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Confusion of Employee Performance Appraisal in Agile

Financial year end is near. Your organization has kicked off the yearly employee performance appraisal process. As a manager, what is your situation?
Mr. Sundaram is a confused manager today. He has been working for a Bangalore based software development company called SinsforSystems for last 8 years. He has been asked to provide performance stack-ranking (5, 4..1) for all his reporters, across all grades (E1, E2, .. E5), normalized across 3 teams he is heading, with entire data fitting the Gaussian distribution (The Bell Curve) across all dimensions.
Now, employee performance appraisal is the yearly process in SinsforSystems and Mr. Sundaram has been the champion who has mastered the art of ethical-performance-rating. People have never challenged his judgment and evaluation acumen. He has been transparent and objective in his employee performance ratings. His appraisal practices religiously embraced MBO(Management by Objectives). He is a smart technical manager who sets yearly goals and objectives for each of his subordinates at the start of the financial year and evaluates them sincerely and perfectly at the year end. No exception catching required.  20% of people reporting to him are always top performers, 20% always bottom performers and rest are ‘good performers’.  He is known for successfully giving constructive feedback and setting right directions and goals for those rated as ‘good performers’ to get them into the ranks of ‘top performers’ during next appraisal cycle. Interestingly, during every yearly employee appraisal, he still manages to get his 20% top and 20% bottom ranked employees.  The genius he is, it takes him just 1 hour to complete all the employee ranking papers, without missing the Big boss episode. He has always been an involved manager!

But, this year performance appraisals are a lot different. SinsforSystems has ventured into an agile transition program and Mr. Sundaram has been lately baptized with holy agile water.  He has attended few agile courses, conferences and organized classes. He has been actively engaged in agile ceremonies – Sprint planning, reviews, retrospection, daily scrums. He has been through lessons on self-organization and autonomous team building. He has done some self-reflection on his role in agile teams and worked with agile coaches in team building and agile roles fitment exercises.  

He is not sure if the existing techniques of rating and ranking the team members performance in isolation are going to work this time. He has seen a lot of team member’s involvement, communication has improved, team members are more aware of what is happening in the team, they know who is contributing on what,  and how much. This scrum implementation has bought some noticeable awareness on team visibility, contributions and effective deliverables. Yearly individual objectives and goals they have set do not make sense to him in agile context. E.g. one of the architect’s in the team has a goal of “Creating high quality complete design before development”.  Team is now forced to work on more iterative design and development within the sprint. His goal is somewhat redundant.  Similarly, what is tracked now is sprint deliverables not individual deliverables. He can only give limited credits to those high-profile-experts in the team, who in the past, were recognized for quick completion of tasks irrespective of whether anything makes into the sprint’s potentially deliverable completion list or not. He sees the importance of measuring knowledge building and sharing, mutual trust and team work, re-work, continuous improvement through retrospection, code quality, adherence to agile principles, practices and disciplines, but he does not know how he can change these yearly performance goals for every individual to reflect these much required changes. Does he really need these individual goals now or does he need few team goals in addition?  How will he measure them? Does he a need 360 degree feedback from team?

Mr. Sundaram is sure it’s a different appraisal this year. But, he cannot do much. Human resource department has never been part of the organization agile initiative. They do not know how agile initiatives impact employee’s yearly appraisals, they never planned or modeled for it.

What will Sundaram do?

Author: Tribhuwan

I am Tribhuwan Negi. I have been a technology evangelist and enthusiast having wide areas of interest in the field of software development and engineering. I have experience in architecting and designing enterprises applications, integration and middle-ware application solutions. I have worked on computational data grids(fabrics), distributed caching, data retrieval systems, complex event processing engines. I have also worked with CADCAM, process engineering and robotic simulations. I have lead teams on complete SDLC cycle. I have worked with start-ups and practiced agile software development. I work on different roles of developer, tech lead, engineering manager, software architect and scrum master. I have Bachelor and Masters Degree in Engineering from Indian Institute of Technology(IIT), Bombay.

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