We build dedicated teams, 12 for now, and with the R&D unit, we account for 80 software engineers, whom we hire, engage and motivate. Our people management environment is close to a Big Corporate since dedicated teams work on independent products in various domains.
We’ve faced challenges while building processes and tracking performance in multiple dedicated teams with different managing styles. Through the years we’ve been fine-tuning and re-imagining approaches to track performance in a way that helps Kultprosvet people grow.
Eventually, we came to the conclusion that it always comes up to communication, a dialogue culture. Whatever the HRM tools, managing styles or workflow methodologies, the only domain which truly matters is proper feedback.
In this post, we’ll reflect on the evolution of a performance review and share how we arrange a good feedback within dedicated teams to turn a conservative performance appraisal into a tool for people’s growth, engagement and motivation.
"Nine-rank system for recruiting man for office" is the first documented performance evaluation system. It was used in the third century by the Wei Dynasty for evaluating civil service officials, categorizing, hiring, firing, and promoting them. There were lots of ratings and evaluations throughout human history and most of them are connected to performance at killing others.
Modern performance evaluations are claimed to be born in the muddy trenches of WWI, when military forces began using ratings to identify poor performers and potential leaders. As the big business grew fast in the 1960s and 1970s, they adopted performance reviews from the military to manage a sky-rocketing workforce.
For a long time companies saw annual reviews as a tool to uniform and rotate – the same as an army. Usually, they were tracking performance through ratings and forced rankings. These approaches are biased since they evaluate how employees compared to each other. In this system, you just can’t have a team of equally prominent experts, but you can easily shorten the expenses on awards, merit pays or promotions.
Badly designed performance rankings turned into shiny questionnaires, and the high-performance standards somehow go in line with modern human-centred business culture.
Yet more and more businesses claim to cut short annual reviews since they are costly and inefficient.
Only 14% of the employees believe that performance review helps them grow and only 26% agree that they get helpful feedback according to Gallup’s research.
Infrequency, lack of clarity, manager bias, adverse reactions and too much focus on the pay are five of the most common flaws of the performance review pointed out by respondents.
Fair enough. Proper feedback isn’t easy. It must be frequent and timely, non-violent, non-biased, caring and efficient, and goal-oriented. And that’s a dedicated team sport! Otherwise, it doesn’t work as a gift that helps grow and serves rather as a psychological obstacle to overcome while doing a job you don’t love.
How to give a better feedback
Every time social stress is attached, we become either defensive or criticizing. Overcoming defensive mechanisms and changing patterns takes some knowledge, energy and practice.
My job is mostly to come up with the bad news. How do I communicate that something’s broken or doesn’t work? Calmly, raw facts, zero evaluation, usually wrapped with clear questions.
Zhanna Shulha, QA Engineer at Kultprosvet R&D team
We looked at people among us who give better feedback and asked what they do differently. It came out to be a four-part formula.
Consider set and settings
Don’t make a hungry Judge decide your faith. Be timely! Telling someone they did something wrong after it is too late to improve feels judgmental.
Make it a conversation
Start with a short but important question to show the feedback is important. Get your micro yes and make a connection. Wrap with a question, discuss and exchange!
Give a data point
Tell what you saw (or heard, or experienced), but no blur words, no evaluation, just observation. ”You said you get the email till Tuesday, but I still did not get it.”
Make an impact statement
How does that data point impact you? "I did not get an email and lost an opportunity to…." The brain craves meaning and is hardwired to empathize.
Do not take any feedback as useful for granted. The praise itself tells only what you already know about yourself: you did a great job, or you did an OK job, or you tried. This praise has zero informational value. Ask for data!
How we do a performance review in dedicated teams
We start with Why
We do Performance reviews to help grow and retain talents in our dedicated teams and in-house team. We all are a work in progress and we love to contribute to the great work of each other. Growing for some is getting a raise. That’s essential and there is always room to discuss raises, but it should not be the goal associated with the performance review.
When raise is a goal, performance review turns into an exam with a pretty binary outcome rather than a tool to exchange, improve and build something meaningful.
Klim Trakht, CTO at Kultprosvet
We constantly exchange feedback
Timely feedback is more likely to be helpful and feels constructive, while delayed feedback seems more like criticism. As such, performance feedback is most valuable when people receive it immediately. By receiving feedback close to the action, teammates can more vividly remember the details of the event and more effectively determine how to use that feedback to perform better in the future.
Feedback is a gift, this is how we learn and grow. Good feedback givers usually ask for feedback and tend to receive it efficiently, implying immediately for learning.
Anton Trakht, CEO at Kultprosvet
We do a 360-degree review once in 4, 6 or 12 months
It is a multi-source evaluation, including self-evaluation, and feedback from teammates, leads, and partners. The rhythm depends on the persona since juniors grow faster than seniors. We’ve developed adaptable questionnaires, and it all ends up with a P2P conversation in a private and caring manner where any question can be raised.
When it comes to 360 evaluation, we open up a code review for the last four or six months, and everything is clear. We monitor the development constantly, all the middles and seniors in the team make a review of each other’s code.
Andrey Babenko, Team lead at Liquidity Capital dedicated team
We coach and mentor each other
Always asking questions, craving for feedback, exchanging experiences – this became a culture when we first launched a Kultprosvet School which evolved into a mentoring program.
Software Engineers often think that they work with the code. The truth is you always work with people, with product owners, teammates, users, etc. It all starts with the right questions: Why do we do this? What is the user story behind this? What problem are we solving? The right questions help to understand the product and simply do your job well.
Stanislav Volnyansky, Software Engineer at Engageli dedicated team