Archive for May, 2011

Asking the Right Questions

May 22, 2011 1 comment
As part of my work at Rypple, I advise companies on their performance summary process. For the non-HR person, a performance summary is an assessment of an individual’s impact and performance over a given period. We ask questions of the individual, their peers and manager to try and create a narrative around what was accomplished or should have been accomplished. As a former VP of HR at Mozilla, I’ve learned that their are certain aspects of the process that I don’t particularly care for or think are necessary.


Competencies: These are, as HR would say, the identified behaviors, knowledge, skills and abilities that directly and positively impact the success of employees. Examples would be:  technical expertise, customer service, communication, teamwork, leadership, creativity. Why is this outdated? It’s not to say that these skills aren’t important, but employees don’t think in or even use the word competencies. Plus, they definitely don’t go around scoring themselves or their peers on them. There is also no universal set of competencies, all positions are slightly different and the skills that would cause you to excel in one, wouldn’t necessarily ensure success in another.

Ratings: People obsess on their score instead of the quality of the feedback. Just like in elementary school if you got a B, that’s the score that mattered. Rather, people should be focusing on the feedback they were given, not that they didn’t get the A. So instead of having a focused conversation around accomplishments and expectations, managers and employees are obsessively focused on a subjective score.


I’ve collaborated with some great companies like Gilt Groupe, Photobucket, Eventbrite and Facebook to get a view of how they approach these important questions. Fortunately, as workplace dynamics are changing, the old way of doing HR is being replaced with some new innovative approaches to evaluating a person’s impact.

Managers get a few chances a year, during these summary periods to take stock of where the people on their team are and companies need to be very thoughtful around the questions asked. There are 3 types of questions that I really like to help someone think about where they’ve been and were they want to go. Notice I said questions, the goal is to create a dialogue, not a report cards.

Over the last 6 months, what are you proudest of and what do you view as your biggest accomplishments and achievements? Is there anything you would have liked to achieve but didn’t? Please compare against your goals.

  • The first batch of questions is meant to help the manager determine what the person actually accomplished or missed as it relates to goals. Goal setting is a flawed process at most companies, so often achieving stated goals doesn’t necessarily mean success, so you want to be able to determine if the person was able to work on the right things, despite what their goals said.

How much do you feel you’ve stretched? [not at all, some, considerably] How do you feel about that?

  • These questions help the manager determine how much the person is pushing themselves. It also gives the employee the opportunity to think about how much they’re developing and how they feel about it. Stretching and developing is rewarding, but also a very humbling and painful process. The question creates an opportunity for a discussion around growth and potential for development.

What do you want to be able to say about yourself at your next summary? What do you want to have accomplished and what knowledge would you like to have acquired?

  • Finally the last batch of questions helps the individual frame their aspirations for the next term and take an active roll in their own development. The more autonomy and control we give people, the more engaged and engrossed they are in their work.

Asking the employees the right questions is only the first part of the process, I’ll follow up shortly on the role peers and the manager play in a successful process.

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