Quarterly Questions

Photo by Charles Deluvio on Unsplash

A little known fact about Quarterly Review Time: your manager probably wants to avoid doing the one-to-one part of a quarterly review as much as you do.

Quarterly reviews are a necessary evil of running a team for multiple reasons (ignoring the main reason that they are usually a HR driven initiative). Humans are a strange bunch, sometimes they need to have the structure of a meeting in order to feel like they can have ‘serious’ conversations. Other times they will freely reach out to their manager and say ‘Do you have a few minutes?’. Depending on the manager they will make the time for their employee or suggest that the quarterly review is coming up and to discuss it there.

Regardless of your view on these four (they are meant to happen quarterly after all) meetings, you should do them. Not just for the employee, but for yourself as their manager. I find there are three solid reasons for this line of thinking.

Structured Complaining

I’m not going to talk about the whole ‘How to give constructive feedback’ stuff that managers are aware of and have been sent on training for. The old ‘feedback sandwich’ of a compliment, complaint, compliment has been done to death. Plus, this idea of structured complaining is not a part of the Quarterly Review that is for the manager.

No, it’s for the employee.

People are predictably unpredictable and when it comes to their professional lives this concept is compounded even further. Somebody who is very vocal on the floor with their complaints may not mention them to their direct-line-manager while they stand around the kettle waiting for it to boil.

Now, in the age of the open-plan office the idea of an ‘open door’ policy is a little redundant. However an ‘offsite coffee’ is just as effective and it is a policy my entire team know about. They know that if they want to have a conversation with me about something they can ask for a cup of coffee and off we go — I’ve even missed scheduled meetings to ensure that my team know the offsite coffee is important to me, that they can use it whenever. During COVID-19 this has simply extended to some of them asking for a call, but the concept is the same.

Yet sometimes people don’t want to use the coffee to complain about something that is bothering them. Instead they want to have a meeting to get stuff off their chest. Which is why you should always aim to have your quarterly review as it is most likely the meeting that an employee will offload their problems. Be it team problems, work problems or just generic ‘Where are we going?’ problems — there is something about the official setting of a meeting that enables some people to have conversations about things they generally don’t have conversations about.

Which feeds nicely into the next point.

These meetings are for the employee

It is important for the manager to remember that the quarterly reviews are not about them — they are about the employee. It is a point in time to let the employee talk about things and to discuss how they could improve or highlight the great work they have been doing. So an important skill all managers should have is the ability to listen.

You need to be comfortable sitting in the room and not speaking for 90% of the time if the employee has to speak. Of course you need to go through your notes for the quarter, to make sure the employee gets their review, but the employee tends to like to have this face time with their boss to rant or vent or maybe just discuss a new idea they have and really want to get approval to work on.

A manager who feels they have to fill the silence by talking is not giving their reports the space to speak their mind. If you do happen to have people on your team who prefer to complain in the meeting and keep the offsite coffee for lighter topics then you need to be the manager who can sit happily in silence so that people naturally fill the void with what they really want to talk about.

Of course listening is all well and good but you have to actually hear what is being said. Any plank of wood can sit in a room and stare wistfully into the distance, dreaming of waves crashing on the shore, while their employees talk to them. But what is said has to be heard, recorded and possibly even acted upon.

360 Time

No, this isn’t about spinning on your seat at the end of the meeting and patting yourself on the back. This is, in my humble opinion, the most important question you can ask during a quarterly review.

“What can I do to improve? More of, less of?”

A manager who views a quarterly review as an opportunity to only improve their direct reports is fooling themselves. People are fallible, we make mistakes and mess up and choose poorly. It is part of what makes us so great, but you have to know when your actions are not being met with the positivity you think it is.

You have to ask your employees, each and every single one of them, that question. What, if anything, can you do as a manager to improve and become a better manager.

The manager they deserve to be managed by.

You could end up asking this for three years and get told the same thing: “Nope, nothing. You’re doing a great job.”

Or you could get that one person who goes “Well actually…”

See while you as the manager are trying to help employees get better, you should never wait for your own quarterly review with your direct line manager to find out how you can improve. Chances are they won’t have any ideas, really, because you deal with your team on a daily basis.

Who better placed to point out your flaws and failings than the very people those same traits effect?

Asking that question should always be the last thing you discuss in a quarterly review. When you hit the final five minutes, ask it…and listen.




Head of Cloud Infra by day, gamer by night, author of a comedy-fantasy series called ‘Filthy Henry’ by twilight — Trust me, I always lie.

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Derek Power

Derek Power

Head of Cloud Infra by day, gamer by night, author of a comedy-fantasy series called ‘Filthy Henry’ by twilight — Trust me, I always lie.

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