Every year, software engineers all over the world are puzzled with the infamous “annual performance reviews”. Particularly puzzling are two components: the rewards and the feedback.
The rewards have as much correlation with the results achieved over the last fiscal year as the economic improvement in Morroco. It is typical for software engineers to be puzzled by getting a promotion after the year when they just prepared to interview for other jobs. They stay in the company and let go of an opportunity, only to be punished with a bad reward the very next year, after working harder and more motivated than ever, delivering astonishing results. In the past, I wrote a little about how to understand the reward component of performance reviews and its relationship to results (see Performance Review for the Three Little Pigs).
Today, let’s focus on how to understand that “feedback for improvement”, which most engineers receive in a form designed by a disciple of Picasso, which nobody is ever sure if they filled correctly. A few lucky ones get the feedback less formally in a brief meeting, from which the manager delivering the feedback tries to run away as fast as possible. Nobody really wants “feedback on the feedback”, so don’t even try that failed path! After delivering in the order of hundreds of performance reviews, reading several hundred performance review documents, participating in dozens of “calibration meetings”, receiving myself lots of “performance feedback”, and having worked in 3 different countries in small, medium and large companies, I hope to alleviate your pain by providing below a brief guide on how to understand the feedback that your manager presents during the annual performance review, supposedly “for your improvement”. I’m a software developer, and this is obviously focused on that discipline.
”You need to improve your communication skills”: Ironically, all the people that said you were a great communicator during interviews that look like happened yesterday, suddenly realized that they only understood your answers during the interviews because they already knew those! When you talk nowadays about new technologies, using words that we don’t know the meaning of – such as Git, AWS, qbits and several others – then we don’t understand your sentences. I’m a bad manager, and instead of asking you what is this “Git” thing when you were talking about it, and learning right there about such topic, I just took note of the incident to provide you this feedback 7 months later. You need to be more proactive reading minds and understanding puzzled faces, lowering the level of your explanations as needed. Also, despite the fact that I was dumb enough to reply all to an e-mail thread with a stupid question about 5 months ago, you didn’t have to promptly reply all pointing to an answer and saying you found it with a web search using exactly the terms of my question. You made me look like a fool, and I have exclusive rights for that!
“You need to improve your visibility”: I’m a bad manager. During the last fiscal year, I let you work on tasks that made no sense for the business, and then I was shamed into reality during calibration. There are tasks that you worked on that made sense for the business, but I don’t understand those. You fixed our enumeration of COM categories, but when I was trying to explain why that was wrong before I made so many mistakes that the more technical peers started laughing while trouncing my explanation. In the end, I decided not to be confrontational with my peers, because I already have no technical value. If I’m not the lead/manager that let others run over me during calibration then nobody will have pity on me, and I’ll be useless and unlikeable.
”You are not collaborating well” or “You have relationship problems with your peers”: Your peers are not technical enough. Instead of doing like you, and focusing on the work they committed to, your peers focus on attending meetings and backstabbing you and others they perceive as a threat. I’m a bad manager, and instead of promptly telling them to stop this nonsense, I listen to them, taking notes. I cannot present you with any practical examples. After reading my notes, I realized that all the examples they provided to me are so absurd that I don’t dare to repeat them, or you will realize I’m even dumber than you already think I am. Now that I think about it, the reality is that my IQ is really low, and it takes me a while to understand when I’m being framed. Problem is: they came to me proactively, and you focused on work. I was framed, and now I don’t have a way out of this without even more embarrassment. I will stay framed by them, instead of double-framed by them and you. Start improving your collaboration skills by collaborating with me on this!
”You are not being proactive enough” or ”You are not working hard enough”. You are finishing all tasks we give you faster than our ability to create new tasks, or reassign existing ones. Not only you are embarrassing your peers, but you are also embarrassing the entire management chain. Doing in 2 days a task that your colleague estimated that would take two weeks to implement, with two more weeks to write the unit tests, creates a huge problem for everyone. You keep using such TDD (What was that again?) practice and finishing your features with full code coverage, and no bugs. Now, everyone sees that I’m a bad manager when realizing that I accepted from someone else an estimate that would only achieve after 4 weeks what you finished in 2 days. Testers are unhappy because they don’t find easy bugs in your code, and other developers hate you, because during integration you expose all the shallow thinking they put in their components! Why couldn’t you do like everyone else, arriving late every day and staying for dinner, and then going to your office saying that you would have to work hard until midnight? Then you just pay your bills, make some purchases online, update the social network status, set the screensaver to activate only 4 hours later, and leave to go home as everyone else does! If you finished after 2 days, just show up in more meetings and pass time watching all the funny cat videos your friends and fellow workers post on the social network. Didn’t you think everyone else would be envy that you have a real life outside working hours?