questions for performance reviews

since launching kettle & fire, i’ve been thrown into a role where – for the first time – i’m managing more than 5 people.

as the team has grown, i’ve had to learn how to hire, manage and help team members grow and thrive. it hasn’t always been easy or smooth.

as part of working on this, i’ve hired an executive coach, meditated, read ~10 books on communication and management, countless blog posts, and sat down with dozens of friends and entrepreneurs who have grown and managed a team before. the whole time i just kept wishing there was an open source toolkit (like ruby on rails for management) that i could use, set up and i’d immediately be a 10x better manager than i was before.

i wanted something that i could look at that would tell me what to do: here’s when to set up 1-1s, how often to have them. here’s what you should cover during weekly all-hands meetings. here’s how you set up a hiring process, how you onboard a new employee.

i didn’t find anything close to that. so, i’m going to try and build it.

Votuporanga here’s part 1 – performance reviews.

if you’re not doing 1-1s / performance reviews, they might be the most important thing you can do today to level up your managerial game. they create structured opportunities for feedback, discussions and improvements: the things that too often fall by the wayside in the day to day work environment.

after many conversations and lots of reading, we settled on a relatively simple 1-1 framework that we use (you can see the structure of it here).

everyone on the team does a review every 2 weeks with their direct reports, and everything gets put into google docs. this is so that during annual reviews and bonus assessment, we can see areas of progress and areas that have continually cropped up. it’s a lot more useful to point to previous reviews and say “you’ve completely resolved X issue we had 6 months ago” then it is to say in mid-December “great job working on X”.

secondly, we break the 1-1 into 2 parts: the quantitative assessment, and a more qualitative piece. again, you can see how we structure everything here.

in the qualitative section, the manager assigns a score for each of the 3 things we care about at kettle & fire. work performance is self-explanatory, but “growth mindset” and “clear accountability” are two values we hold dear.

for each value, the manager will rate their direct report on a 1-5 scale. however, managers are not allowed to give 3s. this is a prod to ensure that feedback (good or bad) is communicated as honestly as possible. the manager will then communicate specific items (bulleted underneath) where the employee demonstrated that value since the last review.

in the next section, there’s more of a give and take. the employee jots down notes for discussion about where they think they did well, and where they think they could still develop. then, the manager does the same thing – hits on areas of strength and potential areas of development.

importantly, there’s also a question that requires the employee to give feedback to their manager. to tell them an area they can improve. this must always be filled out, as i want employees to practice (and feel comfortable with) giving critical feedback to managers.

lastly, the review wraps by assigning 1-2 goals the employee will complete by the time the next review rolls around. it then ends with any other discussion topics the employee or manager want to discuss. these will be reviewed during the next 1-1, and the cycle continues.


so far, this system has worked really well. employees seem to enjoy the 1-1 system and have mentioned their last company didn’t have anything similar. i’ve also found it gives me a good pulse as to how everyone is feeling about the company, company decisions, and forewarning as to areas that are likely to cause problems in the future.

as one of my mentors said, setting up 1-1s is the most important thing you can do for your company. this structure has worked for us, and i hope it helps some others out there.

feel free to re-use, use modify and do whatever you’d like with it. if you come up with any improvements, i just ask that you let me know on twitter, or leave a comment below.

One response

  1. Great post! I manage three people in-person and one person remotely right now and I’ve found 1-on-1s to be insanely important for long-term relationships with employees—also a great space for having those important conversations about problems on the horizon.

    A few things I’d add:

    1) Try them out as walking meetings and get out of the office. Something many companies don’t do. Do the quantitative part beforehand/offline or referencing a phone.
    2) Put aside an hour per 1-on-1, minimum. The most valuable 80% of the conversation ends up happening in the last 20% of the hour. With the freedom to go down rabbit holes, I’ve found that we end up jogging our brains with things we forgot about during the rest of the week.
    3) Never cancel a 1-on-1, always reschedule it. Canceling 1-on-1s means employees feel like you don’t value them/can’t get their voices heard.


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