January. Time for the annual review. A moment for discussion and reflection on last year’s plan. Maybe some appraisal here and there. Reflection is good, right? I mean, in Scrum we almost preach about inspection and adaptation.
So I felt I performed well last year. Reeled in my own assignment, finished the Disruptive Strategy course from Harvard, started a podcast series on business agility (available on all the big platforms). Did some really cool things. And then it struck me: none of these were part of my year plan. The same thing can happen to my colleagues, as they have the same format. Limiting the discussion to ‘inspect’ the plan, unable to change anything about it. Inhibiting adaptation. What happened?!
Career development is empirical, too
There were some things I planned, together with my employer, for the 2020 year. Things included advancement on the Professional Scrum Trainer track, obtain the last certificates by Scrum.org (gotta catch ’em all) and follow up on the Co-Active Coaching fundamentals I did in 2019. These provide easy checkboxes to tick off.
But as time progresses, we never seem to reflect on the plan iteratively. In other words, if anything happens in the meantime, there is no “formal event” to adjust the path that has been set out. I can tell you one thing, my year plan that was created in January 2020 did not include for instance “COVID rigidity”.
COVID had a massive impact on my motivation to advance in the PST traject. I got motivated to do other things, like work on my fitness and overall health (until barbecue season hit, mind you. I had a physical second wave, didn’t work out well. Pun intended). But halfway through the year, nothing had changed on my year plan. It doesn’t make the plan invalid, because the action points listed there are still my desire to achieve. However, it isn’t adapted either.
I found the Disruptive Strategy course along the way and was able the enroll in it. I absolutely loved it and I do take a certain amount of pride that its logo is now on my resume. Wonderful setup, great people to work together and connect with and the content provided me with instant tools to apply in practice. Bang for buck. But as annual reviews are only (what’s in a name) once a year, this is not one of those checkboxes that are ticked off. And don’t get me wrong, this is not about blindly ticking anything off. My point is that annual reviews are hopelessly outdated and limit transparency at best. Worst case scenario, it might even become a tool to demonize someone’s progress.
“Annual” reviews should go
I uphold nothing against the idea of inspecting personal goals in order to plan. Just like it’s important to strategize your product and have some guidelines on where you want to go. I do uphold a grudge toward the rigidity of setting that date in stone and leaving out any options to adapt the plan.
“All nice and well, but how about offering a solution instead of all this complaining!” Fair point, my dear reader. Personally, I feel there are a few areas on which I would like to get my feedback:
- How well I perform compared to my assignment description
- How well I perform according to the people I work with directly
- How well I perform for my own employer (revenue, knowledge sharing, coaching colleagues)
- Personal development
- Business development (not restricted to “just” my agile contribution. Think about marketing activities, for example)
It’s really hard to put these things into a single-year plan, as they are highly prone to change. Besides that, I already can’t remember what my wife told me a week ago, let alone I have to recite something I did 11 months in the past. I’d much rather see that I’d discuss this with all the people involved separately, aggregate this and then move to discuss this with my manager once every other month. Different colleagues might thrive on different cadences here.
When it comes to personal feedback, it’s great to personalize the way progress is being inspected. Think of your career as a product; my product is different from my colleagues’. It wouldn’t make sense to blindly measure my product with the same exact metrics as my colleagues’. Yet, that’s exactly what happens.
Lately, I have been pondering that even rewarding would ideally be personalized as well. As we move toward motivating employees from an intrinsic perspective on how they PERFORM the work, wouldn’t it make sense to REWARD based on intrinsic desires as well?
To illustrate what I mean; perhaps one of my well-respected colleagues likes to be rewarded with a relatively high paycheck. Totally understandable, everyone likes money. And I personally would be satisfied with a lower paycheck but would like to see my gym subscription paid for. Or I’ve been eyeballing that new Xbox Series X for a while now (impossible to get your hands on, sigh).
For me personally, annual reviews no longer work. I see it around me, too. I can almost pinpoint it in my agenda. Reviews are coming up and one of the other comes to me asking for mandatory feedback, rolling their eyes. Annual reviews are outdated, rigid, and take away the ability to inspect and adapt for performance perspectives.
What might work for me is something that might not work for you. Just like products, we need to look at the specific personal desires and needs are in order to elevate efficacy in employee satisfaction and in turn; performance.