It's performance review season!

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Ah, performance reviews. The season that eats up most managers’ spare time as they collect and synthesize feedback from others. The season that ramps up anxiety in teammates as they wait to hear what’s been said about them, and whether or not they’re gonna get that promotion. It’s both draining and tedious, and tremendously important.

I’ve got some tools and prompts to help you through this season, and equip you for future ones. From synthesizing peer feedback at the start to the moment that you deliver it to your reports, there’s lots you can do to ensure that each performance review is heard and digested.


Feedback Equation

Synthesizing others’ feedback

We all know that the feedback that you deliver to your teammates should not be a surprise. But I’m going to guess that as you’re synthesizing others’ feedback, you’ll realize that some of it will still be surprising for your report.

To try to avoid amygdala-hijacking your report, I recommend using this feedback equation, which is based on SBI (Situation-Behavior-Impact).

The feedback equation focuses on structuring feedback in a fact-based way. You’ll often find that peers lump in their assumptions (“I think [teammate] is doing this because…”) and judgments (“their launch emails don’t include enough information”) as they write feedback. It’s important that you transform all of this feedback into a description of your teammate’s behavior that sticks to just the facts.

The feedback equation can also help you shift the focus from why you or others think it’s important for your teammate to change their behavior, to why the feedback recipient might care about changing their behavior. It’s way more likely for them to care about improving when you’ve synthesized the impact in a way that resonates for them.

Use this equation for positive feedback and constructive criticism, and for feedback large and small. You’ll probably include just the observation and impact parts in any written feedback, and then use the question part when it’s time to have a conversation about it with your report.

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Tie it back to shared docs

I’m hopeful that you have some sort of roles and responsibilities documented for folks; this usually looks like a career ladder, skills matrix, or job description for your teammates.

Regardless of the format, try to connect the dots between that role/responsibility description and the feedback you’re giving. Is your teammate meeting expectations? Are they meeting some of the expectations of the next level? Are there particular expectations that they’ve missed the mark on—a dealbreaker for them to progress to the next level?

Get specific: in your performance review, quote language from that shared documentation, and group your feedback based on those quotes. Include related feedback from other reviewers, and related (fact-based!) observations of behaviors you’ve seen this person demonstrate.

This will hopefully help your teammates see the connection between their work and what’s expected of them at the organizational level. This might also help make sure that your assessment matches what’s expected of their role or level on other teams, too.

Written or verbal feedback delivery?

Some folks prefer to receive written feedback; others prefer to receive it with your mouthwords. The only way to know is to ask them ahead of time. It’s worth knowing so that however you end up delivering the feedback to your teammates, you can do it in the least amygdala-hijacking way possible. After all, you want them to be able to digest the feedback!

Usually, HR will require you to have some form of feedback documented. This is why I suggest that even if your direct report prefers to receive feedback verbally, still write it up in a shareable format (like a Google doc). Then after you’ve delivered the feedback, share the document with your direct report, so that they can continue to digest it later—and so you can copy the same documentation into whatever HR requires, too.

When you do deliver it verbally, remember to create space with your words, and in the environment. Don’t pick a tiny phone booth to deliver constructive criticism! Go for a walk, or pick a larger space to help make the recipient even more comfortable. And leave lots of pauses after you ask questions, or make statements—give the recipient room to process and respond.

Encourage additional debriefs

After you’ve delivered the performance review to your teammate, encourage them to also process the details with other people that they trust (mentors, a coach, etc.) This is one of my favorite things to lean on my Manager Voltron for; it can be really helpful to get their additional perspective and ideas on what I can do to continue to grow and develop.

As a manager, you don’t want your reports to solely lean on you for this stuff! Encourage them to create this support system for themselves, and leverage these relationships for things like processing feedback and brainstorming new opportunities for growth.

Lara Hogan

I’m an author, public speaker, and coach for managers and leaders across the tech industry. Previously VP of Engineering at Kickstarter, and Engineering Director at Etsy.

I champion management as a practice within the tech industry, and celebrating career achievements with donuts.