No one likes performance reviews, and they have a very good reason for that. Science has proven they're pretty much useless.

Don't believe me? Here's a whole post laying out the research on why we should finally kill the performance review, which is pretty conclusive. But if you're in a rush, this is the bottom line: people don't like to criticize others to their face, so almost everyone ends up getting a good review. The end result is a huge waste of time.

The case for the end of the stereotypical once a year sit-down with your boss might be open and shut, but seeing the light and eliminating the practice just raises another question. What should replace it? Reviews might be a suboptimal way to dole it out, but constructive feedback remains hugely valuable.

It's a good question in need of concrete suggestions. Startup CloudPeeps has one. Why not try "pair calls" instead?

What's a pair call?

"If you've spent any time at all in the corporate world you're familiar with the dreaded performance review," writes Tessa Greenleaf, who spearheaded the company's initiative to improve the feedback process, on CloudPeeps' blog. "It's old school, it's painful, and I don't know anyone who gets excited for them--I never did." So CloudPeeps chucked out the tired practice and replaced it with pair calls. How is a pair call different?

"You're not sitting in a one-way monologue listening from your supervisor. Instead, you're in a dialogue with your peers talking about ways you can help each other be better team member," she explains. "We've set up a round-robin schedule where each person schedules two calls per month with two different team members."

What do you talk about?

Sounds simple enough, but what exactly do people discuss on these pair calls. Greenleaf instituted a system where each call starts with the same two questions. Here they are in her own words:

  1. Share two positive characteristics: What about your teammate helps you enjoy working with them?
  2. Share one constructive criticism: How can your teammate improve in one aspect of their work?

After that initial bit of feedback heavy lifting, the pair of colleagues on the call are instructed to discuss any of the questions below that strikes their fancy, though team members are allowed to chat about whatever they feel is most of interest to them:

  1. How's your workload?
  2. How do you feel your work/life balance is right now?
  3. What are the top three things that you feel waste your time during the day?
  4. Are there any projects you'd really like to work on if you had the chance?
  5. Are there any big opportunities you think we're leaving on the table?
  6. Do you feel like you're on the same page with the team as a whole?

If that sounds potentially even more awkward than sitting down yearly with your boss, then you're not alone. Greenleaf acknowledges the process can feel a little strange at first. "I know what you're thinking: pretty touchy-feely, right? At first it feels very revealing to dive into these types of questions," she concedes, "but we've found that the more we learn about one another, the better we work together."

And despite the potential weirdness of getting used to the format, Greenleaf insists it has already shown benefits, including making it easier for feedback to flow not just from supervisors to subordinates, but the other way as well.

Of course, this is only one (remote) team's experience, and I could foresee some companies finding this too formal an approach, too time-consuming, or difficult to manage as a team grows, but it's great to hear what CloudPeeps is up to in order to get the ideas flowing as to what could best replace the tired, old performance review.

What other alternatives are out there for feedback without performance reviews?

Published on: Nov 11, 2015