Being direct during performance management

Snir Kodesh

Director of Engineering at Lyft



About a year after I started as a Manager at Lyft, we had someone who joined my product team. They were highly regarded and were seen as an amazing hire. However, we quickly found that the new hire didn't communicate or deliver output at the level we had expected of them.

Actions taken

My first step was to identify what was wrong. I wanted to figure out if something personal was happening, or whether their lack of output was related to work. What I discovered was that there was a mismatch in terms of perceived impact, as the new hire felt that they were working on projects that were of low value. However, even after communicating the importance and impact of the projects and getting alignment, after a month and a half of the engineer working at Lyft, there wasn't a material improvement in their performance.

Next, I decided to have a very direct conversation. Often, this step gets understated. There's an awesome book called "Radical Candor" by Kim Scott, which discusses how to talk to engineers. The book suggests that you should be very honest and direct, to remove any chance of misinterpretation. Avoid softening feedback, or putting negative feedback in between two compliments.

A good counterpoint is to then explain why it's important, and why you're talking about it. This lets your staff member know that you're talking to them about the issue because you care and you want to fix the issue.

I used this approach, and told my engineer that there was a gap between their performance and Lyft's expectations, and that they were not meeting our expectations. My empathetic approach was met with an immensely positive reception. The engineer admitted that they could see where I was coming from, and agreed. We were also, ultimately, able to reconcile a bad situation, in part because we were able to build rapport and a strong foundation.

Lessons learned

There are all kinds of mechanisms for performance management, and most end in termination. However, termination should be a last resort, and should only occur once you have tried, but failed, to improve a person.

Remember, that at the end of the day, communicating honestly and transparently is very important. However, it's also important to remember that there's a human being on the other side of your feedback, who will be motivated by a number of different aspects. While you certainly shouldn't excuse someone if they are underperforming, ensuring you retain empathy throughout your conversation can be a productive lever. When talking with an employee about underperformance be direct, but also explain why it matters to you as a manager.

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Snir Kodesh

Director of Engineering at Lyft

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