomes obvious how a premise which is offensive to someone who sees and values everyone’s contribution and dignity could be seen as naive or outlandish by people carrying unquestioned old beliefs.

It sucks that this takes as long as it does.

> I try to hire the same type of person. It is a profile increasingly hard to find.

Anyone with your profile should run their own business. It's unrealistic to expect somebody to work long hours, over-deliver for "maybe someday"-promises. People aren't as idealistic as they used to be because they were taken advantage of and learned from it.

Not everyone has the skills to run their own business. Some people prefer to be part of a team and not at the top of the pyramid. They get satisfaction by contributing.

I'd say that, in the professional world, most want to be part of a team because they want to trade the upside potential for stability and shorter, more predictable hours and a smaller, more defined scope of responsibility. You can't expect "change the world" passion from these people when they've traded that away as part of the bargain.

I think a lot of people prefer to be part of a team as it helps spread the responsibility (and more importantly, blame) around. I've worked a few "high powered" corporate jobs, and most so-called team-players at that level are really just team-blamers, yet conniving enough to single-handedly take credit for anything good that happens, while still appearing humble. It's pretty much why I quit and started my own firm. I like having the responsibility on my shoulders and enjoy putting my neck on the line. When I get something wrong, I'm only answerable to me (rather than be reprimanded by some know-it-all boss), and I can pick myself up quickly, reaim and try again. It's a less stressful experience with better results. For my staff, we discuss things, but I will never ever talk down to them or reprimand them like kids. If I do, I bet they'll just leave as soon as they can, as I did.

> Not everyone has the skills to run their own business. Some people prefer to be part of a team and not at the top of the pyramid. They get satisfaction by contributing.

Working 60+ hour weeks for a paycheck that can get gotten elsewhere provides no one with satisfaction. Anyone who rides programmers that hard will find the programmer firing his manager.

Almost none of the people that push you to do that are worth working for. Even a startup that provides RSUS.

If you want what the OP wants in an employee, you need to pay a minimum of a 30% premium over what they can get elsewhere.

It's in their best interest to acquire those skills, or keep being taken advantage of. A binary choice - that's the world we are living in right now.

> or keep being taken advantage of

Presumably they're getting paid for their work.

Yes and no. Although you are getting your paycheck, it's extremely demotivating be the only person in a team who gives a damn about getting things done. It gets more demotivating with passive aggression from your coworkers that are afraid that your performance raises the bar for everyone. It gets even more demotivating to see others promoted behind your back because they were going to the bar with the boss while you were figuring out how to deliver that critical thing to the customers.

I have personally been in those shoes and had to learn the business skills the hard way. And I don't think I had any other choice aside from giving up and becoming just another employee who doesn't care.

If you are the only one giving a damn about getting things done then it means you are in the wrong team. All teams have their rock stars and their slower devs but if they are to be called a "team" then they should all care even if they can't contribute the same amount of quality or quantity of work.

Even if you are a rockstar, your pay might be only 20% higher than that of those "slackers", more often only 5-10% or even lower than them (seniority/friends/family etc.). So all you get is a sticker "rockstar" translating in time smoothly into "ninja" (=No Income, No Job or Assets) as you become burned out and slackers are promoted.

OK, you get paid but you have to slow down, play politics, form your/join a clique, because otherwise you become hated by all your colleagues for casting a shadow on them, then be driven slowly out of the company by hiding information from you and spreading rumors about you. In other words, you are wasting the most precious thing you have - time, where you could perform much much better, for some "standard salary". Is that a good bargain?

That doesn't really make any difference. Literal indentured servants got paid for their work.

Right. But someone who's starting their own business has to spend all their time on that business, and is spending most of their income on that business. I have free time to devote to other things I find more rewarding.

and paid well "enough"

This assumes there is now way to find a company that fairly reward the effort you make, at least according to what you are content with.

Uh, no. I have no desire to start my own business, mainly because I value my off work time.

Automated business can give you way more off work time than you can imagine... I used to work 5 minutes/day running automated e-commerce.

Anecdotal but I feel like I'm that kind of person but absolutely don't want to run a business.

The worst case scenario of my own business is the whole thing crashing and me having to reorganize my life to accommodate whatever job I can find before my emergency fund runs out.

The worst case scenario for being an employee is getting fired. Pretty much the same outcome but much, much harder to hit.

If I want to start a family or just have a stable enough career to (essentially) never worry about going broke, I'll take the latter. That personality profile just makes keeping a job as simple as hitting the bare minimum requirements (which you habitually blaze past).

"People aren't as idealistic as they used to be because they were taken advantage of and learned from it."

Those of us that are trying to build high-performing organizations will still avoid and remove those types of people. And we will continue to reward and not take advantage of our people to fill our end of the bargain.

Further, those of us that are also highly self-motivated will continue to leave bad situations, not become slackers in response to being taken advantage of.

I don't think slackers are the problem. But the unappreciated high performers.

The moment somebody gets a whiff you didn't reward one of your employees for their work is the time your organization starts its decline (people talk). Frankly, I don't think you can avoid it as nobody can be really objective and tunnel vision is real. I just take it as a "nature's" way to move forward - blindspots of one company become strengths of another one, and due to past history, people would really compete against each other because of past perceived wrongdoings.

That's incorrect, he is expressing what he is able to manage. Will this limit him? Or not? That is the question.

That indicates to me that you're probably a bad manager

When I was broke and had no connections, I was willing to work the way you described.

Now that I have options, I'm not willing to expend that energy when I could save it for gym, girlfriend, self-education after hours, etc.

If I'm broke and need to switch to another industry or you're paying me multiple times my next best offer I'll do that.

Otherwise, no, my manager needs to do his job instead of asking me to do it for him

That said I'm now entering a graduate school and am willing to do that in this context because I'm intrinsically interested in learning the applied math I'll be working on

Software jobs, no

You would probably need to hire people who are interested in running their own business im a few years and mentor them towards that end to get that kind of commitment in my opinion

Someone who "needs" a review is typically not a good fit for my management style.

If your organization gets large enough, then out of necessity, you will have many different managers with many different styles. That is usually the point when a performance review system needs to become more formalized - it's important to be sure that in some ways, all managers are treating their reports similarly, even if it means some of them changing their default management style.

What exactly is your management style then? A review doesn't need to be the typical corporate slog - it's simply feedback comparing reality with plans and execution. It let's you know if (a) your planning is any good and (b) your execution was successful.

Looking for someone to "anticipate the needs of my business" is great, but how do you respond to someone who makes a mistake or pursues a strategy different from your ideal? Do you fire them on the spot like the emperor or learn from it. If it's the later, I got news for you; you're doing reviews.

