Founder Questions: How Should I Structure My Annual Review Process?
Spencer Rascoff is an entrepreneur and company leader who co-founded Zillow, Hotwire and dot.LA, and who served as Zillow's CEO for a decade. He is currently executive chairman of dot.LA and a board member at Zillow and TripAdvisor. In fall 2019, Spencer was a Visiting Executive Professor at Harvard Business School where he co-taught the "Managing Tech Ventures" course. In 2015, Spencer co-wrote and published his first book, the New York Times' Best Seller "Zillow Talk: Rewriting the Rules of Real Estate." Spencer is the host of "Office Hours," a monthly podcast on dot.LA featuring candid conversations between prominent executives on leadership, diversity and inclusion, and startups.
I've always hated annual reviews. That's not an encouraging start to giving advice, I know, but it's my reality, and unfortunately it's all too common. So why do so many of us loathe annual reviews?
For starters, they take too long. At all of my previous companies, we would spend at least three months on the process, from individual reviews to manager feedback to compensation and promotion approvals. The annual review conversation has also never been very useful outside of inducing anxiety at the end of the year; Due to its infrequency, the ups and downs of the year aren't accounted for, and we learn very little as managers and employees as a result. Topping it off, annual reviews have historically just been about performance, leaving a critical piece — employee engagement — unaddressed in the most influential evaluations throughout an employee's career.
Leaders and technology providers are grappling with how to solve these challenges now that company culture and employee engagement are widely accepted as performance drivers. We now know through data that business success is no longer just about "human engineering," or how we deploy our workforce effectively; it's now also about whether people are motivated and driven by the mission and culture. And, critically, success comes down to how these two pieces intersect to drive success forward.
To make annual reviews worthwhile and valuable to both managers and employees, we need to re-engineer the process. Your approach will be company and culture-specific, and in fact, mine has changed with each company I've founded, but focusing on these three areas will help guide a modern approach:
Check in Frequently with Two-Way Feedback
Having a review once a year sets both the employee and manager up for failure. So much happens within that time span, particularly at high-growth companies, and if you only talk about performance and engagement once a year you are leaving so many success-driving opportunities on the table. In fact, abandon the term "annual review" entirely.
Instead, focus on frequency. Conduct weekly 1:1 meetings to cover tactical work and ways in which managers can remove roadblocks, use quarterly check-ins to assess the overall state of employee engagement and have slightly longer check-ins every six months that focus on bigger picture performance as well as engagement topics like quality of work, delivery, collaboration, connecting to the mission and career development. Frequency ensures the end of year conversation — often the hardest one because it dictates promotions and compensation — will not come as a surprise.
Equally important, make sure these conversations or check-ins incorporate 360° feedback, anonymously and through technology so the employee feels empowered and safe to share honestly. It's just as critical for the employee to share what the manager can do to help drive performance and engagement as it is for the manager to provide feedback to the employee. This was something we did well at Zillow, and our implementation of 360° feedback ended up producing great insights that led to successful leadership training programs and artifacts like the "leadership playbook," a guide of principles that became words to live by similar to our core values.
Be intentional with Time and Topics
Help your teams keep the process manageable by providing specific guidance through time-boxing, ie. self evaluations should take no longer than 30 minutes, 360° feedback should take no more than 5 minutes per leader and manager feedback should take no more than 30 minutes per direct report. It's easy to get carried away, especially on the employee's side, when they know their evaluation is tied to their compensation. Time-boxing helps avoid this.
Focusing your topics is equally important, particularly when it comes to compensation. Limit conversations about compensation to once a year (because that's typically the only time you can do anything about it), and separate compensation discussions from those about performance, if only by a few days. This ensures employees hear both critical pieces; if you combine the two, they'll only pay attention to the numbers.
Invest in an HR Platform
Everything I've recommended thus far can be made better, less biased and more efficient with HR technology. But understanding engagement is where this space is getting really exciting and game-changing for companies, because as we lose cultural artifacts we've relied on, such as office environments, other aspects of our culture like how we communicate and how we make decisions shine brighter and have a greater influence on engagement.
At my latest startup, Pacaso, we use Officevibe to conduct weekly pulse checks of our virtual workforce, and these help us assess in real-time whether our employees are inspired by and mapping to the mission, understanding their role and feeling represented and supported by their manager and the company. It gives us actionable information to keep us on the right path.
Pulse checks are just one piece of the puzzle. CultureAmp, for example, provides insights on peer feedback and company-wide performance reviews that help combat bias and support representation. Qualtrics links regular engagement and pulse survey results with milestones like promotions, role changes and returning from parental leave — all at the company level to protect the individual employees but help the manager navigate performance and engagement needs. AllVoices (in which I'm an investor) provides an anonymous, direct line from employees to leadership to report bullying, harassment, bias or other cultural concerns with the goal of creating safer, more inclusive companies. There is so much we can do with technology to connect performance and engagement and just create better workplaces in general. HR platforms are quickly becoming a critical investment for companies.
Spencer Rascoff is the co-founder of dot.LA, Zillow and Hotwire, as well as the recent proptech startup Pacaso. He was CEO of Zillow for 10 years. He is a sponsor of Supernova Partners Acquisition Company, a special purpose acquisition company. Do you have a founder question? Let him know here!
