Nov 5, 2013

Formal feedback

Three months in, performance reviews have become a topic of interest among 2013 Venture for America fellows. (Venture for America fellows are hired for two years to work "in the trenches" at startups across the country. You can read more about the program and my startup here.)

I am fortunate to work at a small company that values direct communication. My four coworkers and I constantly solicit feedback from each other. However, successful performance review systems vary with company culture and size. We want to anticipate changes as Graphene Frontiers matures.

With my first one-on-one formal performance review approaching, I researched three unique performance review systems.

1) 15Five.com (15Five.com) promises to save time while helping employees feel heard. The name is inspired by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard's performance review system, in which employees wrote fifteen-minute weekly feedback reports to inform managers in just five minutes of reading. 15Five addresses four key questions: What's going well? Where are you stuck? How is the morale around you? What do we need to improve?

Pros: 15Five is quick and easy, and it helps employees feel heard.
Cons: First, the software is so basic as to be unnecessary. More importantly, managers are not compelled to advise employees, and the system overlaps significantly with other task-management systems.

2) Forced ranking systems employ strict grading to reward high performers financially and weed out low performers. Under former GE CEO Jack Welch's famous system, the top 20% of performers were awarded bonuses, and the bottom 10% of performers were fired.

Pros: Forced ranking is transparent. Employees know exactly what to expect and how to improve.

3) Peer feedback is Venture for America's system of choice among both VFA team members and VFA fellows.

Pros: Employees receive specific feedback from those most familiar with their work.
Cons: Because reviewers work closely with reviewees, evaluations tend to be personality-based, rather than performance-based.

I value actionable feedback from close team members, and I want to create a system that makes it easy for my team to organize our performance reviews. I'm going to experiment building a Team Graphene web portal for performance reviews over the next few months. (Bonus: more practice coding!)

Do you have a great idea to improve performance reviews? Let me know on Twitter! @paigeboehmcke

-Paige