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Our journey to reimagine performance reviews at SurveyMonkey

Our journey to reimagine performance reviews at SurveyMonkey

In late 2017, we asked ourselves, “What does it mean to be a place where the curious come to grow?” and “How do our current performance review practices impact the employee career experience?” We surveyed our workforce, and one finding stood out: our employees want more consistent feedback and further opportunity to learn and grow. 

It turned out that annual performance reviews, which traditionally focus on past performance, weren’t cutting it. Employees wanted more productive and frequent conversations, with a focus on how they could develop and improve their performance. Thus began our journey of reimagining SurveyMonkey’s performance management programs.

She talks with Lars Schmidt, founder of Amplify, on his podcast 21st Century HR. Learn about GIGs, why we embrace open source sharing, why vulnerability is a key attribute for modern people executives, how we scale employee benefits to vendors, and which HR leaders inspire Becky

To craft a program where employees and managers could have open, honest discussions about performance, we needed to learn more about human behavior and the brain. We looked to the Neuroleadership Institute’s SCARF model of social interaction. The model explores the five domains of human social experience (Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness, and Fairness), and how each activates either a “reward” or “threat” response. 

It turns out that when we feel threatened, our creativity is blocked, we have a reduced ability to solve problems, and it’s harder for us to communicate and collaborate with others. But when we feel rewarded, our self-confidence soars, we feel empowered, and we’re more motivated to do a good job. Our program needed elements that reduced threats and moved our brains towards rewards.

A growth mindset is also critical to successful performance discussions. We needed a focus on improving, vs. proving. We also learned the incredible impact of insights, or “aha moments” and knew we wanted to take an “ask” vs. a “tell” approach.

Understanding brain science helped us come up with our goals to recognize good work and lessen the “threat” typically associated with annual reviews. We formed a working group comprised of employees from various functions across the organization to ensure our performance management goals align with the desires of our employees. We came up with three key objectives:

Power the curious to:

  • Grow and learn: foster curiosity and growth 
  • Have great impact: be accountable for driving business outcomes 
  • Win together: recognize how we win when we work as a team 

To achieve these goals and to effectively manage the change for the entire company, we decided to break the work into three phases:   first, quarterly conversations, followed by frequent feedback, and lastly, goal-setting. 

In mid-2018, we launched the quarterly employee-led conversations with managers that we call “GIGs” (Growth, Impact and Goals). Prior to a GIG meeting with their managers, employees are encouraged to answer a few questions to guide the conversation. These questions focus on the impact the employee has made on the team, organization, product, or culture, and what they can do to have a greater impact and further their career goals in the quarter ahead. 

These  meaningful conversations happening at regular intervals have resulted in greater alignment between employee and manager. Together they’re able to set stretch goals that further the employee’s career and empower them to make a greater impact.

Six months after launching quarterly GIGs we began phase 2, providing survey templates designed to help employees get comfortable asking for and providing feedback. We also made templates for peer feedback and manager feedback

We  began feedback training with SurveyMonkey’s in-house instructors (leaders from a variety of functions) in July 2019. These workshops help employees understand and practice how to ask for, give, and receive impactful feedback. Studies show that effectively delivered  feedback becomes contagious: a person who is asked to provide performance feedback for others is three times more likely to seek similar input about themselves.

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Since SurveyMonkey implemented GIG conversations, we’ve seen promising results. Our internal surveys show 95% of employees say they are in sync with their managers on their impact, and 80% feel aligned on goals for the next quarter. According to one employee, “I much prefer GIGs to the annual evaluation cycle. Having it framed as a guided conversation takes a lot of stress and pressure off. I can now think better and evaluate myself better.” 

Employees and managers, not HR, own the GIG process, and 62% of employees say they are comfortable leading the quarterly conversation. “The framework of the GIG makes the conversation much easier and ensures that both people come in ready to have a productive conversation,” says one participant.

SurveyMonkey is now half-way through the GIG implementation, and we are learning and adapting as we go. What we’ve witnessed thus far is encouraging: people are having rich ongoing conversations with their managers about their growth, impact and goals, and they are incorporating peer feedback into their growth plan. By talking quarterly, they are able to more quickly course-correct, speed their learning curve, and iterate on their impact and goals to align with changing priorities. 

We are excited for the journey ahead of us. We believe that best-in-class products, innovation, and business success can only come when employees are supported, fulfilled, and empowered to grow. GIGs are just one way that we embrace that mindset.