On performance evaluations

Some of the testers in our team who were sourced by our company’s “QA division” recently asked me for feedback. They provided me with the template which I assume their managers had them use. It has five items for which we’d have to rate our level of satisfaction with them on a scale ranging from “Excellent” down to “Very dissatisfied”. And there’s the fail-safe/catch-all “NA” for not applicable or don’t know.

I’m not really so much of a fan of performance evaluations (perf evals — hey, coincidentally this does sound like perf evils). I reckon feedback should just be given whenever and only as needed. In the past I’ve had experiences wherein the mandatory quarterly evil forms were filled in way too late. This produces a couple of problems: (1) it’s way more difficult to recall the individual’s contribution and areas for improvement, and (2) the feedback is no longer as relevant as it could have been. Oh, and there’s also the overhead of gathering and deriving data to quantitatively objectify the ratings. Ultimately, these are subjective anyway.

On the other hand, I also acknowledge that giving feedback doesn’t come so easily particularly when it’s negative. We have a tendency to hold back out of fear of offending, fear of conflict, fear of retaliation, or out of altruism, or we can just be that forgiving (“it’s probably a one time thing”, “I’ll give her another chance”). And so, for some, these mandatory evils provide an excuse to unleash.

But the bottom line is feedback is feedback and its value diminishes with delay. To remedy this, here are some stuff to try:
(a) Explicitly welcome feedback. Say how you’d like to receive it or what’s the best way to give it to you.
(b) Condition yourself to offer positive feedback when there’s an opportunity to do so. And just as you must give that positive feedback, you must give that negative feedback when the need also arises. In both cases, say it nicely!
(c) Remind yourself to do (a) and (b) as these gets forgotten especially during crunch time.
(d) Foster or support an environment wherein giving feedback is the norm, and where people feel safe in giving and receiving feedback. Encourage others to try (a) and (b).
(e) Others? Please feel free to suggest via comment.

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