A Lightweight Template for Monthly Performance Discussions

In my series of newsletters on preparing for your performance review, I mentioned a template you can use when talking with your manager during your one-on-one meetings (1:1s). A colleague and I have also mentioned this template in our talks on performance assessments, rewards and recognition systems, and how to make them more supportive of Agile. Several people have requested the template, and I’m sharing it here.

I have used this template (or variations of it) in at least four companies I’ve worked in already. I use it when I meet my manager during my 1:1s, or with my direct reports when I have 1:1s with them. I do have some guidelines, so feel free to use, modify, or even add to them.

1:1 Performance Review Template ImagePerformance Review Template

Usage Guidelines

  • Use the template once each month during your 1:1 with your manager (or direct report). The idea behind the template is to get performance feedback early and often, as opposed to once a year, when HR calls on the entire company to do their performance appraisals and reviews. (And if you don’t have regular 1:1s with your manager, you should consider starting the discussion from there.)
  • The idea behind the template is that it is lightweight. You don’t need to fill in every line or go into the minutia of the details. You want the right amount of discussion, and add those as highlights to capture the key points about your performance – the good, the bad, and the ugly. Most often, the good stuff – even the regular, day-to-day wins or the win of the week, aren’t brought up. People then forget these when the yearly performance review cycle comes around. And as for the bad stuff, you usually get it right away. And it can linger and follow you for ages. As Mark Anthony said in his eulogy to Caesar in Shakespeare’s play Julius Ceasar, “The evil that men do lives after them. The good is oft interred with their bones.”
  • Tailor the template to your needs. Modify the template depending on your context. For example, I’ve modified it to conform to an Objective and Key Results (OKRs) style at one company where I was working. You can do the same if your company uses Management by Objectives (MBOs) or something similar.
  • Highlight outcomes and impacts, not outputs. People often write outputs on their performance reviews – like “refactored the architecture for our product.” Yeah – we all know you reworked and coded this, but what was the impact of that effort? Did your team get to release the product faster, positively impacting customers who were about to churn? (And mind you, this is great to bring up in your resume – recruiters and hiring managers love to see these outcomes and impacts.)
  • Always move forward. The goal is performance discussions is to grow yourself – whether it’s learning new skills like become a team lead or using new technologies. It’s about learning from mistakes – how you and the team can mitigate issues that came up, or how you all can improve and become more Agile.
  • And lastly, highlight yourself AND your team. Most performance reviews typically highlight the individual. Agile emphasizes team collaboration. Don’t just talk about yourself. Talk about how you and your team get together or do things together to amplify successful outcomes – not just for you but for the team and the company.

When you do these things, you will end up with 12 templates filled out – one for each month. And guess what happens when HR sends out that email informing everyone about the upcoming performance review cycle? You’ll be very prepared to fill out your performance assessment.

Having these monthly filled-out documents, joyously made it easy for me to fill out my assessment (or my direct reports’ assessments). I didn’t have to stress out remembering what I accomplished the past 12 months. I mostly ended up copying and pasting what I had written, with maybe a little bit of wordsmithing, to fit the assessment outlines provided by HR.

I do hope you find value in this template. I would love to know how you modified it to fit your context. I’d love your feedback on your experience using it – the good, the bad, and the ugly of it. I’d love to hear from you.

Are you ready for next year’s performance review cycle?

Part 3 of 3

I’ve gone over the first two suggestions on how to get ready for performance review cycles during this pandemic in my previous newsletters. The first newsletter in this series suggested you designate at least one 1:1 session a month to lightweight performance discussions with your manager. The second one advised you keep a monthly diary of these discussions.

When you think about it, though, you can apply these suggestions in whatever context – pandemic or not. I’ve used these patterns in several companies I’ve worked in the past, and they have served me very well.

Now on to the third and last suggestion:

Businessman crossing finish line

Suggestion 3 of 3:

Get feedback from others.

Frank feedback from your peers is also essential for your performance review. And when I say peers, I don’t mean just your team. Look beyond them. Who do you work with from other departments? Try and chat with different people, and add the results of this discussion to your diary.

I am assuming you have good relationships with other people. Still, if they are hesitant to give you such feedback, then you may have a problem. One problem is – how safe do they feel, or how safe is your office environment. Establishing psychologically safe spaces in one-on-ones and the work environment is paramount to getting feedback from others.

If they might not feel safe, they may not necessarily have a good relationship with you and your work; or, you have a possible toxic work environment that doesn’t allow them to be honest with you. Either way, these are potential flags for your performance review. 

Suppose you do have a work environment that has a reasonable degree of psychological safety. In that case, you may want to partner with your HR business partners and ask them how you can approach asking other people for frank feedback. (And, if you want to know how you can personally establish a psychologically safe space with someone, feel free to e-mail me.)

Performance Review Time

By the time the performance review cycle comes around, you should have twelve months of diary entries. These diary entries will help you quickly fill out your self-assessment, usually a copy and paste operation, with some slight wordsmithing.

One last thing…

You might notice – not once did I mention that a manager should be doing this. Why? The performance review impacts you and your career. Whether you are an individual contributor or a manager yourself, it’s always good to be your own best champion when it comes to your calling. 

So, go ahead and unleash your best champion, especially in these interesting times.

I hope you enjoyed this series on getting ready for your next performance review cycle. Please do e-mail me if you have any questions or would like to chat further.

Until next time,

-JF

Are you ready for next year’s performance review cycle?

Part 2 of 3

I kicked off this series on preparing for next year’s performance reviews with my first suggestion – have a monthly 1:1 with your manager, dedicated to your performance and career.

Now, onward to my second suggestion:

Businessman running with briefcase

Suggestion 2 of 3:

Document your monthly performance reviews like a monthly diary.

I suggest writing down whatever you’ve discussed with your manager regarding your performance somewhere – a notebook or a Google doc, for example. Keep it lightweight – limit it to one page or less, but don’t scrimp too much on the details. At the end of a year, you should have a page for each month.

Your diary should have pertinent details over time. Write down things that you’ve learned and how you’ve leveraged them in your job. Chronicle what you’ve accomplished and achieved, including the resulting outcomes of your efforts. 

Most people focus on outputs: “did X number of code reviews” or “launched Y version of the product with these features” or “mentored two new hires and an intern.” These outputs may look useful, but what’s better is to write down the outcomes. How did your code reviews help the team? Were your team members’ skills up-leveled? The new features you released – how did those impact customer retention, or how did that increase sales opportunities? Having these outcomes shows your impact and can be used to highlight achievements for possible promotions.

And – depending on what your company uses – write your goals down in these monthly diary entries. Write down your OKRs (Objectives and Key Results) or MBOs (Management by Objectives) in your monthly diary entries. 

More important than the goal, though, is the journey you’re going to take in the next year to meet this goal. Just as a long road trip from San Francisco to New York City requires you to map out your routes and where you’ll stop along the way, your goal should have a possible journey that can show progress stops. 

Having these journey stops mapped out in your diary shows how you’re going to achieve your goal. And – like a road trip – you can always change the route along the way, or even the end destination – depending on how the year unfolds. You might want to end up in Boston instead of New York City, for example.

I hope this second suggestion has started the gears of your mind moving along. I would love to hear any intriguing thoughts you may have about this.

In the meantime, until the next newsletter, cheers!

-JF