"I delivered results that met or exceeded expectations." Gee - wouldn't it be nice to know this without waiting 20+ years to look back and assess the entire composition of your career? It's also super handy to self-assess with the eroding benefit of time. The most brutal performance assessment I ever had radically changed the trajectory of my life, and looking back on others who stayed the same path shows it was ultimately net-positive for me. You seem pretty satisfied with how things have turned out, but just imagine what you could have accomplished with a little feedback, such a waste of potential...

>It is a profile increasingly hard to find. Someone who "needs" a review is typically not a good fit for my management style, and someone who can anticipate the needs of my business I try very hard to retain.

Blame the economic cycle. I would assume, your company is self-funded, profitable and being run with efficiency in mind. Unfortunately, in the current economy you just can't compete salary-wise with companies that focus on raising, bloating the headcount, raising more, playing hocus-pocus with the "cost of revenue" line and doing a spectacular exit. And as an employee, if playing a hipster infant who loves his boss and depends on him pays 2x more than hard work and initiative, well, I'm sorry to say that, but I'll go where the money is.

That said, you might be able to find that type if you offer more equity or some revenue-based incentives or look into partnering with other small business owners rather than trying to find someone to work under you.

You find it hard to find someone who works as well as you do but wants to work for less than equal partnership? Interesting.

Partnership has never been about who works the hardest. It's about who takes (or took) the most risk to get the business started.

If the employer pays a generous salary for work done well, I don't see what the problem is.

It's not surprising it's hard to find. I think it helps if you are working in a place that rewards such initiative. In my experience, it is not always the case. How do you even screen someone for self-teaching and self-motivation by the way?

Self-teaching can be measured through asking probing questions about what the candidate does to keep up with new developments in their field. Self-motivation is harder to get at, but sometimes it helps to ask about what the candidate looks for in a role.

> I only remember anticipating needs and delivering results.

Feedback is a gift. Without people around you to give honest, brutal feedback, you have no idea if you are really doing a good job or not.

There's a great podcast episode from Adam Grant's WorkLife about criticism that's worth listening to: https://www.ted.com/talks/worklife_with_adam_grant_dear_bill...

It sounds like you want an employee to take on the responsibilities of a company owner without actually making them an owner, giving them stock, or giving them proper incentives. The problem is not with the labor market, it's with your sense of entitlement to your employee's skills. Employees no longer act the way they used to because modern companies more regularly dispose of employees when it suits them.

If you want employees to act the way you want, either give them stock, pay them significantly more, or give them long term, multi-year employment contracts. If you expect to get something (employees going above and beyond) for nothing, you are entitled.

I empathize with a lot of this, but man...you gotta tell people when they do a good job. By "good job" I mean that they did work that furthered the goals of the people who lead the company (since companies per se don't have goals).

>It is a profile increasingly hard to find

Only in an employee's market.

How do you distinguish those people during interviews?

Are there any specific questions you ask?

Not the Op but I hire the same way and there is some questions I like to ask to gauge people's interest in "getting things done".

I like to ask about their passions outside of work. Video games? Sports? Communities they may be a part of?

I am not looking for passions that align with the company, I am looking for passion itself. Does this person like to dig into the details and figure out how something works and how they can make it better or do they just like something and not show much deeper interest? Do they tinker or try to make things better on the things they are passionate about? Do they even have things they are passionate about? (You'd be surprised how many people can't really answer this question, even in casual conversation.)

It's not full proof, but I've found that people that go the extra mile, people that are passionate and inquisitive and not always happy with the status quo, are people that are more likely to take the initiative when working on a project for me. At that point, it's my job to spark their interest in the product so they will (hopefully) apply that passion in the same way.

>> I am not looking for passions that align with the company, I am looking for passion itself

I used to think the same. But over time, i realised passion in other stuff doesn't correlate to passion at work. sometimes they end up being distraction.

Also there are people who don't like to share much outside of work.

I think more than passion, focus (esp. attention to details) is essential. Someone who understands depth of his/her work is likely to be better learner. For e.g. everyone can use an open source library but underlying working of libraries are explored by a few.

I'm passionate about caring for my family's needs but I'm not excited to go into detail about it with a stranger for an hour as a psychological test.

It may be increasingly hard to find because employees see things differently now. It's a job market. My employer wants me to put in overtime and go out of my way to improve the company? Great, let's go. But I demand appropriate compensation.

I think that's a reasonable position. My company treats me as a human resource, I treat my company like my client who writes checks for the work I put in.

> Today I have my own company and I try to hire the same type of person.

You're getting a lot of crap for this statement ranging from it being a bias dog-whistle to it being an indicator that you're expecting too much.

I didn't find either to be the case in reading what you wrote. My dad, too, was a business owner and growing up he pushed the same kinds of values onto me. He married my mom at 19, moved out of a two-bedroom house with 7 siblings (he never had his own room, slept on the living room couch), took a job as a union construction worker out of high-school, attended college up to his senior year but didn't graduate and ended up starting a manufacturing business supporting the automotive industry in Detroit. He's wealthy and retired, now.

I started a few businesses, but decided against them over time and realized that I really didn't like the whole "running a business". I like to write software and learning about technology and programming. Anything that takes me away from that makes me less happy. The ancillary (taxes, accounting, management, etc) that owning a business entails wasn't for me. I "put in long hours"[0], but I like to spend those hours doing the one specific thing that I love doing and I'm paid well enough that I have no desire to strike out on my own in the hopes that I can make buckets more (but in the greater likelihood that I'll have less reliable income).

As for the bias dog-whistle of these sorts of traits belonging only to white, young, men ... I find those statements to be curiously biased, as well. I have worked at several different companies on teams with women and men of both races and ages ranging from around 25 to around 57 -- yes, in tech, in Detroit. I haven't found that these traits vary based on race, gender or even age. The hardest working manager (which I wrote about in my last comment on this post) was almost 60, the guy I routinely went to when I desperately needed something to actually get "done" was a soft-spoken PoC gentleman of around 30 and when a technical project manager was forced upon me, I begged for a very overworked black woman on the PM team[1]. Anecdotal as my experiences are even social class wasn't a particular limiting factor -- I used to get advice from the "soft-spoken gentleman"[2] about kids and he revealed to me that he was the only of his brothers and sisters to go to college, that he's been pushing that on his kids and that his parents and his family ridiculed (and still ridicule) him for choosing to seek higher education.

