Performance Calibrations at Tech Companies: Part 1
The reasons for performance calibrations, budgets, bucketing and stack ranking approaches.
Performance reviews and promotions are coming soon at many tech companies, within a month or two. We’ve already covered Preparing for performance reviews ahead of time and Preparing for promotions ahead of time in previous articles. But in this issue, we dive into a topic highly relevant for engineering managers, which is also helpful to understand for individual contributors: performance calibrations.
‘Performance calibration’ refers to the meeting when managers gather and decide which rating – and bonuses and pay rises – to assign to people. So, what really happens inside this crucial meeting?
For this question, I’m bringing my own experience of being in many calibration sessions at Uber, as well as input from half a dozen engineering directors, CTOs and senior engineering managers at tech companies.
It’s hard to appreciate how performance calibrations work without understanding their purpose and the constraints by which they operate. Today, we cover these topics:
“Why?” Why do performance calibrations exist at most companies? Which places operate without them?
Companies operating without formal performance processes. For how long can this setup work at places with no standard performance processes, and therefore no calibrations?
Budgets. Why budgets are important to understand, and how they relate to performance calibrations and budget distribution strategies.
Performance calibrations. Goals of the calibration process and the various types of calibration across the tech industry.
Bucketing. How does this work, and what are the typical performance buckets at tech companies?
Stack ranking approaches. How this works and its relation to calibration.
Additionally, Part 2 also covers:
A “typical” Big Tech calibration. What happens? Why do calibrations take weeks to complete?
Preparing ahead of time. As a manager – or a manager of managers – how can you prepare for calibration?
Inside a calibration. Politics, deadlocks, strategies, allies. What are the typical situations which arise, and how can you respond to them as a manager?
Biases during calibration. Common biases at play during calibration, how to spot and counter them as a manager in the room. Also, ways you could help promote fairness by pushing back against biases.
Advice for managers. How can you set up your direct reports to get better feedback from others during the calibration? Also, what should you share with your directs and what should you keep private?
Advice for individual contributors (ICs) in preparing for calibrations, ahead of time. It turns out, you can tip the scale in your favor by helping your manager, if only by a limited amount.