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A blueprint for performance management

Here is a very common scenario at growing companies.

A team has decided it’s time to get serious about performance management, but they’re not sure what comes next. Maybe someone at the company read somewhere that performance management is something they’re supposed to do, maybe an executive did things a certain way at her last job and wants to bring that here, or maybe the company is full of hungry young employees with lots of ambition and not much management experience. Or maybe the CEO just decided that it’s time to get a program in place.

And so the team dives in and starts debating implementation details.

“Should we make the feedback anonymous, or should we even share it all? Reviews should be based off of employee goals…or should we scrap goals all together? Let’s go for annual 360s with monthly check-ins. I heard real-time feedback is a thing. And what’s the deal with ratings, do we need ratings?”

While the debate goes on, employees are the ones who lose out as time passes without a good process in place.

The key is getting started. You can iterate from there

There are so many variations and permutations of how a program will be run, and a company can spend endless hours debating, implementing, and refining. But the truth is, for the vast majority of companies, simply picking a  good enough performance management plan and going with it will create so much of the value with so little of the time that this is often the best way forward. You can make tweaks once you’ve started, but just get a good plan in place and get started. You can and will iterate from there.

How to get started

Here is a performance management program that I believe will work for 80% of companies, along with a list of tweaks you can make based on specific company nuances you might have.

Performance reviews:

One-on-ones:

Real-time feedback:

Goal setting:

This is a basic, effective framework for performance management that you can implement and iterate on. It’s a battle-tested plan that we have seen succeed at a lot of companies, and you can make tweaks to fit your unique situation.

Questions to ask yourself as you refine your process

To improve your performance management process further, start by asking yourself some basic questions about what your goals are for your program.

  1. Are you trying to evaluate employees so you can give promotions and separation packages appropriately?
  2. Are you trying to increase employee engagement and happiness?
  3. Are you trying to make managers give feedback more often?
  4. Are you looking to give employees more recognition?
  5. Are you trying to make goal-setting a core practice at your company?

There is no right answer to these questions, and as a result there is no one right way to do performance management. Every business is different. If you are a smaller company you might be able to make quarterly reviews work. If your company is new to giving direct feedback you can either anonymize peer and upward feedback or not share it with employees at all. If goal setting is too structured for your work culture, you can start with reviews and one-on-ones and see if adding goals later makes sense.

As Jack Welch once said, “This whole game of business revolves around one thing. You build the best team, you win.” Performance management is one of the most important tools you have as a company to build a great team. The sooner you get started, the sooner you can start improving.