Sure, there's no denying that women (of a certain age) get pregnant and that this is a problem for some business owners. It's never been a problem at any of the places that I have worked, personally, but I can imagine it does happen despite it being both illegal (and morally wrong IMHO). Outside of that, I often wonder if the over-sensitivity to "bias" ends up becoming a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My dad's company was interesting -- they were often the coordinator among several small business to outfit a large manufacturing operation. As a result, during my childhood, I spent a lot of time around a lot of small business owners. Every one of my father's many friends was a business contact and owner of some other outfit. Many of them were old enough to have grown up at a time when casual racism and sexism was normal, my father in particular. My parents raised us in a manner that when I first entered the real world, I was surprised that there were still people out there who thought that way. Growing up around these business owners I knew one thing about hiring, the concerns "Can the person do the job to the level I expect and at a price I can afford to pay them?" and "Good God, payroll taxes are expensive!" Of the business owners, only one had hiring practices that were unusual, and possibly illegal -- this was a manufacturer who had only women working at his plant. I'm not sure if it was intentional or it just worked out that way, but I do know that he synchronized schedules with the elementary, junior and high schools, the work was light-weight assembly, paid minimum wage, and AFAIK, all of his employees were former stay-at-home moms.

[0] I do that a lot less, now, but that's mainly because the job that I have doesn't require that of me. That doesn't necessarily mean I don't put in long hours, I just put those extra hours into projects that I want to work on instead of projects that my job wants me to work on.

[1] So did everyone else, which was why she was so over worked.

[2] I know he reads HN so I'm avoiding his name on purpose -- he's still a friend and I don't have permission to tell this story. The "soft-spoken" bit comes from a conversation I had with him about being more assertive. He'll know who he is and can out himself if he wants to.

I aspire to have this attitude 10 years from now

Any way I can get in touch with you?

you essentially want someone who can read your mind

The best/worst advice I ever received was "you're doing a great job of what I ask you to, now I need you to do what I don't ask you to" -- at the time, it made no sense. Now, it's a core part of my work style. Developing autonomy is a very valuable skill, and I think that's what OP is driving at. It's also not something that'd been developed during my education.

I agree that performance reviews aren't particularly helpful because feedback should be delivered as you go, in the moment, with actionable and relevant examples.

> now I need you to do what I don’t ask you to

Now I need you to make me want to. And no that doesn’t necessarily mean you have to reward me, often it’s enough to feel like I won’t get in trouble for going the extra mile, or that at the very least it will be noticed when I do.

There’s only so often a person will give suggestions and extra effort to a lukewarm or negative response before they say fuck it and stop caring.

That's exactly it. A boss can't ask for initiative, unless they offer autonomy. Autonomy means you might do things differently than your boss would, so they need to be open to listening to you and letting you direct your efforts in the best way you know how.

There’s only so often a person will give suggestions and extra effort to a lukewarm or negative response before they say fuck it and stop caring.

Bingo. I'm happy to put in extra effort, go the extra mile, and try to make things better... until about the second time that my efforts go unacknowledged, unimplemented, unrewarded, etc. At which point, what you'll get from me is "exactly what I'm asked to do, and no more, no less" from there out.

Working autonomously is usually still working for someone, be it a boss or a client. I can deliver results, but I still need to know if I'm delivering value to the client. And since I am mere imperfect human, I know I can improve and so I crave feedback. I'd never want to work with someone so arrogant as to think they don't need constructive criticism from anyone.

It's not about reading minds, it's about taking the initiative to make things better or get things done without specifically being told what to do.

And there is a big difference between people that can and people that can't.

If your significant other reminded you to go to the grocery store, would you get a general idea of what she wanted and go get a bunch of stuff you know y'all need, even if it isn't on the list? Or would you only get the exact things she wrote on the list and nothing else, even though if you applied some initiative you'd realize that she wanted to make pancakes and she forgot to put milk on the list so you go ahead and grab the milk also.

It seems obvious, but you'd be surprised how many people stick exactly to the list and don't take that initiative.

"It's not about reading minds, it's about taking the initiative to make things better or get things done without specifically being told what to do."

And how do I know I won't be yelled at or punished if I happen to get this wrong?

More importantly, you're not in a hierarchical power relationship (probably) with your spouse. And at some point after management has demanded some amount of initiative and workers have implemented some amount of things on their own initiative (which is another barrier), there's a big question of why there's a manager at all, or at least why they get paid more.

I fit this profile a bit, and it's hard to get hired because that quality is not a tag on a resume.

Alas it even caused me harm in college, teachers weren't very welcoming my enthusiasm.

Been there. Learn business or get hurt more. Sorry.

or move to the country side and enjoy peace of mind

What's the alternative, exactly? You still need some way to tell people whether they are promoted or how big a bonus they get and why it happened that way. Whether you call that communication a "performance review" or not seems like an irrelevant detail.

This article is a nice example of quality clickbait. Title: 'Performance Reviews Are A Waste Of Time', ooh contentious. The lede, 'formal performance reviews are a waste of time...', switched 'performance review' for 'formal performance review' while you weren't looking. Now he's set up a new context for his answer - 'a different type of performance review' (where the process starts with a self-assessment)! Lovely.

Bonus points if the author runs a consulting company specializing in alternative performance reviews or a SAAS startup building software to facilitate them. :-)

We do the latter, and I am currently reading this thread to gain ideas.

Please, if anyone has ideas about what a good performance management SaaS would look like - share!

I'm the Engineering Manager for the Reviews team at Reflektive (performance management SAAS), and I have to say that this article rings true with me personally and aligns with our company's mission. The recent trend when it comes to performance management is that companies a) no longer want the feedback process to be centrally driven and b) feedback between managers and direct reports should be given on a more frequent cadence. The latter point is especially challenging, because no software out there can magically can change an individual's behavior; the company culture[1] has to exist first to foster it.

Every company is different, but for some traditional companies Reflektive works with them to initially roll out Performance Reviews because companies have dedicated budget for it. Then, once they're comfortable with our tools, our Customer Success team partners with them to craft a roll-out plan for our "Check Ins" product, which is a lightweight feedback tool intended on used every 3 months. For Check Ins, it's meant to be purely about development; at Reflektive, our Check Ins contain no performance rating scores nor do we use it for compensation (we have a separate process for that).

The good news is that a LOT of companies, ranging from small startups to large 50k-employee enterprise companies, actually want to shift towards a more employee-driven model. Our team's number one priority right now is to empower employees/managers to own their own feedback process and to increase the frequency of feedback between managers and their teams. I'm super excited about what's coming down the pipeline!


> You still need some way to tell people whether they are promoted or how big a bonus they get and why it happened that way.

