Performance reviews

It happened a few times during my career, that I found myself in a team with a colleague whose productivity was close to zero. In most of these cases it was simply a matter of people who hadn't the skills and happened to choose the wrong career path, and in one case it was actually an excellent developer, but just slacking off. Regardless of the case, in many of these occasions it looked like the team manager hadn't noticed the poor performance of the individual in question, whereas this was rather obvious to the rest of the team. I'm not sure why the managers didn't notice the black sheep, but the point is that none of the other developers did raise the issue either: why would I report a fellow colleague, who might risk losing his job because of my evil tongue?

So, Scrum to the rescue? Not quite. As a matter of fact, while it is true that an underperformer could be easily spotted by seeing how often he fails to complete his stories in the timeframe suggested by the story points, this information is generally accessible to the product owner, whereas the line manager might not attend the Scrum meetings at all (as was the case in a previous project of mine, where the line manager was completely detached from the project); and even if the line manager had this information, it's not a given that he'd make use of it — as a matter of fact, I cannot say with certainty that the line managers did not notice those underperforming colleagues of mine; maybe they noticed, but failed to intervene for some reason?

It sounds like this might be 360 material. Unfortunately, in my experience the 360 reviews are a waste of time for the most part, but that might be because they had been badly implemented in the companies where I worked in. In these reviews I get to rate my colleagues using a set of predefined statements which generally look positive, such as “Often delivers more than expected” or “Always meets the expectations”, but each of which imply a very different rating. I can see that the reason why the system uses this kind of sentences is because no one wants to explicitly assign a bad rating to a colleague, so all the possible answers have a “positive” feeling. The problem with this is that the shades of meaning in these sentences is not obvious at all, so one risks ending up picking sentences almost at random.

A system that would allow a company to get a honest feedback, without requiring employees to say bad things about their colleagues, could be based on the idea that your colleagues have usually a good sense of how well you are doing. To me, it would make more sense if the performance review consisted of a question like this:

Please make a list of those colleagues that in your opinion are more valuable to your team or to the company in general.

Then the company should sum up these lists and have a look at who is not there, or whose name appears way too few times in relation to the number of people who have worked with him or her. Then this information would not only be available to the direct line manager, but also to upper line managers, who might be willing to judge the situation with more objectivity and be able to decide to move the person to another team.

The presentation of this question could indeed be very different from what I've suggested here, for example it could be something like “Make a list of colleagues you'd be most happy to work (or continue working) with”, or it could include some personal feedback: in that way, if the only good thing that people have to say about a developer is “He's a very nice guy”, well, you could imagine that we are not dealing with a strong developer after all.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, the people whose names appear more often in the star colleagues lists are probably the employees that the company should cherish and try hard not to lose. Salary increases, bonuses and all other gratifications that can help in retaining them should be primarily connected to the colleagues' direct feedback, rather than to semi-obscure metrics which might not capture their real value.


There's also webmention support.