Your startup should be doing collaborative performance reviews. Here’s why.

When I started Weever Apps, our focus was on building our product and figuring out everything we might accomplish one day. Performance review meetings and similar corporate “kruft” wasn’t on the agenda —that stuff, after all, was exactly the kind of work that made up the type of company we didn’t want to build. We wanted to be different, to be better. We were wrong.

Performance reviews have helped make Weever Apps the better place to work. So why did we start spending time on something like performance reviews?

Here’s why: performance reviews improve a team’s ability to work together and get things done. The goal of a collaborative performance review is to get honest feedback from team members, identify issues and misalignments, and develop ways to work together to create a shared actions plan for the future.

For example, in 2016, I adapted the Lean Business Model Canvas into a Collaborative performance review template and started using it with my own team. View and download the template.

If you’re new to the process, this all might seem daunting. So I’ve compiled a simple step-by-step list of how to stage a collaborative performance review:

  1. There is a manager (the facilitator) and an interviewee (the employee or peer). Both parties have access to a [collaborative review template] well in advance and come prepared to communicate their responses with each other.
  2. After verifying that both parties have had a chance to read through the template and gather their thoughts, the meeting starts. The facilitator reminds the interviewee that money/salary discussion is a distraction and not on the agenda.
  3. The manager (or peer) interviews the team member about their work tasks and roles that they like and dislike, following Sakichi Toyoda’s “5 Why’s” method as a guide.
  4. The interviewee communicates their own self-evaluation: the wins, losses, and challenges of their role, and (most importantly) the “why” behind each.
  5. Both parties review a predefined list of skill sets and evaluate how the interviewee is performing. Skills items include communication ability, initiative, attention to detail, and more. Skill discussion, not lengthy project-driven debates, should frame the review in a context of collaborative personal and professional development.
  6. The manager provides the employee with their evaluation. Critical, pre-captured feedback from other team members is included, but not in a combative or interrogative way (g., “one concern that came up from some of your teammates was…”).
  7. The manager and employee collaborate on an action plan to address existing issues, improvement areas and employee requests. Both the manager and the employee have action items (deliverables) to which they will be held accountable at the next review in three or four months.
  8. Finally, both parties sign the action plan and are encouraged to review it for a few minutes each week, evaluating whether they are accomplishing the goals they set forward together.

People on startup teams are more likely to have serious misalignments of roles, responsibilities and goals with their teammates. Early small misalignments often manifest as serious conflicts (and failed companies) in the future. Benefits that a collaborative performance review can deliver include:

  • Getting to the root causes of what is working and not working for team members, allowing teams to address fundamental problems and not various symptoms.
  • Identifying and addressing misalignments on roles and expected responsibilities among team members before they become (more) serious issues.
  • Identifying skill and growth opportunities (g., “I’d really like to try this…”) for each interviewee. This helps keep employees engaged and provides a young company the opportunity to see who may perform well in different roles.
  • Providing team members with specific, clear requests for professional improvement and defining the support required to do so.
  • Aligning team members on priorities, needs, goals and job expectations from others. In my experience, even people who work very closely together are surprised by some of the feedback they receive (both positive and negative). The review is an opportunity to see the company and their work in it from another’s perspective.
  • Setting a documented, collaborative and “fair” basis for future evaluations where both parties can review their performance in addressing the actions plan. In a good team environment evaluation is team-driven and not based on the whims of a manager’s personal bias or recent project experience.

As I have said before, strategy is overemphasized on startup teams; it is execution that matters most.  Performance reviews improve a team’s ability to execute on opportunities and, ultimately, that is what will make any company successful.