If you've been giving them actionable feedback throughout the year, then it should be as simple as "here is your new salary and your new title" and no one should be surprised about anything.

When that works, it works well. When that fails (e.g. people disagree as to how they performed relative to their peers), it fails badly. Performance reviews (if done well) lower the risk of system breakdown.

(Not to defend performance reviews explicitly--there may be a much better approach that accomplishes the same goal)

That's not necessarily true. When managers are doing a good job of regularly communicating with an employee and having critical conversations in regular 1:1s, nothing in a performance review should come as a surprise. If you've ever been surprised in a performance review, your manager failed in their responsibility--and you probably also failed yourself in that you didn't push for regular conversations.

Sure, those disagreements still happen. But, when things are transparent, there's very little risk of a "system breakdown" and a very high chance that a dissatisfied employee (who doesn't seem to be performing well in our scenario) will leave to make room for someone with more potential.

Edit: I just noticed the GP was jedberg; we both spent enough time at Netflix to see what each of us is describing work well in practice. :)

If scheduled infrequent conversations about that can adjust those expectations, wouldn't consistent frequent conversation adjust them sooner/easier?

In perfect world I'd have a mind-reading powered live dashboard I could check that shows a graph of anonymized averages of my perceived performance across broad categories (teams, peers vs subordinates vs leadership, etc.) and a single point for my direct report.

Getting feedback each year when there's no surprises feels like a formality and waste of time. In the rare case that there are any surprises it's disappointing and I get to make adjustments months late, having been left in the dark.

Yeah, and so it's very easy a lot of times. But you still need some formal paper trail, if for no other purpose than getting that salary into the HR system.

IME reviews are like icebergs: the conversation is the easy part and pretty small. But there's a lot going on behind the scenes throughout the year, and it's useful to have a process to base that off of. For instance, someone has to balance your recommendation for your employee's new salary and title against your peer's recommendation for their employee's new salary and title. And so your performance review information has to be sufficient to make that case to your management.

Sure. That's still a performance review. Performance reviews are usually unstressful and simple if you and your manager have had good communication for a while. That is the goal to aim for whether you call it a "performance review" or not.

I love when it happens like that, but many companies have managers rotating very quickly. So you are left in the dust. Its only fair for the previous manager to formalize their thinking and position on how they felt about your performance. So that the next manager can see that and you're not ending back to square one.

Most performance reviews are basically convoluted ways to say: "Do I like you?". Actual performance has miniscule effect on the rating, maybe only in a decision if one should be let go or not, but even excellent results won't save one if they aren't liked. I have seen many top performers single-handedly building branches of business being let go when they finished and somebody wanted to claim credit or push their friends once profit foundation was laid.

God this is so true it hurts. It's what I've always hated about performance reviews. It feels like an attack on my personally because it's never about my work, it's about my clothes or my face. One memorable experience was when my boss came out of no where and said "You don't seem happy here. You don't smile enough. You're now on probation until you get your act together."

Not one sentence about my work as a software engineer; not one sentence about specific interactions that were problematic, or whether or not I had been reported for anything. Just vague as can be.

Sounds like highly toxic environment. Hope you got out!

Yes, being liked is hugely important.

Performance reviews, in my experience, have been very heavily weighted towards politics over underlying performance.

That's the problem!

Companies are using performance reviews to try to tackle two things: Compensation (bonuses, promotions) & feedback.

Compensation and feedback should not be lumped into one event.

Why do raises and bonuses have to match up with yearly performance reviews? Why not make them more immediate. Great launch everyone here’s a bonus. You went above and beyond for this release so we’d like to give you this bonus. You’ve been working very hard the last while and we think you deserve a raise. Nothing says it has to be at specific times.

Cause then the company can't push you for the entire year and waive the carrot of a bonus in front of you.

As an alternative to jedberg's "you know why not trying talking to them more than once a year/quarter". A fixed pay schedule: transparent, easy to plan around, easy to know if you should stay or go if you get an offer somewhere else.

If the company is giving individual bonuses they can and should be tied to tangible outcomes anyway or it's just going to be a source of even more office politicking (i mean it's inescapable either way but it's a more vs less thing).

Performance reviews are a form of legal ass coverage for companies. Their purpose is to re-enforce the notion that there are rules and that everybody is treated equally and have a paper trail to back that up. This paper trail may be used for defending choices for promoting certain people and not promoting, or worse firing, certain other people. They are a formality if nothing is wrong but in case something is wrong, it can be key in e.g. lawsuits or other forms of conflicts. Of course the sad reality is still that e.g. women get treated unfairly in a lot of places and that your mamager's bias or their relation with their peers play no small part in how you get treated. It's far from perfect as a system.

The bigger the company the more likely it is to have very elaborate ass coverage when it comes to these things. So, keep in mind that it might be less about you and more about them when you are having that conversation. They are required to have that conversation with you. It's not optional; it's a box that must be ticked.

However, performance reviews are not necessarily a bad thing and I've had some great managers give me great advice. I would just add that a good manager would not wait until the review if things aren't going great and some of the best managers I worked with made a point out of doing regular one on ones. Coaching happens outside of performance reviews. Performance reviews are also your opportunity to speak up. I once pointed out that I had nothing but good reviews but no recent raise. It went up the chain, they checked their records, and I got my raise. It was a modest one but it felt important to me. These things work both ways.

I disagree with this dudes blog. I love my reviews. I seek criticism so that I can improve and like the positive feedback because it helps motivate. But maybe I am an outlier. And as a person who has to give reviews, I want to tell people where they need to work on and praise their strengths.

I tend to work with people from East Coast finance world, and they not too keen on the touchy feely story telling stuff. Its sort of expected that you have to have thick skin and get to the point.

My concern (which I think is at least partially shared by this blogger) is the rigidness of formal annual reviews. A formal review should contain no surprises—if a formal review is the first time you've heard a certain piece of feedback (especially negative), then your management is shirking one of their primary responsibilities. Given an environment where feedback is frequent and useful, the formal annual review becomes a tool that only satisfies the larger enterprise machine—it's of little value to the manager or the employee.

When feedback is continuous and healthy throughout the year, I think the review itself acts just as an amplifier. It lets you really praise someone officially in a big way for good work. If someone has been seriously troublesome, it should never be the first time that has come up, but it lets you magnify how important it is that their performance issues get resolved. In that sense, it can serve a dual role as a sort of PIP. The review is also an opportunity for the manager to sift through all that continuous feedback over the entire past year and condense the important stuff down into some easy-to-understand big picture ideas.

