Performance Review Template

As you scale your startup beyond 20 people, you will start implementing a formal performance review process. The cadence could be once a quarter, once every 6 months, or sometimes, once a year.

The rule of thumb is that if your direct report is deeply surprised by the content in your feedback, it means you have failed to manage the person in the first place. The feedback and iteration should be a constant on-going process, so that you and your team member gets a chance to stay in sync, course correct, and improve each other continuously throughout the year.

Regardless, having a formal and structured review in a written form is still great for putting things into perspective, recognize the progress, and also reiterate on the important areas for improvement.

I’ve put together a relatively extensive performance review template that can be used with your direct reports. This may feel a bit longer than what startups use company-wide on a quarterly basis, but I’d encourage any committed professional to take the time to write a review of themselves, and get feedback from your leaders or people you collaborate with so that you can increase awareness, find the gaps between your understanding and others, and get to an alignment or agreement in terms of your goals, the state of your performance, and the direction for improvement.

For those in a hurry, here’s a google doc version of the template that you can “copy” to make it your own and use at your convenience.

  • Ask the reviewee to write this and share with the reviewer. The reviewer can provide feedback.
  • For “top 3” items below, it can be just one or two items. No need to make it three items unnecessarily.

Below is the list of questions for your reviewee to work on:

  • Goals & Results
    • What are your current top 3 goals?
    • How have you performed against those goals in the last week/month/quarter? Provide metrics
    • What successes and challenges did you experience? What was the most difficult problem you had to solve that you are proud of?
    • What can you do to ensure that those challenges won’t occur again in the future?
    • What are your new upcoming top 3 goals?
  • Organizational Awareness
    • What is the top priority for your company this quarter & this year?
    • What is the top priority for your team this quarter?
    • What is the primary constraint to achieving the top priority for your team? (note: It can’t be just “budget”)
  • Self-awareness
    • What are your top 3 signature strengths? How are you utilizing your strengths today?
    • What are your deadly weaknesses that’s preventing you from making greater progress?
    • How do you plan to augment or improve such weaknesses?
  • Feedback & Improvement
    • Feedback to others
      • Are you providing constructive feedback directly to people you work with in a timely manner?
      • Are those feedback also being delivered in a personally caring way? What went well vs didn’t go well?
    • Feedback from others
      • What constructive feedback have others been giving you?
      • How are you addressing that feedback?
    • Improving
      • What are the top 3 areas of improvement that you’ve been working on?
      • How is your progress in those areas in the past 3-6 months?
  • Leadership & Managing
    • How would you assess your leadership capabilities and social capital today?
    • Identify your leadership strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities to grow.
    • What challenges are you experiencing in communicating, supporting and getting what you need from others?
    • [For people managers]
      • How many direct reports do you have?
      • How often do you hold team meetings? What is the agenda/length?
      • How often do you hold 1-1 meetings? What is the agenda/length?
      • Who are your top performers on your team? How are you coaching & retaining them?
      • Who are your bottom performers on your team? What is your plan with each of them?
      • What key lessons have you learned or reminded as a people manager in the past 3-6 months?
  • Core Values
    • How strongly are you aligned to each of our core values? Rate from scale of 1-to-5, with 5 being the highest. Why did you rate them that way?
      • 5: I’m certain I’m within 1% of the people here with company-wide acknowledgement
      • 4: I’m within the top 10% of the people here and my manager and peers would endorse
      • 3: I’m within the top 25% of people that I believe I can demonstrate with strong examples
      • 2: I think I’m above average among the people here
      • 1: I think I’m at or below average here, so will need to improve on this
    • If you were to pick top 1-2 core values to improve or double down on, what are they and why? If you’d like to improve them, what are your action plans or rituals?
  • Innovation to the Organization
    • What have you done to make your role, or the company operations, more efficient or effective in the future?
    • What new ideas have you brought to the company that changes the trajectory of the company for the better in a significant way?

I hope the readers will find the template to be useful in helping your direct reports grow and become better contributors & leaders. 🙂

The Level 5 Ownership

Leaders are often called upon to resolve conflicts and problems. During this process, we all experience varying degrees of ownership from the people involved. The level of ownership significantly affects how we problem-solve with these individuals and the effectiveness of our efforts.

