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I was recently asked whether I would like to take up a role that would require reviewing my other team members. I have some questions regarding this.

1) I personally don't like to review others. But it seems to be something that you have to do once you advance in your career. I am a Software Engineer and like to focus on technical things. Would it work against me if I told them that I would rather not take up a position that would require reviewing others? Would it give a negative feeling to the managers?

2) If I am to review others, what steps would you recommend? Take a look at what each team member does every day/week and keep track of what they do?

3) If I see that someone should improve on something, should I tell them beforehand rather than telling them at the review? Would they consider it as none of my business to tell them for example to come to work on time?

I'm asking this because the review is something important to an employee because it is where your increment/salary is decided. Any tips that you use when reviewing others are very much appreciated.

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Any management position generally involves reviewing others. It comes with the territory. If you do not want to review others then accept that you will not be considered for mangement positions (even low level ones like tech lead). Do not however let yourself be put in a position where you review others but are not their direct supervisor. This creates problems for you in trying to fix unacceptable behavior.

If you decide to take the position reviewing others, here is my general advice for you. Nothing in a review (especially negatives items) should be a surprise to the person being reviewed. Therefore, if you manage people, you owe it to them to let them know about performance problems as soon as you observe them. Things like coming in on time are gray areas - this is acceptable in some organizations and not in others. Make sure you are following your organizational norms before bringing up these types of problems.

Good managers keep notes on performance through the year, both good and bad. That makes it much easier to write up the eval when it is time. Most I have seen create a separate folder in their email for each employee and copy all pertinent emails to that folder at the time they are received. If you are going to tell someone something negative that must be fixed, you need to have documentation on that. For instance if someone is continually late, you would need a record of times they were late. If their code is not up to snuff, then a record of the code review failures or bugs would be helpful.

Another thing to be aware of is that sometimes managers apply different standards to different people. Don't ping only one person for being late if everyone is just because you don't like him. Try to be even-handed and fair. All but the worst employees have some redeeming features. Make sure to praise the good things even when you dislike (or should I say especially when you dislike) the person. If all you have to say is negative, people tend to dismiss your feedback as "He just hates me." and not make an effort to change. And the ones without redeeming qualities should never stay as your employee for long enough for a formal review anyway. Don't wait for reviews to get rid of bad employees. Also make it clear when discussing problems as they happen how serious the problem is. If something could lead to them getting fired if they don't fix it, they need to hear that clearly and unambiguously. People don't want to hear this type of news, so you can't hint at it, you have to say it directly. People also need to know exactly what acceptable performance would be. If you can't tell them what they need to do to fix a problem, then they can't fix it. It also helps them to understand why something is a problem. People often don't see why being late might create problems for others for instance. You have to help them see that what you think is a problem is really a problem for them whether they think so or not.

Positive feedback is easier but often tends to be forgotten. It is important to make sure you give positive feedback at the time something happens as well as the negative. Don't save all your praise up for the review either. I remember early in my career I had a boss who thought I was doing a good job when it came to be review time, but I spent the entire year afraid I was failing because he never said anything good. He thought that because he never said anything bad, that I would assume I was doing well. But as an entry-level person, I didn't have the perspective to see that. The newer people are in the workplace, the more guidance they need to know when what they did was good. And pretty much everyone likes positive feedback.

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    The newer people are in the workplace, the more guidance they need to know when what they did was good <-- so true. School (whether elementary or even college) conditions people to be used to constant feedback. – enderland Jan 13 '14 at 16:44
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    @enderland, that's true too, but I was thinking more in terms of you don't actually know what is good and what is bad that first year. Business expectations are not anywhere close to academic expectations in many (perhaps most) fields. And some are less confident in the first job than they will be once they get experience. – HLGEM Jan 13 '14 at 16:56
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As usual, I like HLGEM's answer, but had some other thoughts:

360 vs. Traditional Review

First, verify what type of review you are being asked to do. There's an interested format gaining some degree of popularity called a 360. A good 360 review takes a collection of feedback from supervisors, peers, subordinates and other key interactions and then presents this information to the review recipient in a hopefully constructive way. My impression is that while many find this to be very helpful, it's crucial that the 360 be presented in a constructive manner and it not be a dirt flinging session.

That's in comparison to a traditional performance review where someone in a position of leadership within the company provides feedback largely from their own point of view. This is traditionally given by someone with some responsibility for supervising the review recipient. How much responsibility and what other responsibilities this person may have can be highly variable, but the general common sense guidance is that it really should be someone with some authority over the person as some sort of lead or manager. Doing this peer to peer or outside the traditional chains of hierarchy can get really messy.

So - Step #1 - figure out what kind of review feedback you are being asked to give and whether your related roles fit the bill. For a 360, it's also safe to ask about the anonymity and the general process so you have some clue of what you are getting into.

Is not being willing to do a review a career-limiting choice?

Regardless of the formality of the structure, it is unfair to expect to take on a role where you tell people what to do and yet don't have the onus of telling them whether they did what you asked with any degree of competence.