Reviews can also be an opportunity for the direct report to get career plans in writing from their boss. For instance, if you want a promotion to X, the result of the review may be a written plan by your boss on how you can achieve that promotion.

Completely agree on "no surprises", but the annual review process provides a way to frame progress that the manager and employee can work within. When folks stayed at one company for their whole career it was a permanent record of progress that could be referenced. Moving companies is the norm now in tech, but when your are working in an enterprise having this record will benefit you when you want to move up or around in the organization.

I like criticism in the moment because I can directly link it back to my actions and contemplate improvement. I don't find it helpful during a summative "review" session when the details of what I did (or should do differently) have been lost. When you say you seek criticism, I'm wondering if you're doing it frequently enough that it's more like the former and less like the latter.

To be perfectly honest, if you use the phrase "touchy feely story telling stuff" I'm going to probably disregard your opinion on management. Management is first and foremost about people, and people are first and foremost about feelings... If we're not starting from that point, there's some problems (and probably huge misconceptions about the nature of work) that need to be addressed before we can even start to talk about management, let alone performance reviews.

Otherwise, I'd love some examples of what is discussed in your performance reviews.

I seek criticism so that I can improve and like the positive feedback because it helps motivate.

Why do you need a formal, periodic review process for this? If you seek feedback, you're asking for it regularly, right? If you have feedback for someone, you just tell them, no?

This is what the dude was saying: We have teams of creative people who crave feedback, of people who want to learn and grow. Let’s not stifle them with bureaucracy.

Yes, it's good if it's done right. When it's done poorly it's not. Let's say you've independently identified a systemic problem, report it, fight to fix it, and fix it all with quantitative numbers to show a large, direct benefit to the bottom line. You'd think that would be a pretty big deal to a company. If you got an average review because, "well that's your job, isn't it?" it's fairly demotivating.

Defending performance reviews is like cheerleading taxes -- automatic way to accrue downvotes here, but bear with me.

I've lived through unfair, biased and unhelpful perf reviews, I know what it's like to have this sky beam open up out of nowhere and vaporize you over absurd nonsense, but in a company of > 100 people you need a paper record of performance.

If you're a VP and suddenly someone asks, "Hey, can you promote or fire Person X?" What are you to go off of? Just a manager's recommendation? And you think perf reviews are biased?

Unfair performance reviews are usually a byproduct of bad managers. For ex: I knew fellow managers who never told reports what they were doing wrong, they'd wait til the end-of-the-year review and write vicious stuff. Why? It was hard to say face-to-face.

That's cowardly and not good mgt: you meet weekly or biweekly to discuss all issues, a well-run perf review is a boring rubber stamp on the 25 things you've been discussing all year.

This author suggests that employees present managers "handwritten notes" of their performance "in a notebook every 6-12 months." Guess what-- that's a performance review! As if the problem w/perf reviews was the formality of the process and not the human judgment being applied.

Again, I get it: performance reviews suck. But I think it's not the paperwork or the process, it's that management can be very inept at evaluating talent periodically, regardless of how that process is run.

Unfortunately, it's hard to run a company of > 100 people without written records of performance (especially if someone sues).

> If you're a VP and suddenly someone asks, "Hey, can you promote or fire Person X?" What are you to go off of? Just a manager's recommendation? And you think perf reviews are biased?

This is why I don't work for large orgs anymore. If you can't trust the manager's recommendation then why is that person a manager, in a position of power over people's lives? It's almost like acknowledging that you're too big to know whether your people can be trusted or not, so you need formalized checks and balances. I get that this in fact may be reality, and I also get that we need big companies to create many of these cool things modernity has given us, but man I have no desire at all to be part of such a thing.

> If you can't trust the manager's recommendation then why is that person a manager, in a position of power over people's lives? It's almost like acknowledging that you're too big to know whether your people can be trusted or not, so you need formalized checks and balances.

People come into positions of authority for very varied reasons. Some might be very technically apt, others might have earned the trust of the founders or some were simply the only people available in a period of rapid growth. You absolutely cannot trust human nature, abuse and incompetence is always a risk and startups are not magically immune.

What might happen in a small company is that a bad manager is so obviously inadequate and has such a significant relative impact over the company that it's easily spotted and fixed without a formal system. But there are no guarantees, see for example the case of Sunny Balwani, a painfully incompetent software guy running the engineering department of a biotech startup, simply because he was the boyfriend of the CEO. He clung on as Theranos valuation balloned to a $10 billion and only got out after the company failed for essentially tech reasons.

As I said, I get why this might in fact be necessary. I simply find it dehumanizing and arbitrary and so I choose to avoid such situations. At the hospital where my wife works their review categories are graded from 1 - 3. So yeah you have a paper trail, but how useful can it honestly be? For a manager who is interested in knowing an employee's real strengths and weaknesses it's nearly useless. For a manager who just needs to fill in an upstream form, or quickly find a numeric justification for a decision, maybe these numbers make sense and are useful... but how would you feel if a decision on promoting you were made on such a basis, or if it went against you because someone graded you a 2 and another person a 3 in some category?

And for what it's worth performance reviews are not a remedy for cases like Balwani's. Anything like that which said something different from what the CEO wished the perception to be would simply have been rewritten/squashed/ignored. At least in a small company you can get a clear perception that this kind of thing is going on and get out, or make a conscious decision to stay because you think you'll be showered in filthy lucre or whatever.

Another way to frame this: new technical or social methods for enhancing/extending trust mechanism in large organizations would have massive societal benefits. I wish more people explicitly thought about and experimented with this.

A problem I'm noting is that information technology seems to have corrosive effects on interpersonal trust.

That's not a solid conviction, but it's how I'm leaning.

Subtle adjustment, I think the real cause is scaling human relationships. IT enables this scaling. So if interpersonal trust scales sub-linearly with number of connections, it's not really IT corroding trust, it's what IT enables.

It's ... complicated. More than I can get into here, or eveen than I've really worrked out.

Short version is that in the absence of advanced comms, you have no option but to extend trust. I'm thinking here where inteervals might have been months, eveen years. (Historically, sea passage was not possible from November through May.)

Instead you had trust-establishing institutions, a role usually filled by religion, in virtually every pre-industrial civilisation.

Comms, from the scroll and telegraph forward, obviate this. Wearables, CCTV, desktop tracking, cellphone monitoring, all substitute surveillance for trust.

Trust isn't a binary, it can be extended to differing degrees. In absence of advanced comms, you have to extend trust, but how far? That comes with an opportunity cost -- I wouldn't loan money to someone I'd only communicated by 8 week delayed handwritten letters, but I (possibly) would do that to someone I'd talked to on Skype for an equivalent amount of time.

