Agile Yearly Dinners

Throughout my career  I’ve always been in an environment that implements the “Annual Performance Review.”

[insert your own horror flick sound effects]

There is a swath of articles and blog posts on the evils of stack ranking, pay for performance, annual reviews, goal setting, etc.  I’d like to share my thoughts on an alternative, something I’ve always thought was a better alternative, but have only personally experienced in recent times.

The Agile Annual Performance Review Yearly Dinner:

Step 1: Put something on the calendar a year out from the employee’s anniversary date.  Let the employee choose a restaurant at which to meet.

Step 2: Give the employee face-to-face feedback all the time during the year.

Step 3: Meet for dinner once a year, and do not conduct a review.  You won’t have to on account of Step #2.   Watch how happy everyone is.

Things that are conspicuosly missing:

  • Evaluation forms, or even the word evaluation.  Instead, you may have used 360 degree evaluations, notes from clients, and written or verbal self-reflection from the employee.
  • Any sort of ranking or number assignment.  You’ll never again have to speak that corporate BS about how “3 out of 4 is a great ranking!”
  • A checklist of personal goals.  Annual, individualized corporate goal setting is dead.  Instead you may talk about what was learned over the past year, how the employee learns best, and what you can do to foster play and experimentation.

Things that this assumes:

  • Employees are already paid well, and motivated by more than just salary.  Salary talks are a non issue, and short conversation at the annual dinner.
  • Corollary: Employees know when and how salary increases are done at the company.  If they are not alongside the employee’s anniversary (all raises are done in January, for example), then you ensure they know that.  And they know how the salary increases are calculated – hopefully based on company, team, and individual performance.
  • You as a manager are willing and capable of executing on Step #2.  Giving feedback is an art.  You must individualize your approach and tailor it to each employee.

I’ve found this personally gratifying and a whole lot less stressful than the previously dreaded annual performance review process.  I hope more people and companies come to appreciate this method.

Final thoughts: Don’t forget to pick up the check at dinner, you cheap bastard!


One response

  1. “Instead you may talk about what was learned over the past year, how the employee learns best”. This sounds right but lacks a foundation, i.e. it’s too infrequent. How about conversations about learning taking place each and every day.

    What I mean is this. Liz Keogh offered alternatives to “the usual 3 questions” at a daily scrum. Instead, have team members report (to each other) “Here’s what I learned yesterday.”, “Here’s what I hope to learn today” and/or “Here’s what I’m having trouble learning”.

    The point is that especially early on, unknowns are the single biggest constraint and do most to obscure the way forward. So tackle the unknowns early on and make each day about the learning. That way even mistakes produce valuable insights. At the end of the year you’ll both have something to talk about, exactly as you suggest.

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