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How NML is driving performance acceleration

“As little red tape as possible…”

Being a growing agile software development company, this is a mantra of sorts. So when we started envisioning our performance management model, we knew our approach needed to be different. We decided our focus would be on Performance Acceleration as opposed to Performance Management. A positive tool to increase performance and encourage personal development, rather than a bonus-calculation tool.

What motivated our Performance Acceleration model

We are growing – which means that it is no longer possible for one individual to provide comprehensive and fair feedback to every individual.

We want to facilitate both personal and career development – so we are providing each NMLer with an opportunity to work towards tailored goals in trajectory with their career aspirations.

We want to build a high performance culture – by means of regular performance feedback. Engaging NMLers more regularly allows for incremental adjustments in their performance before a final year-end review.

We want a fairer allocation of bonuses – which requiresa mutually understood set of performance criteria to inform each individual’s performance objectives.

How we structured the Performance Acceleration profile

The Performance Acceleration Profile consists of three main areas:

  1. NML Performance Criteria
  2. Personal Performance Objectives
  3. Personal Development Areas

1. NML performance criteria

A set of criteria applicable to the whole company, based on the following:

  • The standards to which NML commits itself,
  • The philosophy informing our way of working, and
  • The traits we value in our people.

After a few iterations, five performance criteria were identified, as illustrated in the figure below.

Perf criteria

The criteria captures the essence of what is expected of everyone at NML and will inform each person’s performance objectives for the year ahead.

2. Personal performance objectives

Guidance was provided during one-on-sessions to tailor each person’s objectives to their role (e.g. junior developers’ objectives differ from that of project managers) and career aspirations. The result of these sessions was a set of SMART goals indicating WHAT each individual want to achieve and HOW they would like to go about it.

3. Personal development areas

This section provides an opportunity to devise an action plan for certain development goals. For instance, if a web developer would like to become a mobile developer within the next year, they can use this space to identify the necessary steps to get there. For example: Complete Xamarin certification course by the end of June, write the certification exam by the end of July, continuously receive mentoring from the lead mobile developer (at least 1 session a week) and complete various mobile tutorials and courses throughout the year.

The review process

Regularity -Quarterly

Rating process – Each NMLer completes a self-evaluation and will also be rated, independently, by two other reviewers (typically one manager and one team-member). Both reviewers will compare their independent scores and agree on a final score for the NMLer under review.

Feedback process – One of the two reviewers will conduct the performance feedback according to a reviewer’s-guide (that promotes fair and objective comment). During the review session the reviewer will provide performance feedback and discuss their final performance scores with the reviewee, whilst also giving the reviewee an opportunity to compare their personal scores. The reviewer may adapt the final score if the reviewee provides valid / compelling evidence for their own score.

Considerations to minimise measurement error

The scores obtained from any measurement will be influenced by both what you are trying to measure and not trying to measure. The factors you are not trying to measure will cause a difference between the actual and obtained scores – measurement error. One’s rating scale as well as the biases of the individuals using that scale are important considerations when trying to minimising measurement error.

The rating scale

We decided on a six-point rating for the following key advantages:

  • With an even number of points, it is a forced-choice rating scale which illuminates the single mid-value people often lean towards when feeling uncertain / undecided. This will help avoid the occurrence of central tendency.
  • The two mid-values of 3 and 4 allow the reviewer to distinguish between low average and high average performance.
  • A lager number of points will allow the reviewer a greater range of choices, which could potentially minimise measurement error. In addition, the highest obtainable score of 6 will not be easy to obtain, but presents a good challenge.

Mitigating reviewer bias

We all possess certain biases formed by our personal background, culture and experiences. Although unconscious, they influence the way we perceive others. During performance reviews such biases could have an undesired impact on a performance rating, and subsequently, on the individual’s career path. By having two reviewers per reviewee and by providing training workshops to reviewers one can attempt to mitigate reviewer bias and therefore measurement error.

This article provides some useful tools to mitigate reviewer bias during performance reviews.

Testing our approach

Since we designed and developed this performance acceleration model according to the specific needs of NML, it needs to be tested. The first two performance reviews will serve as our pilots. The first review will be conducted a little less formally in order to:

  • Ease us into the process,
  • Go through each individual’s performance objectives and ensure that all parties understand what will be measured at the next formal review,
  • Allow for an opportunity to amend objectives where necessary, and
  • Look at the reviewee’s self-evaluation and identify potential areas of improvement.

The second review session will be more formal – following the process stipulated in the performance acceleration manual.

After the first review session, feedback will be obtained on:

  • The specificity and measurability of each performance objective,
  • The ease with which the rating scale can be applied,
  • How well the review process was organised and conducted, and
  • Challenges experienced by the reviewees and reviewers.

What we have learnt so far

We have learnt a lot during the design, development and implementation of this process. What stands out the most is what we have learned about the goals and aspirations of NMLers. Through this process, NMLers have mapped their career paths, taken up courses, planned personal innovation projects, and committed themselves to getting closer to the level they would like to perform at.

With this fresh approach towards destigmatising the dreaded performance review and equipping NMLers with the framework to give their best and stretch themselves, we’re geared for an exciting performance acceleration journey.

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