However, ownership is a concept that is often talked about but less understood. Below are five levels of ownership that will help leaders understand the differences.

Level 1: Lack of ownership

Response: “This is not my fault. I did what I was told to do.”

At this level, the person involved will actively distance themselves from the issue, fearing criticism or negative reflections on their performance review. The effort is focused on rationalizing their actions and explaining to others how they were not part of the problem.

The problem with this approach is that while the person may believe they are “safe” by doing this, it creates more doubt in others, especially among team members. It also results in a significant loss of social capital and reflects poorly on their character.

Level 2: Owning intent

Response: “My intent was good, so even if my actions weren’t ideal, I’m not responsible as it came from good intentions.”

This level is typically seen among young adults who have experienced social conflicts and have learned that they will be held accountable for problems. Conveying good intent is important to justify their positions and seemingly wrongdoings.

The problem is that even if the intent was good, if the actions do not align with the intent, people will ultimately remember the decisions and actions. Unless corrective actions are taken in the future, social capital will be lost at this level.

Level 3: Owning actions

Response: “My intent and actions were good, so even if the outcome isn’t good, I did my best, so I’m not responsible, as results were out of my hands.”

This level is commonly seen among working professionals where their managers hold them accountable for activities and “deliverables.” In business cultures that value hard work, focus on target dates, and celebrate launches, this may seem normal and harmless.

The problem is that even if the individual believes they did everything right, if they do not deliver on the outcomes, all recognitions of the actions taken can feel like patting each other on the back. The learning at this level is often limited to “we just have to try harder next time” or blaming the “environment” for missing the target.

Level 4: Owning outcomes

Response: “Although my intent and actions were good, the outcome wasn’t, therefore I am responsible.”

This level is sometimes seen among experienced professionals and seasoned leaders. They realize that owning actions is not enough and that they must ultimately deliver on their outcomes. They track the results as often as possible and course-correct their actions in real-time to change the trajectory of their results. They understand that unless they meet or exceed their outcomes, it is only a matter of time before they are held accountable or replaced.

The only minor issue at this level is that even if the individual succeeds, if their team still misses their goals, they are not winning as a whole.

Level 5: Owning collective outcomes

Response: “Although my intent, actions, and outcome I was personally responsible for were good, our team failed to deliver on the mission, so I ultimately feel responsible for our team. I believe there were ways I could have done things differently or even better to help our team succeed.”

This level is a rare quality even among seasoned leaders. They not only own their personal outcomes and the team they manage, but they expand their responsibility to their peers and the organization they are part of. They understand that unless their team and organization win, they are not truly winning. As a result, they mobilize their resources and efforts beyond their current roles and responsibilities to help elevate the people and teams around them.

At this level, the person takes ownership of not only their own actions and outcomes, but also the collective success of their team and organization. They are willing to go above and beyond to help their team and organization succeed and are not afraid to take on additional responsibility to make it happen.

What’s next?

Understanding these five levels of ownership will help leaders identify where they and their team members fall and make the necessary changes to improve. By moving up the levels of ownership, leaders will be able to take on more responsibility and drive better results for themselves, their teams, and their organizations.

Remember, owning the problem does not mean that you are solely responsible for fixing it. It means that you are willing to take on the challenge and do what it takes to find a solution, even if it means seeking help from others. Taking ownership allows you to be proactive in addressing issues, rather than reacting to them after the fact.

Leaders who embrace ownership create a culture of accountability and responsibility, leading to better outcomes and a more cohesive team. So the next time you face a problem, ask yourself: what level of ownership am I taking?

On Motivation

Someone recently asked me “how can I motivate my team member when the market is down and the value of their stock options may not grow as quickly?” I initially tried to answer the question by focusing on the odds of startup valuation still growing faster than other asset classes, and other non-linear & intrinsic value of social capital accumulated at startups that may introduce new opportunities later in life. But I didn’t find my answers satisfying at all. I thought about why.

Over time, experience has taught me that more often than not, defining the right problem to solve is far more important than the solution itself. Perfect solution to a wrong problem is just plain wasteful.

