Top two rules of Performance Reviews – How to not make them a Candy Scramble

Just like everyone else I have had many great performance reviews and a couple of stinkers. I had a bit of an epiphany during an Empathy session at Protegra that clarified why some reviews go well and some go very badly.

First things first though. I’m finding these sessions at Protegra on “Empathy” and “Giving and Receiving Feedback” extremely helpful. I’ve been in the industry for over 25 years and this is the first time anybody has understood that Empathy and the process of giving and receiving feedback is an acquired skill. In many ways it is similar to estimating.

No Performance Reviews!

Many people are proposing that we should simply do away with performance reviews. I would propose that performance reviews are like estimates, they are not inherently evil. Could they be used for nefarious purposes? Sure, but almost anything can. I think if you follow the two rules of Performance Reviews you will find the reviews become much more useful and positive. When Performance Reviews are a negative experience it is usually due to what bad managers or leaders do with the review. Yea, kinda like estimates. 🙂

The two rules

The training provided a great hierarchy on feedback which I found really helpful. There are essentially three types of feedback:

Appreciation – Informal, personal feedback on how someone is doing or has done something recently, Focus is usually just on the past.

Coaching – More formal but still personal Feedback on how someone has done something recently. There also is the added focus of coaching for the future as well as acknowledging the past.

Evaluation – The most formal of the feedback types. This is the performance review. Like coaching the focus is both on the past and the future, but there is also an additional component of ranking or evaluation to some standards of the role or competencies.

Rule #1

The types of feedback need to be provided by the same person in the order listed. I can’t expect to evaluate someone if I don’t have a relationship that has already involved providing Appreciation and Coaching Feedback. But yet, this is exactly what a lot of large corporations do! The manager is expected to gather and provide feedback sometimes with limited direct experience with the individual. This can lead to misinterpretation and incorrect emphasis being placed on some feedback received from others. In many cases, anonymous feedback is also incorporated with no personal context to allow that  information to be used appropriately. This is the Performance Review equivalent of a Candy Scramble.

Many times this is done because the focus is not on helping the individual to grow and get better, but to do annual performance reviews because that is what Human Resources says we need to do.

But if we focus on providing Appreciation and Coaching before we can do any Evaluation, it places the emphasis back where it belongs.

Rule #2

We need to make all types of the feedback a conversation. Again this is where having Appreciation and Coaching feedback sessions will help to make the meetings more conversational. In many large companies you don’t have a discussion with your manager until your performance review. You have no idea what he or she thinks, you get blindsided with feedback, and you say nothing when he or she asks for your thoughts. If you aren’t providing Appreciation and Coaching to your people, you are essentially ambushing them and not building relationships. These managers are usually the same people who remark after someone left that they are surprised and how they never said anything about being unhappy.

If we just have annual reviews without any Appreciation and Coaching discussions, they will never become conversational.


I found these types of feedback helpful and made it clear where performance reviews have been less than optimal when I had been giving and receiving feedback.

Another component of feedback is to make sure it is specific and actionable. Many times feedback ends up being vague and difficult to understand and incorporate. (Bob, we really need you to show more initiative) If we provide Appreciation and Coaching feedback we will find more specific types of feedback being provided. This is because those types of feedback almost always are grounded in specific examples that have been observed. Then the Evaluation feedback just summarizes what has already been communicated and the Evaluation feedback is less vague.

Of course providing Appreciation and Coaching feedback require time and effort, but the people we work with are worth it.


Author: Terry Bunio

Terry Bunio is passionate about his work as the Manager of the Project Management Office at the University of Manitoba. Terry oversees the governance on Information Technology projects to make sure the most important projects are being worked on in a consistent and effective way. Terry also provides leadership on the customized Project Methodology that is followed. The Project Methodology is a equal mix of Prince2, Agile, Traditional, and Business Value. Terry strives to bring Brutal Visibility, Eliminating Information islands, Right Sizing Documentation, Promoting Collaboration and Role-Based Non-Consensus, and short Feedback Loops to Minimize Inventory to the Agile Project Management Office. As a fan of pragmatic Agile, Terry always tries to determine if we can deliver value as soon as possible through iterations. As a practical Project Manager, Terry is known to challenge assumptions and strive to strike the balance between the theoretical and real world approaches for both Traditional and Agile approaches. Terry is a fan of AWE (Agile With Estimates), the Green Bay Packers, Winnipeg Jets, and asking why?

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