⚖️ Performance Review Calibrations
How to make a fair assessment?
Hey there! 👋🏼
In this week's issue, I keep diving into the world of Year-End Performance Reviews and focus on calibrations.
As an Engineering Leader, particularly in larger companies, you will hear this word when you submit your evaluations. These calibrations usually start at level 2 (leaders of leaders - usually Engineering Managers) and go to the top of the leadership team.
The main reason I'm focusing on this topic this week is that I got an interesting question on LinkedIn about how Engineering Leaders, especially those from an Individual Contributor role, perceive these calibrations. Another critical topic is how to do these calibrations with fairness.
But let's start at the beginning. What is a Performance Review calibration?
Every year companies evaluate how their employees performed for the year. We call this the Year-End Performance Reviews. The process varies from company to company, but Engineering Leads generally assess how their team performed throughout the year. They:
Write an individual performance review for each of their reports.
Award a qualitative grade.
Award a quantitative grade.
If valid, propose a promotion.
If valid, present salary adjustments.
If valid, submit performance-driven bonuses.
If you take two Engineering Leads from two different teams, they should follow the same process. However, for example, they might have slightly different perceptions of the qualitative scale. The differences in these two Leads might be barely noticeable, but as this scales to dozens or hundreds of teams, you might end up with pretty skewed results.
The concept of calibration comes into play as you move up the leadership chain. To ensure that every area or domain is judged under the same guidelines, you'll get the managers to review the assessments made by their reports and ensure that the basis for evaluation and judgement are the same. This might imply that someone's grade can be changed.
The ultimate goal with calibration is to achieve a consistent and fair evaluation of every single element of the company.
How can an Engineering Lead work towards this calibration?
I'll start by quoting Sun Tzu (what a cliché):
Every battle is won before it's even fought.
You shouldn't consider the Year-End Performance Review an isolated event. It would help if you had a consistent open line of communication with your manager about your team.
Talk to them about who your top and lower performers are.
Whether we like it or not, every bit of information counts during calibration. The manager will rely on the information in the reviews and the data you provided throughout the year. More information about how your team members perform will help the manager and your team later.
Take advantage of your syncs with your manager to do that.
If available, attend training sessions on the guidelines for the Year-End Performance Review. I've seen many Engineering Leads get to game time without having all the information about the rules.
Also, if your manager still needs to do so, request a session with your peers where your manager explains what they expect from you. So many managers fail here.
Ask them how you can make their lives easier. Because by simplifying their life, your eventually make your life easier.
Make sure you and your team keep good performance review habits. I'll focus on this in a later issue, but here are some essential tips:
Make sure every element asks for feedback. Consider how many people are providing feedback and how broad in the company this feedback is coming from.
Keep track of the feedback your team is providing to other elements. The quality of the feedback provided says a lot about your team members.
Keep a shared brag document with your reports. They'll add critical information throughout the year and remove the recency bias.
Make sure you explain to everyone what each grade of the performance review means.
Everyone should have a thorough review, but you should pay even closer attention if you're requesting a promotion or a high grade since those are the most probable to go into a possible calibration.
Do yourself a favour: Don't make promises you can't keep!
How often have we seen expectations be broken because their Lead or Manager said their promotion or salary bump was guaranteed?
Let me repeat this. If you're not the final decision-maker, do not make promises!
All you can say is that you will write the most kick-ass and fair review, showcasing their skills and achievements of the year, but at the end of the day, the decision doesn't reside with you.
If you want to read more about what is necessary to get a promotion, read last week's issue of A Leader's Mindset.
What if you're the one that needs to do the calibration?
If you're calibrating the performance reviews created by your reports, I will break down four key points you need to pay attention to.
A couple of months before the Year-End Performance Review starts, gather your team and ask what they are planning for their teams:
Who are their top and bottom performers?
Who will they propose for promotion?
Follow up with each Engineering Lead privately. This will give you a clear indication of what you can expect from the reviews.
It's important to highlight that promotion requires consistency throughout the year. Reinforce that you don't expect surprises from this moment on. They might appear but have to be exceptionally well supported and even so unlikely to be approved.
As soon as the Year-End Performance Review season starts, gather your Engineering Leads and have a clear conversation about what you expect from each review.
Go into the grades, what they mean and how they can assess their team members. This session should follow any training session provided by the company.
Be transparent about the calibration process. Providing information will give them the tools they need to give you better reviews aligned with what you require to calibrate.
When it's time for the calibration, everything should be self-explanatory. Assuming that the previous points went as planned, you'll need to review high grades and/or promotions, so it fills quotas or budgets.
To make the fairest analysis, I tend to ask questions like these:
Does the review support the grade or the promotion?
In a side-by-side comparison, is there enough information in the review to decide?
If this is a compensation issue, are there other mechanisms available?
Do we have any flight risks to be considered?
What was their contribution to the company? The area? The team?
What will be expected from each person the next year? Anyone stands out?
It's a challenging process, but it needs to be done thoughtfully. You need to make a decision, and for that, you need an element to stand out clearly.
You're making the call. The decision is on you. Make sure you're 100% OK with your decision because you should be able to justify your grounds to anyone who asks.
Someone told me once. Make sure you're comfortable with your salary sheet coming out and being able to justify everyone's salaries. I have a clear decision matrix for salary calculations, but I'll leave that for the next issue.
Well, that's it from me. I hope you have a fantastic weekend and that this issue helps you understand how Performance Review Calibrations work.
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Have an incredible week! 💪🏼
Parada 👊🏼 A Leader's Mindset