Traffic Light Performance Management

Aaron Lerch

Director of Engineering at InVision



"I work as an Engineering Manager at InVision managing a team made up of very experienced and senior engineers. One of the engineers on my team was delivering below the expectations of both his teammates and myself."

Actions taken

"I use a performance management model consisting of green, orange and red states. I use this language when communicating with each person on my team so that they know how to receive the feedback I give them. If someone is 'green', when I am giving them feedback about their behavior they know that my feedback is for optimization only, so if they want to ignore it, that's fine. If they are 'orange', my feedback is more important - they have an issue or problem they need to address at some point in the future. It's not dire, but if left unattended, it will become critical at some point. There is no specific time-box on being 'orange'. If someone is 'red', it means that my feedback cannot be ignored, and we have had a specific conversation about the importance, the result if nothing is changed, and the timeframe they have to address the problem."

"I was new to my team, so while I had communicated that I followed the green, orange and red performance management model, I hadn't yet set a baseline for each person. However, in this case the underperforming engineer had initialized himself into the red category."

"I communicated with him that based on feedback I had gathered and things I had seen for myself, he was 'red'. I explained why this was and gave him a timeframe to move out of red and back into green. His initial response was to immediately ask how he could stop being red. I explained that while I could tell him why he was red, I couldn't tell him the specific steps he needed to take. I then told him to think about the best engineers he had worked with at previous companies, and what had made them awesome; what made them someone you wanted to work with again. He agreed to think about this for a few days. After our discussion, I then followed up with an email to ensure he was clear about what we had discussed."

"A few days after this, he came back to me with an email response. He explained that he had freaked out at first but had then thought about the great people he had worked with in the past and what had made them awesome. Something had clicked. He then laid out his plan for success - how he was going to change and what he was going to strive for, including the specific steps he was going to take. I was thrilled, as he had done the second hardest part - identifying the path forward. I told him that if he did the hardest part, if he executed on his plan in the timeframe we had discussed, he would have no problem getting back to 'green'."

"Ultimately, he was able to successfully execute on his plan and move back into 'green'. I then got feedback from his team members that they had seen a noticeable change in him and that he was now carrying his own weight and contributing. Once the engineer took ownership of the situation, internalized it, and figured it out, he was able to move back into 'green'. I was there to support and cheer for him the whole way, but I could not change him, only he could change himself."

Lessons learned

"The engineer had received corrective feedback before but it was always couched using language such as 'things to consider' or 'areas for growth'. Me telling him to figure it out within a specific timeframe communicated very specifically how crucial the changes were."

"It's also important to be invested in your team member's success. I wanted the engineer to be successful, whether at InVision or at another company. In order for this to happen, compassionate, candid, and most of all clear feedback was crucial."

"Finally, people need to own their own success. If I had told him that he needed to take steps a, b, and c, we would not have achieved the same results because he wouldn't have internalized and owned the issue. The best successes come when people take ownership of their situation and the solution to it."

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Aaron Lerch

Director of Engineering at InVision

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