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  • michaelhouben

66% ‘strongly dissatisfied’ by annual performance reviews – insider tips to ace them (part 3 of 3)

Updated: Mar 30, 2023

This final part of the series covers Personal Development Plans (PDPs) and an alternative for the traditional annual performance review process. The first part and second part respectively covered tips for the feedback receiver and the feedback provider. Should you have missed these parts, you can find them back here (part 1) and here (part 2).

More and more companies become aware that the traditional annual performance review process, which intends to increase performance, more often than not has the opposite effect. Additionally, it's a VERY time consuming and costly process.

The need for something different is abundantly clear, but change takes time. Large corporations are especially slow to adapt, meaning many of us remain stuck with the 20th century annual performance review relic for years to come. 😕

Luckily there are two things every team leader can (and should) do in close cooperation with their team members, even if their company stays put:

  1. Create a Personal Development Plan (PDP) for every team member

  2. Drive execution of the created PDPs

You might wonder why PDPs are so important. The reason is simple: they are a fundamental aspect in boosting the engagement and output of an engineering team 💪. That's why Personal Development Planning is one of the eight modules in MACH 8's exclusive MOMENTUM method for shaping high performance engineering teams. When all 8 modules are integrated in synergy, your team is turned into an invincible force ready to take on any challenge.

What follows discusses the above mentioned steps for creating and executing PDPs, and how PDPs can reshape the traditional performance review process.

Let's get movin'! 🏃‍♀️

Creating Personal Development Plans

First thing you should know, is that a PDP basically consists of 2 parts:

  • Part 1: the career roadmap

  • Part 2: the action plan

Let's discuss both parts one by one.

Part 1 of the Personal Development Plan: the career roadmap

The goal of the career roadmap is to identify major career milestones. This happens in consideration of the aspirations of the team member, past performance, development potential and available opportunities in the team or the wider organization.

A 1to1 between team leader and team member is the best way to create a career roadmap. Focus on finding the answers to following questions, related to the career of the team member:

  • Where do we aim to be in 1 year from today?

  • Where do we aim to be in 2 years from today?

  • Where do we aim to be in 5 years from today?

Ahead of the 1to1, make sure to prepare the answers individually. This will help to come to a shared vision. 🎯

Part 2 of the Personal Development Plan: the action plan

Once the career roadmap is prepared, it's time for part 2: making the action plan! Here are basically two scenarios:

  • Scenario 1: no gap compared to the current situation was identified during the creation of the career roadmap

  • Scenario 2: a gap was identified during the creation of the career roadmap

Even in scenario 1, it remains important to prepare a small action plan that focusses on incremental growth of soft skills and hard skills. Often, the action plan can be created 'on the fly' with the career roadmap.

In scenario 2, the action plan will be more extensive. Especially when the gap cannot be covered within the scope of the team, a separate 1to1 should be scheduled. This gives time to reflect and align. Depending on the situation, the team leader might have to discuss with the HR department, the team leader of another team, or with someone else within the organization. ⏳

In both scenarios, you can use following table as a guidance for making the action plan.

Pro tip for team leaders 💪: in case you find it hard to pin down the right action, ask your team member to schedule a follow-up with a specialist from your HR department. By bringing in the HR perspective and experience, there's a very good chance of finding the right way forward.

Executing Personal Development Plans

Whenever possible, it's best to put the execution responsibility of the actions defined in the PDP with the team member. This gives team members the opportunity to take charge in their own personal development, while eliminating the risk that the team leader becomes the bottleneck.

Pro tip 💪: regard the PDP as a living document, and not as something rigid only to be reviewed during formal moments. When new insights or requirements pop up, just include them on the fly in the PDP! This will make the journey of personal development more dynamic, efficient and fun.

How to reshape the traditional annual performance review process with Personal Development Plans

First, let's take a look at the steps in a typical performance review process. Please note that the early steps (like setting objectives) are left out for sake of simplicity.

  1. Every team member prepares a self-assessment of last year's performance

  2. 1to1s between the team members and their team leaders to ensure mutual understanding of the self-assessment

  3. Team leaders individually contrast their team members, and come to initial ratings

  4. Team leaders join the cross-team calibration rounds to compensate rating bias, and to determine the final ratings. Side note: dinosaur companies tend to abuse this step by enforcing the notorious Bell curve on the ratings 🦕. To all team leaders working in dinosaur companies: check out part 2 of the series and learn to get the ratings your team members truly deserve!

  5. 1to1 where the team leader provides the final feedback to the team members (the most dreaded step of all 😨). Check out part 1 and part 2 of this series for my insider tips on dealing with this step.

One of the most contested aspects of the above process, is the explicit rating… You know that number or word that usually hides away somewhere at the bottom of the performance document, as if it somehow knows it's hugely controversial. The terms 'Outstanding', 'Exceed', 'Meet', 'Improve' and 'Below' probably sound familiar for many of you. And many of you really don't want to be rated on this kind of scale [1]. 🚫

Now on to the good news! PDPs open the door to getting rid of explicit ratings, and can modernize the annual performance review process as follows:

  1. Every team member prepares a self-assessment of last year's performance. Additionally, they prepare their personal view on their career roadmap. In parallel, the team leader prepares her or his view on the career roadmap of all team members.

  2. 1to1s between team members and team leader to ensure mutual understanding of the self-assessment, and to achieve common (but not yet final) ground on the career roadmaps. After this step, the first part of the PDP is almost finished.

  3. The team leader joins the cross-team calibration rounds, where the development potential and career roadmaps of all team members are aligned. Sometimes this type of calibration is called a 'development center'. Sounds a lot better, doesn't it? 😉

  4. 1to1s where the team leader feeds back the outcome of the development center to the team members. The action plans to realize the career roadmaps are jointly prepared during these 1to1s. Now, the PDPs are completed and ready for execution.

The proposed process replaces the explicit rating by an implicit rating, because past performance is considered in the construction of the career roadmap and the action plan. Let's clarify this with two extreme examples:

  • Example 1: an engineer has consistently delivered high output (the WHAT), in pro-active cooperation with team members and stakeholders (the HOW). This great performance is reflected in the engineer's PDP by updating the career roadmap with a move to 'lead engineer' within a period of two years. In the action plan, steps are included to boost the necessary soft skills (e.g. persuasion).

  • Example 2: an engineer is struggling to deliver upon commitments made to stakeholders. Unrealistic timelines have been communicated, and output reviews regularly reveal technical mistakes. Both the WHAT and the HOW are under pressure. As performance has not improved compared to the year before, and no options for a career inside the company remain, an exit is unavoidable. In this sad case, the PDP can be used as a vehicle to orchestrate the exit respectfully. First step is to use the career roadmap, and indicate directions in which the engineer WILL be able to excel. After all, failure is an inherit part on the road to success! Next, use the action plan to summarize concrete steps to carry over the work, and to identify actions that support the team member's pivot towards a new career (one example here could be to guide the team member to a government funded career coach). 🤝

In the first example, the PDP implicitly confirms a high rating to the engineer, while (and this is much more important!) explicitly appreciating the great work with a clear development plan to the next level. In the second example, the PDP enables a positive parting of ways, and even helps to set direction for a career elsewhere. 🍀


That's it for the final part of this series! It's quite a read, so I hope you made it to the end and got some inspiring ideas. In case you do, please let me know in the comments below. 👇

Please also share your own insights to inspire your fellow colleagues, and to make the annual performance review more pleasant and useful for all involved! ☀️

Keywords: performance review, performance appraisal, performance evaluation, performance feedback, performance assessment, performance review process, performance appraisal process


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