(This might not be rational.)

They also come with significant opportunities for fake signaling.

Gaining trust means you signal properly to the people you are attempting to influence. With records you now move mechanisms with which your signal that trust.

False signalling is an issue, but that's hardly novel. Mimicry, imitation, camoflage, and other forms of disguise and deception are found in nature.

There's the matter of taking what had been very strongly analogue, that is, analogous, forms of recordmaking and turning them into mediated forms: static images, audio, and video. But that is merely a regression to the status quo ante of preindustrial times. The magic of photography, tape, and film were that these, more or less, faithfully recorded what was before the lens or the microphone. We're returning to a period that bears more in common with the age of human testimony, at least in terms of its level of mediation. That is: you have to trust in the testifier. The distinction in the quantity (and detail) of the images presented is not as in earlier times.

It's the fact that communications cycles and volumes are so much greater though that reduces the reliance on trust, in ways I'm starting to suspect are more substantive than is generally appreciated.

There are several histories of corporate communications, where this trends appears, to an extent. James R. Beniger's The Control Revolution (1986 or thereabouts) and JoAnne Yates, Control Through Communciation (2005) are two of which I'm aware. The role of trust isn't central to either, but it's touched on.

Fake signalling is what's always been present in communications. Deception, bluff, camoflage, and distraaction are all highlydeeveloped even aamongst animals. It is scale and rate especially which are changed now, and the ability to entirely bypass trust or trust-development.

The more common case is 5 managers coming to you to pitch their managees for promotion. You can’t just promote everyone the same, and hopefully the managers are pretty happy with their managees.

That’s where paper trail, or anything mildly objective is precious to adjust what needs to be done.

> You can’t just promote everyone the same


Budgets, and org charts.

You can't have 5 people all leading a team. A good manager will give employees who want to lead an opportunity to do so in smaller ways, and when it comes time to figure out who gets promoted into a leadership role, being able to compare notes of how well each candidate went is essential.

Even for non-managerial roles, there may not be budget to promote everyone. Especially at larger companies where a promotion can be an extra 50k+ per year per employee, promoting all 5 people means there isn't budget to hire someone new, and those employees aren't suddenly working 20% more efficient thanks to a new title.

The simplest way to look at it: everyone is not the same

In particular everyone doesn't have the same experience, market value, expectations and behavior associated. For instance you will have a manager that is super happy with what an employee does, but in practice the employee is already at the top of the game, paid accordingly, and has a special status in the company.

This employee's raise will be proportionally a lot lower than a junior guy who went above and beyond his role and could leap two ranks ahead with the skills demonstrated.

Both employees are valuable and merit praise, it just won't translate to the same proportional amount.

Most common reason is probably "budget."

A reason which is valid on the surface but difficult to implement properly is "it's bad for morale if deadweight employees get promoted just the same as people who contribute."

It makes more logical sense if you value people's achievements. Some years, I simply have to put more emphasis on family. Or I may get crappy projects or overwork myself and have to recover. Other years are better.

I think a strong (30%+) bonus compensation plans + automatic basic raises guarantees the best results. You know you aren't "going for the next level" but simply executing and on bad quarters/years you don't get as much. Easier to accurately quantify in a profit-center as opposed to a cost center, for sure.

Good people will recognize that their work is not valued and quit. The value employees add is Pareto distributed, so you can lose only a handful of people but be crippled nevertheless.

When everyone's a tech lead, no one's a tech lead.

Budgets, I guess.

> If you're a VP and suddenly someone asks, "Hey, can you promote or fire Person X?"

Why would anyone suggest such a thing?

Absent new information shouldn't the default action be to humanely leave person X alone so they can keep doing work and paying their bills without costing the company more?

I must be very naive in the ways of management...

EDIT: This is a real question; what's with the down votes? Should I expect to be treated like this at work?

You seriously don't understand that sometimes people are promoted for being good at their job, and sometimes people are fired for being bad at their job?

I think the more likely scenario is that:

a) the company is growing by leaps and bounds and would rather promote internally X% of existing employees. --or- b) the company is facing a downturn and would like to get rid of X% of existing employees.

In neither case does it have much to do with the actual people falling into or out of that X% (unless a perfectly just system is in place [and it isn't]).

Most firings I've seen have much more to do with the people involved (harrasment, incompetence, interpersonal problems) than with wild changes in the company's trajectory, though I will admit that at early-stage companies this could be reversed since things are much more uncertain.

I understand either of those, but not the case where an exec picks out some employee they don't know anything about and insists that they be either fired or promoted right just now.

You misread.

You're being asked to imagine yourself as the executive - you're the person with firing authority.

A manager who works for you asks you to fire someone on their team. There are a hundred people on various teams in your group, you don't have first-hand knowledge of all of their performance. You want to have a system in place for making sure this is a fair request, vs "we argued a few times the last week" or, in the really bad sorts of cases, something like "we had an affair and it ended badly and I'm trying to clean up the mess by firing them."

Thank you, I think I see what you mean: a manager recommends an employee for promotion OR a manager recommends an employee for firing. My reading of the question might sound ridiculous, but I have been in situations like that in the past.

I once had a contract-to-hire job in which the contract supposedly stipulated that I was guaranteed a full-time permanent position if I passed the six-month performance review, otherwise I would be terminated. They told new hires this to convince them that it wasn't really a temp job. They kept me a temp for ten months, and then laid off all 120 of us.

I would love to believe that management is categorically reasonable, comprehensible, and truthful, but that’s not my experience.

There is no "management". There's just people, in positions or more or less power over others.

At some companies, these people are well selected, trained, and caring individuals who understand who to build and nurture teams.

At others, these people are dicks who have got into their position via Peter Principle. being frat buddies with CEO etc. who view workers as resources to be squeezed and discarded.

And everywhere in between.

Sounds like you got unlucky at that place.

I honestly think you're misreading. My reading (consistent with the one you replied to) is:

a higher-level manager somewhat arbitrarily comes out of the blue and wants to fire one of your team. You have no paperwork to back the idea that the request is misplaced/misguided.

Let's look at the original line again:

"If you're a VP and suddenly someone asks, "Hey, can you promote or fire Person X?" What are you to go off of? Just a manager's recommendation? And you think perf reviews are biased?"

So 'someone' isn't defined, but from context, my assumption is that 'someone' is their direct manager (who works for you), since it's mentioned that 'manager's recommendation' is all that's known.