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LA Tech Updates: Apple Podcast Vet Joins QCODE, Amazon Reportedly in Talks to Buy Wondery, Pharrell's New Black Ambition Incubator
Apple Podcast Veteran Joins Startup QCODE<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDUzNTQzMC9vcmlnaW4ucG5nIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYzNDUzMzYyNH0.pOGV2lL0qOJQDiWw1T5i4SqsGfaL54hLWED6_5Mf1Ww/img.png?width=980" id="8d68d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="f2a47797239f360473fead53338231d4" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="qcode" />www.sonos.com <p>QCODE, a Los Angeles podcast startup run by a former Creative Artists Agency talent agent, snagged longtime Apple podcast executive Steve Wilson. The 15-year veteran will become QCODE's chief strategy officer.</p> <p>QCODE, which <a href="https://dot.la/sonos-podcast-qcode-2648395035.html" target="_self">last month raised $6.4 million</a> in a Series A round led by Sono, is positioning itself as a funnel for Hollywood. </p> <p>Founded by Rob Herting, a former agent who had represented largely writers and filmmakers, the company has produced eight shows since 2019. Several have been auctioned for film and television, including "Dirty Diana." Amazon picked up the 6-part erotic drama for a TV series.</p>Wilson, who most recently ran marketing for Apple Podcasts, brings insights from the behemoth platform as the industry sees revenues soar. Advertising brought in near $1 billion this year, according to Interactive Advertising Bureau's podcast report prepared by PwC.
Amazon Reportedly in Exclusive Talks to Buy Wondery<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5NDU5OS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY0MjgyMDY3NX0.BHKSXjwra-gGsFEa7lXCCCMJXWV5cYxrZqhddj3-uds/img.jpg?width=980" id="d401d" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c9c9eee1f9adc4c1d5edeca1af986a84" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" alt="Hernan Lopez" />Hernan Lopez started Wondery with the belief that in-depth, narrative audio stories were poised to bloom.<p>Amazon is in "exclusive talks" to buy podcast company Wondery and subsume its 30 hit shows and over 8 million monthly listeners into its empire, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday.</p> <p>The talks reportedly value Wondery above $300 million, in line with previous estimates from analysts, when Apple and Sony were said to have expressed interest.</p> <p>Wondery has produced dozens of original series including "Dr. Death" and "Business Wars," and has 19 shows currently in development to become television series. </p> <p>The company does not publicly disclose its financials, but chief executive Hernan Lopez has previously said the company is profitable. About three-quarters of Wondery's revenue comes from advertising, but Lopez has said the company's revenue share from content licensing is growing (Wondery owns the intellectual property for all of its originals). It also launched a subscription service, Wondery Plus, in June and is currently looking to expand its international footprint. </p> <p>Wondery, the West Hollywood-based company with the largest audience of any independent podcast producer, has been the subject of swirling rumors that several suitors are interested in acquiring it.</p> <p>After a pandemic-induced decline that struck much of the podcasting industry, Wondery's audience has surpassed its pre-COVID levels. Its Q3 revenue was about double year-on-year and its Q4 performance has been strong, Lopez previously told dot.LA. </p> <p>Podcasting overall now attracts over 100 million monthly listeners, according to Edison Research. The Interactive Advertising Bureau projects podcasting revenues to exceed $1 billion by 2021.</p> <p>That growth has spurred somewhat of an arms race, most evident in Spotify's spending spree, which also has helped that company diversify from its reliance on streaming. Amazon Music is one of Spotify's biggest competitors along with Apple Music, and <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/amazon-music-joins-podcasting-fray-11600261201?mod=article_inline" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">recently expanded into podcasts as well</a>. </p> <p>Acquiring Wondery would give Amazon more content to slide into Amazon Music, a scaled-down version of which is free for Amazon Prime subscribers. Combining that content with its Alexa smart speaker also could empower the company to capture more eyes and ears in the increasingly competitive attention economy. </p> <p>The talks are reportedly ongoing and no deal has been confirmed. </p>
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LA Tech Updates: Fidelity Reportedly Seeks to Unload Bird Shares at a Loss; Warner Bros Streaming 2021 Releases; Plug-In South LA's Accelerator for 2021
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Plug-In South LA Opens New Accelerator Cohort for 2021<img lazy-loadable="true" src="https://dot.la/media-library/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDg2MzAxMS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTY1MTg0MTM1Mn0.QPKaMFTusp_uKe5Td0K77QKhp7KXUY6_An5edQ588VM/image.jpg?width=980" id="460a2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="c53839f0b8ac6658fd10bb2da6ea53f8" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" /><p>Plug In South LA's Accelerator Program is returning in 2021. The outfit is looking for 10 Black and Latinx founders who have proof of product-market fit and traction. The organization, founded in 2015 by Derek Smith, aims to build a network for Black and Latinx founders in South Los Angeles.<br></p><p>Last year was the inaugural accelerator program funded by Verizon, Silicon Valley Bank and Nike. The 2019 cohort hosted five startups including Spooler, a tech-based clothing design startup that credits the program with helping to increase revenue two fold since March. During the program, the company received a contract to launch a Sesame Street active wear product line. </p><p>The last day to <a href="http://pluginsouthla.com/accelerator" target="_blank">apply for the program</a> is Dec. 9 </p>
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