How monthly performance reviews changed the way I lead teams, forever ( Employee review template included )

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A year ago, I started something new with my team: monthly performance reviews. I’m not talking about the typical monthly check-in most managers do. I started doing a regular “mini year-end review.”, each month. The difference is that it’s self-directed, less formal, faster, structured, and continual. It’s made my life and my employees’ lives much easier, and our overall performance and “flow” as a team has improved dramatically.

It all came together when one of the guys approached me after his year-end with a list of things he felt were not reflected in his annual review. He was right. I had been thinking about doing monthly reviews for a while. It seemed like the perfect opportunity to experiment. He was game. So, we developed, through trial and error, a system that makes reviews incredibly smooth for us.

The system is simple.

The first week of each month, I meet briefly with each member of my team. They fill out a short template that looks more list a checklist than a performance review. Something like this:

 

April 2013

Goal: Quality

  • <insert anything note worthy that happened in the last 30 days related to this goal. 1 or 2 bullets is enough. Leave it blank is nothing comes to mind>

Direction: Better / Same / Worse

Overall: Good / Needs focus

Goal: Speed

  • <insert anything note worthy that happened in the last 30 days related to this goal. 1 or 2 bullets is enough. Leave it blank is nothing comes to mind>

Direction: Better / Same / Worse

Overall: Good / Needs focus

 etc… etc…

Sample monthly performance review

Sample of my new simplified monthly performance reviews. Short & brief with notes only added if there’s something to discuss.

 

They take a moment to fill it out in point form only. Short is best. They then bold the appropriate rating for “Direction” and “Overall” and fill out a few more questions. That’s it. They upload it to Google Docs. Nice and simple. Before we meet monthly, I take a quick moment to read it. If I agree, we have a quick chat and we’re done. Sometimes, the review can take as little as 5 minutes. If they left something out or I feel they rated themselves differently then I would have rated them, we talk it through.

The funny thing is that because we talk about performance monthly, when we have a different view of how they’re performing, it’s an easy, productive conversation. What I learned is that the more you talk, the easier the conversions about performance are. Having a disagreement at year end can be a disaster. On a monthly basis is no-big-deal.

The template was designed so that each month can be scanned and compared to another month quickly. It captures the core information: goals, highlights, ideas, the successes and the areas of improvement for each month. We don’t miss anything.

 

I still do a year-end review.

The scores from each month are simply added for the year-end total. Only the big picture trends and highlights from the 12 monthly reviews appear in the year-end review submitted to TripAdvisor. The year-end is almost a “non-event” now. Nobody stresses. There are no surprises. And we aren’t relying on memory.

I used to spend hours preparing for year-end performance reviews. Employees would spend a lot of time as well. Both of us would have to recall a year’s worth of work, often times forgetting things. It was a stressful and unreliable system for all involved. Now, it’s a breeze because everything has been chronicled in the monthly reviews and we’re always 100% aligned.

 

There’s something to self-review, immediate feedback, and being in the flow.

Rather than waiting until the end of the year or mid-year, this continuous feedback on a monthly basis has had a big impact on the way our team communicates, tracks performance, and works at being the best. One employee told me he felt that this new system was applying “game theory” to the way we worked. Every 30 days he’d get some immediate recognition – nearly guaranteed, especially if he went above and beyond, and it wouldn’t slip through the cracks. And, he’s pretty much in control of his own review. It’s very empowering.

I’m really interested in what makes people happy, especially at work. If you are too, then you might want to check out the concept of “flow” – a state of heightened focus in which a person performing an activity is fully immersed and feels energized and fulfilled. Here’s an awesome TEDTalk on the topic by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fXIeFJCqsPs. He also wrote a few books on the topic that I’ve really enjoyed and keep in mind with every monthly review: http://www.amazon.com/Mihaly-Csikszentmihalyi/e/B000AQ1KVM.

We all know that when we’re “in our flow” or things “just flow,” that we’re in perfect alignment. Clarity. Immediate feedback. Feeling a part of something larger. Applying our skills to challenges. These are all outcomes of the monthly performance reviews. The structured approach really helps to keep us all focused, and, well, happy.

 

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On April 6, 2014
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  • Ryan

    LOVING THIS however a few questions:

    1) You mention: “goals, highlights, ideas, the successes and the areas of improvement for each month” however the template that you show seems to really only focus on goals.

    2) How does your annual review tally up “points” (as you reference) each year? What are “points” and what do they derive from?

    3) If you don’t agree with the content, do you change the content, mark it up, or just talk about it?

    4) Do goals typically change each month or do you recommend your team lists a few short and long term goals (where perhaps long-term would stick around for a few months while short term would turnover monthly)? On this note, if a goal turns over from one month to the next, do you then refer back to the previous month’s review in the current month?

    5) Would you share the full template rather than just a snippet? 🙂 I think that may answer some of my questions!

    Thanks in advance!

    • luclevesque

      Hi Ryan
      1) The highlights / notes etc are related to overarching goals. I do have a section for “New Ideas” that captures ideas as well though

      2) The end of year points are an average. Discretion is always applied though. If someone did something truly amazing that had a big impact on our results, I make adjustments appropriately. I do this often. Awesome performance one month can skew the entire year (ie: a game changer idea can and should have a big impact on the score )

      3) We talk about it and I let them make the change after we meet.

      4) Goals are *usually* year long and abstracted ( ie: “Speed” vs “Finish project X” ) but some goals are added / removed throughout the year as well where appropriate. I’d suggest feeling out what feels appropriate. I do like to be as specific as possible if I can.

      5) The template covers almost all of it… I’d encourage everyone to build a unique version that’s specific to your teams.

      Hope this helps!

      • Ryan

        Any chance you’d be willing to share your full template or a sample? I’m still unclear on a few things. Either way, this concept will be a significant win for us.

  • Jaydee Herrmannsen

    I would also love the original template if you are willing to share, my small team is reverting from annual performance review and monthly is the way to go, however I also feel some grey areas or lack of understanding. sorry!

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