Superheroes’ performance review

End of the year and another boring annual performance review? Well, if you have superheroes in your team make them feel special – like true superheroes deserve.

Photo by ErikaWittlieb

I have to say that I believe in a performance review. A good performance review makes people feel valued and important, motivate them to grow and help them set their career goals. But to make it work well, a performance review needs to be done right.

My company was a part of the big reorganization on the group level some time ago. One of the consequences was that our own pretty good performance review program was replaced by a new one, which in my opinion hasn’t fully matched the nature of our work. Many people in the company haven’t been keen on doing it and therefore they haven’t been doing it in a proper fashion. To me, it has felt like a waste of time.

Additionally, my team has been struggling with low morale recently. Because of many reasons, on which we haven’t had much influence, the project we are working in hasn’t been going perfectly fine. In consequence, we started feeling stressed out and demotivated. I wanted to find something that would boost the morale and cheer people up.

One of the outstanding things I find in my work are people who I work with. I find my team to be the best of a kind and I know that others feel similar. I thought that the end of the year can be a great opportunity to remind my teammates how great they are. I decided to run an extraordinary personal annual performance review.

Getting feedback

I started with getting the personal feedback about my team members. During biweekly one-on-ones, I asked everyone to say something about every colleague in the team. I said that I needed it to help me in the annual performance review.

For our brains, bad emotions are stronger and more memorable than good ones and because I wanted to boost morale instead of plunging it, I asked for positive feedback only. I asked everyone by surprise and I didn’t give much time to think because I didn’t want to take the precious time of my developers and I thought that this way the feedback would be the humblest.

When guys heard that, every one of them reacted similarly: “Well… that’s hard”. They thought that they wouldn’t make it. But eventually, everyone was able to say a couple of positive words about every other team member without a need to think much. To help them out, I asked them some auxiliary questions:

  1. What do you like about him?
  2. What impresses you about him?
  3. Has he surprised you positively recently?
  4. Has he helped you with something recently?

I was surprised that their feedback was quick, humble, extensive and creative. I was expecting that they would copy the same obvious observations, but it turned out that most of their opinions were unique. It made me aware that asking others for a feedback about a person can be valuable and helpful when you do a personal review – different people have different experiences, contact on different matters, point out and value different behaviors.

When guys were sharing their feedback I was solemnly writing their words down in my notebook. Sometimes I asked some additional questions to precise what they meant or get more detailed opinions. After the sessions, I rewrote some of the quotes, so that they sounded more neatly, but I left their original meaning. Here are some them:

He is a man of compromise. We can easily work out good solutions together.
He impresses me with his verve, energy and a fact, that he’s so eager to growth professionally.
You can see that he cares about delivering a great product.
He is a guy you can always count on.
It’s cool that he always finds willingness and time to answer my questions.

Certificates

I put the most interesting quotes about each person on the sheet of paper and added their name in the heading. My plan was to print them and hand out to my team members at the end of the year.

I realized that they looked pretty poor and I was thinking about the ways to make them look fancier. The quotes were showing that each of the guys is unique and has some superpowers. A thought crossed my mind that I would create certificates saying that each of the guys is a superhero! I drew their superheroes’ avatars using a free online service. The choice of superheroes was pretty random, but in some cases, I based on some obvious clues – eg. a web developer was portrayed as a Spider-Man.

Superheros’ avatars

I put avatars on the certificates and added some simple design (as complicated as my crummy design skills allowed me to). I contacted a local print shop and requested to print them on a high-quality shiny paper. I wanted to make them look professional like real certificates look like.

Gifts

I knew I would deliver the certificate at the end of the year, just before the Christmas break, so I decided to make them a part of some bigger Christmas gift. What does nearly every developer like that is a versatile and affordable gift? An answer was obvious: a beer.

I’ve been working with my team for more than 1 ½ years and during this time we drunk many beers together, so I pretty much knew the beer style preferences of each of my team members. I went to a local craft beer shop and chose the best of each of preferred beer styles – a bottle for a guy.

Printed certificates and the selection of beers

Since these were about to be Christmas gifts I also wanted to include something that connects to Christmas. My fiancée and I are having a tradition of baking and decorating gingerbread cookies every year before Christmas. I decided to add some of these delicious homemade cookies to the bundles.

Gingerbread cookies before and after wrapping up

I also added Christmas cards with the best Christmas and New Year wishes to them and their loved ones. I put everything in nice Christmas gift bags.

A content of a bundle and all gifts together

Delivering

I planned to give the gifts on the last day before the Christmas break. That day we had a sprint demo and after each sprint demo we run the retrospective meeting (you can read about how we run them, or actually what mistakes we try to avoid when running them, in my blog post). I thought it was a perfect occasion to reveal the surprise.

Because the occasion was special I thought about running an extraordinary retrospective session. We had done the speed dating retro once before and wished to try it again. This was a great opportunity to make it happen. During the speeding dating retro, we focus on providing a positive, constructive and challenging feedback. I believe it itself gave a good morale boost and was a good introduction to the main part of the program.

After running the retro session I asked guys to stay a little longer and I brought the gift bags. I made a short speech in which I revealed the actual reason for getting the feedback during one-on-ones. Wishing guys all the best, I gave them their gifts. They were surprised and charmed. I believe it brought some smile and appreciation just before the long break of work and, as far as I can judge, it helped boosting morale.

Conclusion

Some standardized performance review programs with their complex forms and incomprehensible questions tend to lose the individual touch with the human being and don’t provide clear benefits for the employees. We can easily forget that people and their relationship between each other are the greatest assets. We as leaders and/or managers need to do everything to embrace their relationships and make sure that they feel appreciated and treated individually. With good employees (I hope you all have them) it will pay off for all – them, you, your clients and the company. I’m sure it will.

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