Simple, Direct, Honest, Personal, and Blunt: How the 5-word Performance Review Works Wonders
“The dreaded performance review–unless it’s “You’re fired!”–is often an unfocused, indirect thicket of bureaucratic language that is not helpful for either boss or employee. It can be an exercise that sheds little light but creates a lot of anxiety and resentment for everyone involved. When we caught up with Paul English, cofounder of Kayak.com, the travel search engine, to ask him about his five-word reviews we found out that there was a whole lot more to his philosophy of feedback.
So how did you get this idea of five-word performance reviews?
There was a guy who worked for me back at InterLeaf (a Massachussetts-based software company). He was given feedback weekly, but nothing changed. So I wanted to be really clear with him to make sure that he understood the feedback. I didn’t want to give him a long list of details. Five words was a trick I came up with to make myself be blunt. I literally wrote it on a crinkled phone bill and said, “I want to be really clear that these are the things that we love about you and these are the things that suck.”
But how can you reduce someone’s work life to five words?
If you know someone really well, you can pretty quickly distill their issues. I want to combine what’s good about someone with what’s not working, so I always do two or three positives and two or three negatives. It doesn’t take me long to write. I find a crinkled piece of coffee stained paper on my desk and then I write down the five words.
And then what do you do with the crinkled paper? …”