Appraisals, the GE way

During our five years at GE, Chad and I went through a rigorous appraisal process. Through open, honest and frequent feedback we learned a lot about ourselves and about how others view us. A key aspect of the process was that our managers and mentors actively supported our development on a daily basis, there were no surprises during formal reviews. It is the only GE practice that we copied into our new organization in its entirety. Startups don’t usually have rigid processes, but this is one that we think other startups owe to their teams and themselves. So here is how it works:

Step 1 – One manager talks with everyone on the team about the person being reviewed

Step 2 – One manager writes up a review based on 5 criteria:

Critical thinking – Clear thinking, problem solving, creativity
Expertise – Knowledge in a specific practice area, technical skills
Communication – Able to communicate in a clear, concise, respectful and persuasive manner
Execution – Getting stuff done, fast. Completes what they say they’ll complete, when they say they’ll complete it
Leadership – Autonomy, being a positive/motivational force on the team, mentoring others

The key in the formal write-up, is that each area must include at least one positive observation and one “development opportunity.” For each comment, specific real world examples are required. For every development opportunity, the manager must come up with an action plan for the person to improve. Its the manager’s responsibility to help the person improve through continuous coaching.

Step 3 – All managers discuss and tweak the appraisal and decide how to deliver it effectively.

Step 4 – The appraisal is delivered face-to-face, and ample time is given during each portion for a discussion. Points are not belabored, each development opportunity is delivered candidly. How an appraisee receives and acts on feedback is extremely important. If they are extremely defensive, or get upset, this becomes a serious development opportunity.

Step 5 – The entire team reviews the managers using the same process from steps 1-4. A manager always delivers the feedback to the other manager based on the team’s consensus. This ensures the team is honest with their feedback and not afraid of retaliation.

The entire process is repeated on a regular basis, usually every 2 months. Do you have some questions on how you can better integrate this process into your team? Shoot us an email and we’re more than willing to give you some forms and advice.

Appraisals, the GE way

Biggie Smalls is keeping us motivated

I’m just, tryin to stay above water y’know
Just stay busy, stay workin
Puff told me like, the key to this joint
The key to staying, on top of things
is treat everything like it’s your first project, knah what I’m sayin?
Like it’s your first day like back when you was an intern
Like, that’s how you try to treat things like, just stay hungry

– Notorious B.I.G (My 1st Song)

When we were working at GE, there was a persistent feeling of progress because plans were set, the team had week-by-week goals and everyone was trying to exceed expectations for the next milestone.  The key to success was keeping your team motivated, helping everyone overcome roadblocks and managing your executive clients so your team could focus on the work.

That world couldn’t be farther from being a bootstrapping entrepreneur.  We now do everything that our teams use to do, plus all the administrative stuff we couldn’t even have imagined.  Most of the time we’re doing things for the first time, so we’re largely just guessing on how to to get it done.  Heck, we’ll be really lucky if we’re even heading in the right direction.  This week we dealt with everything from changes to the facebook API, to branding and reviewing trademark law.

It’s an emotional roller-coaster and we’ve started to do things to replace the pat’s on the back we used to get and the milestones we use to be given.  First we’ve been bouncing our ideas and questions off some great mentors.  They’re excitement for the project makes us feel great, but we always end up doubling our to-do lists and getting that sinking feeling about the long road ahead.  Secondly we’ve re-instituted the GE style “Friday Update” where we set-out all the week’s accomplishments, roadblocks we’re facing and plan for the next week.  Every Friday morning will start out with a huddle to tackle roadblocks, set goals and agree on milestones.  Having to update all out mentors on our progress each Friday will get us structuring our time better and prioritize the things that really need to get done.

We think this is a good start, but clearly we’re still learning the ropes and expect to think a lot more on this topic in the future.  Thanks for your support and keep a look-out for our weekly blog posts on Fridays.

Biggie Smalls is keeping us motivated