Performance Management

Performance Management are two words which have the power to strike dread into the hearts of developers and managers alike. For engineers it conjures images of being fired, for managers it’s the sinking feeling that you’re going to have difficult talks with people with people about the quality of their work.

But that isn’t what performance management is about. At least it shouldn’t be!

Performance Management is not about getting fired.

Performance Management should always be about you working with your boss and mentors to continue to improve your performance. It should involve feedback, praise, and coaching. It should be something junior engineers embrace because it helps them progress their career and develop their skills. However, giving feedback is very difficult and unfortunately finding a boss who will give you honest, valuable feedback is rare.

I could write pages about Performance Management but this post is intended as part of my Junior Developer series so instead I’m going to focus on the most common mechanisms companies use and what you should expect when you join.

Probation Periods

Probation periods are very common across the software industry (and elsewhere). In effect they’re a trial period for both you and your employer. They’re an opportunity for you to ensure you’re really happy with the company you’re working with but also for your boss to ensure you can do the job (or at least that you have the potential to do the job).

Typically probation periods last three or six months and during that time your notice period (the amount of notice the company has to give you and the notice you give the company if either wishes to end your employment contract) is significantly shorter. A month’s notice period is fairly typical for developers in the UK (or longer if it’s a more senior role), however during your probation this may be a week, or non existent. This is intended to support both sides. Personally I have never failed a probation, but I have left a company during my probation and being able to make that clean break was much simpler than having to wait an additional three months.

Every employer should set very clear objectives or what they expect you to achieve during this probation period. They should never simply book a meeting at the end of the three months to tell you if you passed or failed. The golden rule of good management is to never surprise your employer. A good manager will work with you during your probation and, if you’ve got some areas that you’re struggling make you aware of them so you’ve got plenty of time. You should never be unclear whether you’re on track to pass or fail a probation period.

1 to 1s

One of the most effective ways to support and coach your team is for managers to book in 1:1 sessions. Typically these are every couple of weeks but it varies with the individual and the circumstances. I have senior engineers who only watch to check in once a month and team leads I meet with weekly (or more often if they need it). I always hold more frequent 1:1s with people during their probation to make sure they’ve got the support they need.

Your 1:1 is your managers opportunity to coach and your chance to ask questions. It’s also your opportunity to talk about goals and career goals. There are countless excellent articles out there about 1:1s so I’ll leave it there and say that you should expect them and that they’re nothing to worry about.

1:1s are a great way to get feedback from your boss on what’s going well and where you need to improve.

End of Year Reviews

Most companies operate an end of year review cycle. These vary from company to company but they often involve talking about the positives and negatives of the year with your managers, some kind of goal setting exercise for the upcoming year, and often a discussion around pay and/or bonus. Often these are split into various conversations which may take place over a few weeks or even months.

The key is to understand what each session is for and what topics are likely to be discussed. This will help you think of examples where you’ve done especially well and give you a chance to think or a few areas where, with hindsight you may have done things a little differently.

It’s also helpful to understand what form of conversations the ones around pay and bonuses are likely to take. What’s normal for your company? Many television shows give the impression that you can march into your boss’s office and make a pitch for a higher salary. In reality (at least in the uk that’s rarely how it works). Often managers are given a pot of money to work with, once a year, and will have to make the fairest choices they can. However your manger be able to advice you on what happens at your company and what the financial review process will look like. Don’t be surprised if you’re not included in this process if you’ve been with the company for less than a year, it’s not uncommon for people who have recently joined to have to wait to be part of the uplift process.

When talking about goals for the following year try and be open and honest about what you would like to achieve. Ask your manager to support you and whether you think your ambitions are realistic. You can achieve a lot more if your manager is also looking for opportunities to stretch you than if you have to go hunting for them yourself.

Hopefully I’ve convinced you that normal Performance Management is nothing to be worried about. Sure, there are cases need to be coached through areas of under performance but the vast majority of what I’ve talked about in this post is the positive side of how to work with you manager to avoid needing and performance improvement plans.

What are your experiences of performance management? Are your experiences similar to mine?

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