So how can one motivate their team member when things are getting tough? What are the mechanics behind motivation that can give us insights into finding the right solution to the problem?

Continue reading “On Motivation”

Drivers, Not Passengers

“Leading for Hypergrowth by Raising Expectations, Increasing Urgency, and Elevating Intensity”

Frank Slootman is Chairman and CEO of Snowflake. He recently wrote a short book on business management “Amp It Up”, sharing his experience from days at Data Domain, ServiceNow, and Snowflake.

In his book, Chapter 6 talks about “hiring drivers, not passengers” and below is some excerpts from the book:

Passengers are people who don’t mind simply being carried along by the company’s momentum, offering little or no input, seemingly not caring much about the direction chosen by management. They are often pleasant, get along with everyone, attend meetings promptly, and generally do not stand out as troublemakers. They are often accepted into the fabric of the organization and stay there for many years.

The problem is that while passengers can often diagnose and articulate a problem quite well, they have no investment in solving it. They don’t do the heavy lifting. They avoid taking strong positions at the risk of being wrong about something. They can take any side of an issue, depending on how the prevailing winds are blowing. In large organizations especially, there are many places to hide without really being noticed. …

Drivers, on the other hand, get their satisfaction from making things happen, not blending in with the furniture. They feel a strong sense of ownership for their projects and teams and demand high standards from both themselves and others. They exude energy, urgency, ambition, even boldness. Faced with a challenge, they usually say, “Why not” rather than “That’s impossible.”

These qualities make drivers massively valuable. Finding, recruiting, rewarding, and retaining them should be among your top priorities. Recognize them privately and publicly, promote them, and elevate them as example of what others should aspire to. That will start waking up those who are merely along for the ride. Celebrate people who own their responsibilities, take and defend clear positions, argue for their preferred strategies, and seek to move the dial.

Continue reading “Drivers, Not Passengers”

Managing Time Horizons

I recently came across the clearest definition of a bubble in an asset class:

“When investors have different goals and time horizons—and they do in every asset class— prices that look ridiculous to one person can make sense to another…

Bubbles form when the momentum of short-term returns attract enough money that the makeup of investors shifts from mostly long term to mostly short term. That process feeds on itself. As traders push up short-term returns, they attract even more traders. Before long, the dominant market price-setters with the most authority are those with shorter time horizons.

Bubbles aren’t so much about valuations rising. That’s just a symptom of something else: time horizons shrinking as more short-term traders enter the playing field.”

The Psychology of Money (by Morgan Housel)

What was particularly impressive about this framework was that it can be applied to any forms of investment — including people. When you have a “different” time horizon when working with someone, your behaviors will change.

Continue reading “Managing Time Horizons”

Thinking Second-order Effects

💡 I was going to write a longer piece on this topic, but found this article to be helpful.

One of the key elements of being better in leadership, strategy, and organizational changes is being able to think and anticipate second-order effects.

When you want to roll out programs, systematic changes, (re)budgeting, headcount planning, introducing new processes, thinking beyond the first intended first-order, being able to navigate second-order effects will be critical in how successful those initiatives will be. Most outcomes will be lagging and have lasting/trickling effect throughout the organization, so the quality of the decision and the thoughtfulness matters a lot to save a lot of people’s time, effort, and pain.

Continue reading “Thinking Second-order Effects”

The Anatomy of Managerial Initiative

The five degrees of initiative of the managers

Below is an excerpt from "Management Time: Who's Got the Monkey?" (HBR)

There are five degrees of initiative that the manager can exercise in relation to the boss and to the system:

  1. wait until told (lowest initiative);
  2. ask what to do;
  3. recommend, then take resulting action;
  4. act, but advise at once;
  5. and act on own, then routinely report (highest initiative).

Clearly, the manager should be professional enough not to indulge in initiatives 1 and 2 in relation either to the boss or to the system. A manager who uses initiative 1 has no control over either the timing or the content of boss-imposed or system-imposed time and thereby forfeits any right to complain about what he or she is told to do or when. The manager who uses initiative 2 has control over the timing but not over the content. Initiatives 3, 4, and 5 leave the manager in control of both, with the greatest amount of control being exercised at level 5.