That's the essential nature of management or other forms of leadership.

Also - the work of honing the skills whereby you get people to do what you want, get a team moving in support of a bigger plan, contribute to the plan, and communicate with external stake holders about the plan is pretty much a full time job for a manager - while your work may be technically oriented, it's hard to argue that you will be less hands-on technical than you are as an individual contributor if this is the career goal you have.

As an alternative, many companies also offer career escalation options that are NOT managerial, for the technical person who just wants to be better technically, and not have the onus of all that communication and planning taking away from the tasks of researching and building solutions. Even in the higher levels of technically centered roles, you may be asked for assessments on the skills of others, but are less likely to be tasked with delivering this guidance. This falls into the realm of questions you would ask an expert - "how should the work be done? What skills must be used to do the job?" and this "was this person using the skills, process & technology the right way?" Often for a technical expert, this type of input is given to the actual manager who is in charge of figuring out how much it matters and whether or not or how to deliver it.

Recommendations

If I am to review others, what steps would you recommend? Take a look at what each team member does every day/week and keep track of what they do?

Generally, yes that's pretty much it.

  • Start by knowing what you should be reviewing for - generally this is a mix of ability to perform tasks in a timely and efficient way, following any rules, demonstrating key technical skills, interpersonal skills, and other corporately defined characteristics as well as your own values.

  • Find some way of gathering info that is ongoing and regular. Most folks find it's a mix of using regularly available information and stored documentation (like emails, reports, etc), and also keeping personal notes. In any company, people will be completing tasks at a certain pace, which is easy to keep track of, but they will demonstrating key behaviors (or failing to demonstrate them) in an irregular way. So keeping track of this stuff is usually both regimented and ad hoc.

  • Keep in mind that whatever note-keeping mechanism you use, it has to be fairly fast and lightweight to collect and consume. You don't want to spend a huge chunk of time each week on this.

Timeliness of feedback

If I see that someone should improve on something, should I tell them beforehand rather than telling them at the review? Would they consider it as none of my business to tell them for example to come to work on time?

This has a huge correlation to your relationship. If you are being asked to manage a review process, then you are taking on a leadership role. Prior to taking this one, make sure you have a clear understanding of how you will be communicating with any other supervisors or managers involved in the mix. If you are not responsible for some part of the day to day interactions, some parts of the tasking or giving general guidance, then you should not be in charge of doing a review for this person. You might contributed review feedback as in a 360 review, but you should not be "the reviewer" in charge of the general process.

If you are the reviewer/lead for this individual - then give feedback early and often. Most companies do formal reviews fairly infrequently, with the assumption that employees are getting feedback during the course of the year. With such a limited review frequency, it's down right damaging to give feedback only at review time - there's not much opportunity to clarify or change behavior in that model. In fact, the biggest train wrecks of a review cycle that I've ever seen is when the candidate is not given feedback in a time critical fashion.

With that said, scale the impact of feedback-giving to the occasion.

  • Small low-embarassment, very minor items can be mentioned in public, particularly if this is a case of reviewing a whole team effort. Sometimes public critique can't be avoided, such as when an error has caused a case of confusion.

  • Individualized repeated behavior should be addressed privately and pointedly.

  • The bigger and more important the issue, the more it should be reinforced.
  • Notice the good stuff too. Particuarly when someone's turned around a bad behavior to a good one - say "thanks!"

And make sure the desired outcome is clear.

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1) I personally don't like to review others. But it seems to be something that you have to do once you advance in your career. I am a Software Engineer and like to focus on technical things. Would it work against me if I told them that I would rather not take up a position that would require reviewing others? Would it give a negative feeling to the managers?

If you state it as you don't want to review others then I'd likely think it would work against you. However, if you want to go down a technical career progression then it may be that you wouldn't be doing as much reviewing of other's work though you may still get pulled into 360 assessments or other forms where peers review each other on a team.

If you choose to perfect your technical skills then you may be able to get away without doing as much paperwork as managers though I'd think there is something to be said for how you view your co-workers and sometimes expressing some of that once in a while.

2) If I am to review others, what steps would you recommend? Take a look at what each team member does every day/week and keep track of what they do?

Most companies will have an existing framework of how you are to score their work. If you want to get more into management then it could be useful to consider what are the big contributions from various people and what kinds of issues held the team back. At the same time, if you are doing 360 feedback the questions will already be there most likely.

If there isn't an existing framework then I'd probably suggest looking at how someone is doing on a weekly basis in various areas.

3) If I see that someone should improve on something, should I tell them beforehand rather than telling them at the review? Would they consider it as none of my business to tell them for example to come to work on time?

Telling them at the time you spot the improvement will often be better as otherwise you may be trying to remind someone of something done months ago that may be close to forgotten. For something like "come to work on time" I'd likely think this is more of a call for a team lead or manager if you have that position as peers may cause more friction. While you may have a valid point from your perspective, management may already be familiar with why someone may be late on a regular basis, e.g. this person may have weekly medical appointments first thing in the morning which is the best they can do to minimize work interruptions.

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