The Year End Review

2015As the end of the year, some unfortunate managers try to roll up their compensation, feedback, goal-setting, project planning and gawd knows what else into a single painful & stressful exercise. Painful for the manager, stressful for the employee. At one of my old jobs, reviews were so important we did them every 13 months!

However, like many seemingly intractable problems, this one can be solved by decomposition.

How much $$?

First, let’s look at from the individual contributor’s POV: “How much $$?” That’s it! That’s what they really want to know. Any compensation changes will probably take the form of items salary, stock, bonus, covered in an earlier post.


In economic terms, the compensation change is the only ‘signal’ that matters here.

You’ve been giving feedback all year, right? Skip it this one time. If you waited a year to give feedback, you really screwed up, and you’ll make matters worse by giving someone a bonus and reminding them of things they could have done better at the same time.


It’s actually fantastic to pivot the conversation around the contributor’s goals. It’s a new year, she is thinking about that sort of thing.

Project Planning

No! This is a one on one, project planning needs to happen somewhere else.

Gawd knows what else

Managers, don’t confuse yourself. Give them their monetary feedback, pivot to their goals and start prepping for the next one on one.


How do we get paid? For some of us very lucky people it’s like this:

  1. Salary
  2. Stock
  3. Bonus
  4. Work Environment
  5. Time Commitment
  6. Knowledge

making ‘enough’ …

Finding a job, and deciding to stay at a job becomes an exercise in seeking the best score across all of these features, although most of us don’t write out the formula much beyond ‘pros and cons’. I don’t have too much to say about the monetary aspects of work (one, two & three), though I do agree that ‘paying people more doesn’t motivate them more‘.

Living in Boston, New York, California is damned expensive, & so is sending your kids to college. So ‘making enough’ could be all that there is, but if not …

we should reflect on four, five & six!

Cesar Kuriyama (one of my big heroes) writes poignantly about making good money in a soul-deadening job, working over 80 hours a week. I’m guessing that was great for one, but a disaster for five & six.

four – work environment

There are a lot of ways to succeed here and probably a lot of ways to fail. But there are some goto invariants for success:

  • Good Tools — in my trade, this means fast computers, big monitors, nice desks. At one of my best jobs ever, they simply never questioned a developer request for a software or hardware tool, everything was pre-approved. Thanks Carl!
  • Smart, Nice people — when I interviewed at ATG, Joe Chung told me that they were looking for two things: ‘smart, nice’. This was the first time I ever heard this formulation, although Joel Spolsky wrote about ‘smart & gets things done’ eloquently later. Oddly, he didn’t mention ‘nice!’, or invertedly:
    • No Jerks — according to google, many companies say they do this. I have my doubts, perhaps because the number of jerks who have been let go is small (in my own experience anyway). But if you are lucky enough
  • Great boss — the converse is even more true: ‘people quit their boss‘.
  • Open floor plan — good for some (I love it), bad for others (Dan hates it!)
  • Plenty of light, not too much gray/beige furniture
  • A mission you believe in

five – time commitment

I have some friends and co-workers with epic commutes. They are trading in a lot of five, hopefully gaining elsewhere, e.g. the opportunity to live in a picturesque Scottish village, or in bucolic New Hampshire, or in a place with great schools, family nearby, what have you. A truly extreme form of this is the fascinating world of remittance flows back to the home country.

Or, your job may not tax you too much, freeing you up to work on your true passion. Before he was a famous novelist (and way before he became another of my many heroes), Anthony Trollope worked as a Postal inspector. Business travel back in the 19th century meant long train rides, so he wrote his first three novels while ‘on the job’.

I, on the other hand, can walk to work. This is an incredible benefit, almost invaluable.

A job that pays 20% more and takes up 100% more of your time, may not be a great deal.

six – knowledge

To my mind this is the most underrated form of compensation. Talk about burying the lead! When you can be paid to learn things, life is pretty sweet. Even sweeter if the things you learn will ultimately help you move ahead in the other five categories.

HBR reports something that sounds intuitively true: ‘women don’t apply for jobs unless they are 100% qualified’. This is very sad to me (especially as the father of three girls), because it turns your career from an inverted funnel into a tube: can’t do it unless you already know how to do it.

My guess is that one of the best ways to be paid to learn new things is by getting hired to do one thing and then convince them you could also do this other thing. Try it and let me know!

on the other hand

HBR reports that this is what people say they value. YMMV!