Wednesday, February 11, 2009

How'm I doin'? Just Rypple me on that, will ya.

Over the course of my long career, I don't think I had more than 5 or 6 performance reviews. (That's in over 20 years working full time.)

The ones I did endure were generally pro-forma affairs. I had to fill in some checklist items and review it with my manager.

I don't recall ever having much of a conversation about anything. Just some perfunctory whatever.

It was more a matter of "HR says we have to fill in these forms so we can give raises".

In other words, all the things that performance reviews are not supposed to be.

Of course, I generally (but not always) had a pretty good relationship with my manager, working closely together on such a continuous basis that performance reviews always seemed more or less beside the point. I always seemed to get enough in between feedback as it was.

In one of my more memorable reviews, my manager - a turnaround guy who had no interest in becoming too involved with our foundering little company or any one in it - told me that I was his idea of a perfect direct report.

Why was that?

Because he was a hermit who didn't really want to manage anybody - no day to day involvement, let alone idle business gossip or chit-chat.

I had figured that out early on, so what I would do was slip my weekly report under his door, answering any questions he had, and highlighting any areas where I needed him to do something.

It might have worked for him but, as a manager, his style didn't work for me. I liked him well enough, but I tended to play a trusted advisory role for most of my managers, and that sort of relationship was completely absent with this guy.

If I never had much to do with performance reviews on the receiving end, I was generally serious about it on the giving end, and did plenty of them over the years.

I'm not managing now, so I have no "Net Geners" - or anyone else -  to provide feedback to. (Oh, boo-hoo.)

Nonetheless, I was interested in an article I saw in The Economist a while back on a new application, called Rypple, which enables folks to request near real-time evaluation of whatever they're working on at the moment. (I'd heard about the rising generation's need for constant reassurance-feedback, but never got to experience it as a manager. Still, when I find myself working with younger clients - and, at this point, 99.99% of them are going to be younger than I am - I do almost automatically find myself providing feedback when I've seen them in action and think they're doing a good job. Atta boy, atta girl. Oh, yenta me!)

Here's how Rypple works:

The service requires employees to establish a network of trusted peers, mentors and managers whose opinions they value. They can then send out short questions, such as “What did you think of my presentation today?”, to which their network’s members can respond online. The responses are kept anonymous so that, at least in theory, employees cannot tell who has made them.

With respect to that "at least in theory" comment, Rypple claims it all stays anonymous.

I can see a lot of upside in this.

Employees get to ask people they trust to provide them feedback, coaching, etc. It's all web-based, so that people don't have to set up formal, face to face meetings, and can respond when they have a moment or two. While it's anonymous, people who you don't want to hear from don't get to participate. So - as long as you've been wise about who you're asking - there'll be none of the snarky, hide-behind-anonymity comments (often devolving into ad hominen attacks) that you get in the online free for all of the blogosphere.

You can only ask one question at a time, and responses are limited to 200 characters. So the burden on the person you're asking feedback from is more or less the equivalent to answering an IM. No biggy.

I very much like the in-the-moment aspects to this system.

Someone who sat through your presentation might be thinking, "I really should tell her that when she went through that slide on widgets, it was really confusing." But, if they don't see you right after - or they don't have the nerve to let you know - the moment is lost. Six month later, if it was your boss in the audience - and the confusing slide somehow stayed in the back of their mind -  you might get feedback on poor presentation skills. If you catch someone right away, feedback can be specific, and thus more immediately actionable.

If someone's in your Rypple list, they can also provide (anonymous) feedback that's unsolicited. So if you don't ask how the preso went, someone might just let you know "It went okay other than that slide on widgets. I didn't know what you were talking about." (Well under 200 characters, but who's counting?)

As a manager, I would view someone who used Rypple as an employee who was interested in self-improvement. A good thing. (I don't think that I would have any interest in someone's bringing their Rypples into a performance review however: too easy to stack that deck.)

Let's face it, in a time when just about nobody spends their career in one place, you really have to be in control of  improving your skills. Theoretically, your company has an interest in doing so, but, as we all know, you are expendable to everybody but yourself and those nearest and dearest to you.

For a lot of the Boomers, serial stints with multiple companies more or less just happened. Follow on generations - X, Y, Net, whatever - are entering the workforce eyes wide open.

Whether they view job-hopping as scary or exciting, they pretty much know who they have to look out for.

The only downside I can see is the potential that you could get stuck with a grasping, insecure and/or overconfident, annoying little Net Gen-er asking for all feedback, all the time. I guess then you could just slip them a little anonymous feedback asking them to [feed]back off.

I also rather like the company's name.

Sure, it conjures up images of winos in the gutter with a bottle of Ripple Wine.  And since I've been writing this post, The Grateful Dead's Ripple has  been running through my head like tinnitus. Out, out, damned lyric! (I'm not a Dead Head, but I'm sure if someone were to ask me for feedback, "my words [would] glow with the gold of sunshine.")

Managers and managees: go check out Rypple.

1 comment:

The C-Suite Executive Assistant said...

I enjoy reading your blog. Your posts are well thought out and informative.

Performance reviews are the bain of my existence, because for someone in my position, who wants to advance, at some point you find yourself too much of an asset for your boss to let you move on to bigger and better things. I don't know if you've ever been an assistant to anyone, but hopefully, you haven't done it long enough to develop Stockholm Syndrom like many of us executive assistants.

And many times, people take their assistants so much more granted that they often times think an assistant's performance review is for naught.

Stop by my blog for my latest musings about being chained to a desk: