Writing Performance Reviews for people you barely know
Can we be honest? Aren’t performance reviews and assessments a complete pain in the tush? Now, can we take it a step further and admit that it’s hard enough to review performance for a team you’ve actually been leading for a year, but feels nearly impossible to assess a team you’ve just met?
Who’s been in this situation? Me. I have. Numerous times. I’ve typically been hire #2 for companies that are scaling. There are sometimes 20+ hires on the team when I walk in and within the first 30–45 days I’m asked to run an entire performance review or assessment of the team. I know I can’t be the only one who’s been asked to do this. So, I thought I’d share.
Why does a company expect you (the newcomer) to assess performance for a bunch of people you’ve only just met?
Reality is they probably have no clue how to hold the team accountable. You’ve come in as the subject matter expert and they think: voila! The new leader will know what to do. Here, no leader (while pushing the team your way collectively). Assess!
When you ask for expectations that were set before you joined: they don’t exist. When you look for data on employee performance: there is none. You’re literally supposed to pull a rabbit out of a hat. So, what do you do?
Focus on 3 areas that no one can deny: Quantity, Quality and Culture. Your work has to be done well and accurately (quality), you must carry your weight on the team (quantity), and you can’t be an asshole (culture). Next, approach these three areas in the simplest way.
Get down to the basics (Quantity)
Set basic expectations of the role. So basic, that they should be doing these things already and if they aren’t doing these things, they shouldn’t be in the role.
Believe me, you’ll still get push back, but it is common knowledge that you should be responding to customers if you’re in a customer service role. So, any failure to do so, means you’re not doing your job. For example, missing calls, or not responding to messages, or responding to messages with misinformation, all points of failure.
These are all things you can hold someone accountable for (with proof), even if you weren’t there to guide them beforehand. Though there may not be any reports available now, there must be a way to pull this information from your various systems. Look for contribution and consider shift start times as well. How well is the person contributing to the team as a whole? This will satisfy quantity.
Let them toot their own horn (Quality)
Yes, the good ole self-assessment. Some people love them, some people hate them. I wish there was a solution that worked for all, but there just isn’t one. With this one, it’s all about positioning. Here’s how I always approach the self-assessment (in a nutshell): We just met. I know nothing about you. Here’s your chance to tell me all the things I need to know. What have you accomplished over the last year? What have you done well? What could you have done better? What would you like to learn?
While they work on this, you work on the data (quantity). The self-assessment becomes the heart of the qualitative assessment and the quantitative assessment is determined by the numbers. In the end, the employee has decided whether they’re “good” at their job, not you. But you know have a foundation from which to build, and you know which skills they need and would like to acquire.
For the Culture
In the self-assessment, ask for the names of 3 colleagues they’ve worked with on various projects. Ask those 3 colleagues to anonymously rate the employee’s performance. Avoid using direct quotes (it will be super easy to determine who said what), but instead focus on the objective feedback provided during the assessment.
Here are some questions you can ask:
What did [person] do extremely well?
What would you say [person] could do better?
Was [person] active and engaged in the project?
Was [person] communicative and clear while working on the project?
As a team, did you meet the outcome of the project?
Trust me, if the employee isn’t doing what they should be doing, people will use this as an opportunity to say something.
In the end
You’ve now assessed a team of people you don’t know. You’ve provided them with direct feedback (none of which came from you outside of the quantitative piece, and that’s just common sense) and you now know your team that much better. From here, you can build a foundation from which to take the team to the next level.