A situation where, say, the CTO is asking a VP to fire someone three or four levels below would be much stranger than a lower-level manager asking a VP to fire one of their reports, so between these two things I think it makes much more sense to resolve the ambiguity in that way.

This reading also has the benefit of suddenly making perfect sense and fitting the rest of the context of the original comment, which was about >100 employee organizations needing a paper trail.

I agree that your interpretation has a lot of weight. However, you're forgetting a couple of things:

-. could be a request from the VP's peer; i.e., another VP. Or from someone in a lateral org (such as HR).

-. the manager himself in your interpretation of events should have the power at least to fire (if not to promote).

The fact is: it was a very confusingly worded post and we've probably wasted more time on it than it warrants. :)

You're totally misunderstanding the situation.There are three hypothetical people involved here. An employee, who works below a manager, who works below a VP.

The manager wants to promote the employee, but she needs permission from the VP. So the manager asks the VP to promote the employee.

I think the down votes are from your response appearing fairly uninformed.

Growth and attrition are a regular part of a person's life cycle at a company. You ask if someone should be promoted both because companies need adept managers and because most employees look for growth trajectory. You ask if someone should be fired because companies need to continue refining their workforce for skill and cultural fit, or because it is financially necessary.

> a well-run perf review is a boring rubber stamp on the 25 things you've been discussing all year.

Agreed. This is my experience at my current job, the first place I've ever worked for which runs reviews like you describe. Yes, we have boring and poorly done tools to "automate" reviews or whatever, pushed by clueless HR people, but the actual review is done constantly by your team leader. You -- and your direct boss -- mostly know what's going on and how your review is going to go, no bullshit or last minute surprises.

Unfortunately, my current workplace is the exception. Most other places I've worked for either had no formal reviews at all -- which may initially sound ok, except you get the nasty last minute surprises anyway -- or it was endless red tape.

what bugs me about performance reviews is feeling like I'm a copywriter writing ad copy for products. I have to try to come up with flowery text about the 5-10 major things I did rather than just "did x" which is already known.

the only part of perf atbmy last job I thought was useful was ranking my peers. I'm not saying my ranking was correct but I'm just guessing those ranked high or low more often probably deserve a look?

And you need it for labour law reasons. If someone claims unemployment, and you have one of those companies that doesn't like to pay, your lawyers are going to need those reviews. If they were truly a bad employee, specific things in the reviews help if you go to court.

>> Just a manager's recommendation? And you think perf reviews are biased?

But a perf review is just a manager's recommendation.

I've been working professionally for over a decade, and it never occurred to me that performance reviews were meant to provide career advice. I thought they were meant to help you understand if your are meeting the expectations for your current capacity. For example, as an engineer at company X, is my development-time vs customer-support-time supposed to be 50/50, 80/20, 20/80, etc.. and how well am I aligning with those specific expectations. I consider this separate from "career advice".

In fact, they're mostly meant as a way for HR to have a paper trail to fire people. That's the only real reason for them to exist, and any good that managers do with them is incidental.

Such a paper trail can be useful in more situations than just firing someone. For example, consider the values of performance reviews in aggregate.

I can think of many reasons why upper management may want to analyze aggregate trends of performance reviews throughout the company, broken down by team, department, manager etc. They can use those trends as data-driven feedback on policy and personnel changes. That is, they can answer questions like “how has our re-org affected overall performance YTD?” Or, “has changing our interviewing methods resulted in higher quality performance reviews of newer employee cohorts?”

You can also use the information to optimise your workforce.

Lets say you're a big home improvement chain opening a new store. You need to get 150 workers to staff the new store.

Do you want to hire 250 people cold and hand the new store off to them? No.

You want to take the top 100 performers from nearby stores, who are busting for a chance to prove themselves, and pepper pot them into the new store, in positions of team leadership, seniors, etc. (And then do a bunch of hiring for the remaining 150, and the 100 to replace the ones you just transferred).

These are the sorts of win-win efficiencies you can pull off if you have good performance data for employees.

(Also astonishingly rare to see in action in the real world, but that's another story :)

Ideally, that should be tracked in near-real-time—either through reporting from a time tracking or project management system, or maintained manually by management. If you're only getting that feedback on an annual basis, it's going to be tough for you to adapt.

I always understood the performance review, at least in large corporations (not small companies or startups), not just to judge you individually, but more importantly to judge you against your peers.

In the context of judging us against our peers, it is isn't for us (so of course it's a waste of time for us), or our direct managers, but for upper management. The value there depends on the quality and candidness of feedback. Can this information be totally gleaned from task or ticket tracking systems? I don't think that tells the whole picture.

OK, so is it necessary for upper management to have this data? In a perfect world, this feedback data finds employees with great potential, ASAP and tracks their growth over time, from manager to manager and team to team, but since I'm a lowly professional and not upper management, I have no insight into how this is actually used.

This is so inhuman though, it seems obvious why it is a shitty process. How do you acquire data points about a person? Sure it's easy if their job is to produce MAX WIDGETS/HR, but what if they are a designer, or a software engineer?

The only way to judge someone is to work with them closely for months/years. Translating that into data points to hand off to a series of managers will never ever work. Especially if it is for higher managers who actually don't know you, and have never worked for you. How can they be the judge of your abilities?

They rely on the word on their direct reports, who presumably have had training in how to judge their direct reports. Of course, the people filling out these reviews are also judged on their performance as well.

The only way to judge someone is to work with them closely for months/years.

I disagree here. At some point, you're going to have to delegate and give up in micromanaging this process. There's no way Satya Nadella has worked with each Microsoft VP for years or fills openings just with his intuition.

If mostly every manager Python Pat worked for said they were head and shoulders above their peers and has an executive position in their future, then are you going to just ignore their feedback? Career advancement certainly shouldn't be a matter of being lucky enough to have enough face time with the people who make hiring decisions... I guess at the core of this process is trust, trust that the folks filing the review paperwork are doing so correctly, but if you can't trust your managers, you're problems are larger than a review process.

Sure, once you're at the VP level your reputation probably precedes you. If you're young in your career though, with little work history, your manager won't be able to gauge shit unless they see the work you produce. Even then, you won't produce good work unless your placed somewhere that matches your strengths. Your manager can't know your strengths/weaknesses without actually spending time with you.

So at that level, it's exactly like I say it it is: a boss just decides if they like their report or not. They go with their biased gut feeling that's probably based more on superficial characteristics like clothes, hair, or the way a person talks. From there the person will either be thrown the sharks, or given a lot of support and opportunities.

I'm sure not all organizations are like that, but most that have 5000 employees or more have been exactly like that from my experience.

