Learning on the job is one of the most important skills anyone could ask for. But, is everyone receiving the right feedback about WHAT they should be learning and HOW to grow?
In the last decade, I have been fortunate to work for a diverse set of companies – from a small startup (NexTag) to a mid-sized ad agency (Initiative Media) to a large global corporation (Facebook). Each company was successful in its own right, but more often than not, I saw a pattern emerge: I would learn very quickly and do my job well, but eventually, I would run into the same question of “What’s next in my career?”
I believe everyone faces this challenge. Through my collective experiences shared below, I think it’s important for companies to have some form of performance management in order to keep employees motivated and improve employee retention.
NexTag (the need for structure/performance management process)
Early in my career, performance management was an afterthought.
At NexTag, my first startup, my colleagues and I were put through trial by fire. Every day, we were heads down in the 21st century version of a boiler room buying, analyzing, and optimizing digital media ad campaigns. We learned through ruthless execution, and the results paid off in millions of dollars in revenue each month for our company.
Our managers deserve a lot of credit for putting us in positions to succeed and helping us become high-performers through weekly conversations. However, as we became experts in our roles and found success, our worlds – and needs – changed.
Everything looked different a year into the role, and we needed less guidance on how to do our daily jobs. Instead, we craved guidance on our future. Without structured conversations about our future growth, volatile questions crawled into our minds: What is work-life balance? Am I being compensated appropriately? What am I learning? What’s next in my career?Structure would have helped me figure out how to develop and manage up better Click To Tweet
As a startup, NexTag did not have performance management high on the priority list – and on some level, it made sense. The company was focused on survival every day.
But, without a performance management process, it was hard to have conversations about those important topics. Structure would have helped me figure out how to develop and manage up better – and without it, I eventually left for a new, exciting opportunity.
Interestingly, after I gave notice, my managers and I started to have conversations about my future in the last few weeks. I wish it happened sooner, but it was too late.
Initiative Media (the need for meaningful conversations and specific feedback)
A few years later, I led a team of 5-7 employees at Initiative Media, a company of more than 1000 employees, to help large, well-known brands strategize and execute complex media plans.
On the outside, I was in a great position. I worked with exciting brands that broke new ground in the industry every day. I led a team filled with smart, talented people. I applied the technical and analytical strengths that I gathered from my prior work.
But on the inside, I felt pain points similar to my experience at NexTag – despite the fact that Initiative had an approach for performance management.
The problem with Initiative’s approach towards performance management was that it lacked transparency and substance. During my time, I performed standard performance reviews, and it consisted of me submitting a list of accomplishments to my manager each year. Like a box of chocolates, I never knew what I was going to get: Feedback would come back, but it was infrequent and lacked details. Separately, I would receive verbal feedback from colleagues that was encouraging. But beyond that, it was hard to decipher what would take me to the next level.
Eventually, questions crawled into my mind again: What does my career progression look like in this company? Am I learning anything of value from my manager or peers? What does my future look like?It’s frustrating not having control, especially with your direct reports’ careers on your shoulders. Click To Tweet
With my team, I did my best to mimic the positive performance management strategies I learned at NexTag, while trying to address the shortcomings I had experienced. We did weekly one-on-ones, and synched on career goals and development conversations. However, with little transparency into how the company thought about job progression for me or my team, it felt like my hands were tied in terms of what I could do for the people reporting to me.
It’s frustrating not having control or insight into a process, especially with the additional weight of your direct reports’ careers on your shoulders. In this instance, although a review structure was in place, it would have been better if there was more clarity around career growth.
Facebook was the first company I worked for that approached performance management differently.
When I joined Facebook in 2014, it was hard not to notice that managers cared about giving employees ownership, responsibility, and opportunities to learn. From a technology standpoint, they designed tools that made it easy for employees to get 360 feedback twice a year, and give/receive recognition and visibility at any time. From a cultural standpoint, most employees bought into the process and strove to improve and make an impact.
Within Facebook, I had questions pop up, but this time, my thoughts were mostly about my rate of growth and how I could make a difference for the company.
This time around, the reason I left wasn’t a lack of career growth. Facebook’s process was transparent enough that I knew where I stood and what I needed to work on. But when I thought back to my experiences at Initiative Media and NexTag, I saw an opportunity to help every other company to have access to this quality of performance management. At the end of the day, having a good job isn’t enough for most people – they want to continue to grow.
I don’t regret the decisions I have made to change companies in the past, but I do wonder whether my experiences would have been different if each company had better performance management in place.
Had there been a culture and organized approach for performance management, I believe some of the companies I worked for could have solved for the questions and frustrations I experienced. I don’t believe these feelings were mine alone – media agencies still are facing major issues with attrition today – as high as 30%. If they implemented a performance management model like Facebook’s, I believe they would see a big improvement.
Performance management is not the cure-all, but it could definitely make a difference.