In relation to subordinates, the manager’s job is twofold. First, to outlaw the use of initiatives 1 and 2, thus giving subordinates no choice but to learn and master “Completed Staff Work.” Second, to see that for each problem leaving his or her office there is an agreed-upon level of initiative assigned to it, in addition to an agreed-upon time and place for the next manager-subordinate conference. The latter should be duly noted on the manager’s calendar.

👉 Summary: When an employee brings a problem to you, outlaw use of level 1 or 2. Agree on and assign level 3, 4, or 5 to the monkey*. Take no more than 15 minutes to discuss the problem.

* Monkey: It’s from “monkey-on-the-back” metaphor, and means a task that needs to be done/handled/responded to.

The Five Forms of Power

Leadership powers to cultivate

The five forms of power were introduced by John French and Bertram Raven, and depicts different forms of power that exist in organizations. There are ones that are short-lived with limitations and ones that are more sustainable and scalable.

  1. Coercive Power: Being able to force someone to do something (against one’s will)
    • Cause of many problems, poor form of leadership, can be easily overthrown (or abused)
  2. Reward Power: Ability to reward to do something unpleasant
    • Diminishing returns, short-term effect, regularity removes its effectiveness completely
  3. Legitimate Power: Exercise a degree of reward or punishment based on role/title
    • Loses power immediately as the position or title is changed, weak form to persuade/convince people
  4. Referent Power: Respected, approved, admired
    • Highly scalable and effective, but may decrease dramatically based on circumstance (e.g., popular politician getting taken off the show upon scandal)
  5. Expert Power: Knowledgeable and capable
    • Long-lasting, high value, and defensible form of power

Later on, they added 6th power — Informational Power: Ability to control the information that others need to accomplish something which usually comes from a position or a role. This too can be effective, but can also be interpreted as political or gossiping.

One of the most effective ways to build and demonstrate your power in the organization is the combination of #4 Referent Power and #5 Expert Power. By combining the two, leaders can build and demonstrate scalable and long-lasting form of influences in their organization and beyond.

Managing through COVID-19

Adapting to the new norm

This is a note for the future, to adapt the company and self through a global pandemic caused by COVID-19. I have full trust that the world will have a better playbook to deal with such pandemic in the future.

Short-term Shock and Long-term Recovery

  • While it’s uncertain how long the Covid-19 global pandemic will last, the impact on the overall economy is real, as seen from some of the markets where Covid-19 hit earlier, the consumer industries are already experiencing real loss of business. The travel industry collapsed, airlines in Korea are down by 80%, freights revenue down by 44%, ship manufacturing revenue down by 76%, and so forth. These are not the market caps, but the actual revenue decreases already being realized as months have gone by since the initial outbreak of Covid-19. Now the impact data on U.S. economy is starting to surface and except for a few industries (e.g. digital healthcare, online education, food delivery, grocery, etc.), most industries are getting crushed. Unemployment ratio is rocketing through the roof and companies and physical stores are shutting down with massive lay offs.
Continue reading “Managing through COVID-19”

A Guide to Scaling Yourself

How to keep your head above water

I was having lunch with a friend today, and we were discussing how does someone know when a person is scaling or not. Who will scale as the company grow and what stops someone from scaling further?

Some companies have early members scaling beautifully as the organization grows, while some don’t. A lot of smooth scaling happens typically when the company is growing organically and the growth rate is relatively modest (< 50% YoY). When a company is growing > 50% YoY, and in some cases, doubling or more, it becomes incredibly difficult for people to keep up with the scale of the company, as humans grow linearly, yet companies grow exponentially.

Below are a few questions to ask yourself to check if you are scaling with the growth needed and some tips and strategies to continue on the fast growth trajectory.

1. Am I “going horizontal?”

I came across the concept of “Going Horizontal” during 10xCEO program and we discussed extensively on how to make sure the executive team is continuing to scale at the right capacity level for the growth needs of the company.

The team internally might already be “over capacity” if the company’s growth rate is modest and the team is experienced. But if the needs for the leadership capacity emerging from growth out weigh the current capacity, then it will hurt the growth rate and the potential upside of the company as long as the leadership team is not fully built to handle the needs.

Continue reading “A Guide to Scaling Yourself”
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