I'll just say this...

In a lot of instances annual review (or any long cycle review) serve a very important bureaucratic purpose for employees: getting raises (and/or promotions). Nearly everything else in a performance review should be handled in some other way, but it's hard to push management into the position to reward an employee financially outside of such a formal setting. This comes with the disclaimer that if your company sees value in performance reviews (and therefore chooses to have them) than it probably also is the type of company where getting a raise outside of a formal setting is hard.

At my current employer, we completely reinvented our performance management [1] and it has worked out to be so much better. We spend less time on coming up with arbitrary goals and really focus on strengths and developmental needs. The overhead involved with spending a lot of unproductive hours on performance has been minimized. The conversations are really about what people have contributed, what their strengths are, and how the firm can support their development goals. Also, by using our new performance management system, the conversations around promotions and such are much more streamlined and data-centric. Overall, the expectations of both sides are better managed.

[1] https://hbr.org/2015/04/reinventing-performance-management

Thanks for linking this, it was a really interesting read. Sent it to my boss for him to look at.

> Yet, I’ve worked on and with many teams filled with growth-mindset people, and universally the response to HR-driven reviews has been a collective groan. People on the team find it awkward, uncomfortable, and a distraction from their work.

What? A performance review is never something I've dreaded. They're just a regular, mundane, thing that happens. They tell you 'good job' give you your raise, which is sometimes just cost of living, sometimes it's $3 to $5k, and then you go back to your desk and go back to work.

It just feels like it's a standard in place to make sure people get income bumps every years. I don't think it's as big a deal as the author is claiming.

If you are at a relatively health company/group, they are just a chore (like setting 'goals', which noone really looks at until the next review is approaching). As you say, you just go back to your desk and forget about it.

I have had 'performance reviews' where the manager would just make up outrageous claims that were simply not true. So they can be a dreadful experience.

I sorta agree. A lot of place do these very wrongly. I think goal-setting is a waste of time because project work usually sucks up all your bandwidth no matter what. Anonymous peer feedback can be very helpful. Really, you and your manager (or reports) should know what's going on pretty constantly and never been surprised by a year-end review. I think the formal processes are less about getting new information and more about giving HR a paper trail for handling complaints.

I you don't make time for your long term goals your career is going to stall. If project work is really taking all your time then you need to push back.

The 'goals' in peef reviews generally aren't useful personal goals though, they are goals set by the company to shape the performance scoring distribution

For example from a previous company some 'goals' included:

1. Take part in at least one company promotional activity e.g. manning a recruiting kiosk

2. Complete at least five computer-based learning modules.

Given the demands of project work these led to people staying behind after work to complete 'goals', or others just sacrificing performance 'points' because they didn't have time to compete. And them each year the thresholds would be ratcheted up.

Yeah, but if you have a personal goal of something like "implement some machine learning" and a year goes by where there's no applicable use case for machine learning, then you're SOL. It can be worthwhile to mention this as a personal goal, but if you make it a goal post for career advancement, you're likely to fail.

If your goal is to make a move away from your team then you won't get a lot of help I agree. Usually there are mutually beneficial goals to you and your boss. Those are the sorts of things you can expect help with.

This is total clickbait. He says performance reviews are terrible so instead.. write a performance review.

Seriously, what performance reviews in 2018 don't involve a self appraisal? Pretty much everything he recommends has been part of the performance review process at my company for the last 8 years. And I'm not saying our process couldn't be improved, but this article offers no real insights of any kind.

Performance reviews are important as they provide a means for companies to document negatives about workers they eventually want to get rid of. It's like the secret police building a dossier that they could pull out at any time to use against you: "Well according to our files you've been 'underperforming' for the past four reviews. In light of that we'll be letting you go."

If you want constructive feedback to build your career you need to find a personal mentor, build a relationship, and regularly check in to both provide updates and solicit feedback.

"Performance reviews are important as they provide a means for companies to document negatives about workers they eventually want to get rid of"

That's true, and it's horrible. That's why the whole thing is a joke. You can be a GREAT employee, but managers can just ding you on this or that simply because they want to or don't like you, and then you get fired as a result. It's ridiculous to wrap that up in the lie that it is a meritocracy.

I agree with the assessment, but do not feel that the proposed solution will fix it. Performance reviews have a lot of management overhead and are done poorly in many companies. Many managers do not want to give honest feedback, because it takes time and employees may not be able to handle it. Committee based employee ranking leads to infighting, sabotaging, and low morale.

Perhaps we need to just accept that the compensation systems will never be fair, and managers will just promote and pay the people they like and fire or keep stagnant the employees they don't like.

The biggest reasons for performance reviews in my mind are to serve as a mechanism for everyone to get a cost of living/merit raise at the same time and to leave a paper trail for when you need to fire someone. Having 2 years of "below expectations" will save a corporation's ass when an unlawful termination case pops up.

If the compromise we have to make is that bad, it's definitely worth considering a more fundamental problem with the concept of employment as we know it.

Performance reviews should be always on-going. A good manager will be constantly giving you feedback on the things that would happen in a performance review.

I liked the idea of the self review, and doing that once or twice a year, as a good stepping off point for a discussion on career pathing, but in general, no one should ever be surprised by anything that would come up in that discussion, otherwise you haven't been a good manager.

It's up to the manager to make sure the feedback discussion happens often, and not wait for the employee to ask or wait for a formal review period.

I have yet to find a self-evaluation form that doesn't make me cringe and wait until the last possible minute to fill it out. I've said, entirely seriously, I would strongly consider waiving salary increases to avoid this process.

My boss generally has a pretty good idea how my work is going, the position I'm in means no word is good word anyways. A lot of times its hard to figure out how to answer a question in a way that doesn't read pointless or express my utter disdain for performance reviews.

I agree that, in most cases, performance reviews are a waste of time, or at least represent a process smell. Regular, frequent feedback is more valuable and effective. It's ok to summarize that quarterly or something, but as others have mentioned, if anything in a performance review is a surprise, management has failed.

Having said that, there are situations where performance reviews are a more pragmatic option. As a consultant, I interact daily with my client management, but I can go weeks without any meaningful interaction with my consulting company management. We do check in regularly, and as-needed outside the regular sessions, but my consulting management doesn't take part in my day-to-day work. In order to adequately assess my performance, they need to solicit feedback from client peers and client management. This is a burdensome process that is more practical to perform on a three or six month cycle.

None of this precludes feedback and assessment more frequently, however without the day-to-day observation, some schedule and formality help. I suspect there are many other situations in which people do not work directly with their management.


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