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Using Retrospectives for Personal Improvement

by Ben Linders on Oct 10, 2013 |

Agile retrospectives are used by teams to improve their performance, by reflecting on the way of working and defining improvement actions. But retrospectives can also be used for personal improvement, additional to or as a replacement of performance appraisals. Such retrospectives can be done as a one-on-one by a manager and an employee, individually by an employee, or in a team.

Stephanie BySouth wrote a blog post about how the agile retrospective activity can benefit all professionals, not just delivery teams. She proposes to use retrospectives for performance reviews, and do them in a monthly cycle in stead of annually: 

(…) there are benefits to having retrospective conversations more frequently with your team, your managers or even yourself;

  • mistakes or poor performance can be discussed and resolved close to when the actual event occurred rather than left, forgotten about or not corrected
  • the actions within a review become more comfortable because the frequency gives you more practice
  • the duration becomes shorter as it only needs to focus on the last few weeks
  • the conversation moves from ‘a what have you done and scored assessment’ to a more mentoring/ perform better focus because you have visibility of the score building every month

Performance reviews are often experienced as difficult conversations, both by employees and managers. Doing frequent personal retrospectives helps to soften conversations, and get more value out of them:

When difficult conversations are addressed more frequently a level of comfortably builds up that allows emotions to recede and with training the conversations is simply focusing on the work.

In the blog post four super simple ways for your nonprofit organization to go lean today, Lloyd Nimetz writes about “lean processes to manage your people”. He provides several tips for organizations that want to implement agile performance management; one of them is to do semi-annual employee retrospectives:

(…) at least 30% of performance reviews decrease employee performance! There are much better alternatives. I advocate the “retrospective” where the goal is not to evaluate performance but rather to find ways to improve going forwards.

Lloyd describes how you can do employee retrospectives that focus on personal improvement:

Managers and direct reports meet 1:1 twice a year to discuss how performance can be improved: both individual performance and organizational/team performance.

  • Reciprocal feedback: feedback both to and from the employee
  • The goal of the retrospective meeting is not to communicate performance levels (that’s already taken care of in the monthly performance goal tracking)
  • It’s not a meeting to discuss compensation decisions.
  • A separate annual meeting is needed to communicate salary/bonus/equity decisions

Johannes Thönes wrote a series of articles about personal retrospectives. The article personal retrospectives – an introduction provides an explanation of personal retrospectives:

In essence, the personal retrospective is the same as the project retrospective. It is a retrospective where the team is just you. You think about your life on your own. You can optionally have a retrospective where your significant other or a good friend facilitates the retrospective. However, I always do the personal retrospective by myself.

He described the benefits that he gets from doing personal retrospectives:

I use retrospectives to learn what happens to me and what I do affects my life. I use it to improve my working practice and my personal well being.

Doing personal retrospective helped me to gain a new level of self-awareness. Since I do retrospectives I learned a lot about my self, although this might as well be just an effect of getting older..

Marc Phillips blogged about why retrospectives should get personal. He described how teams at his company are doing personal retrospectives:

The key ingredients for a Personal Retrospective at Relevance are five or so team members who have first hand experience with the subject's recent performance and another Relevance employee who serves as a neutral facilitator for the discussion. During the meeting, the individual is provided with an hour of open and honest feedback which validates and appreciates areas where they are providing their best value to their team and clients, and calls out ways they may not be meeting the mark or have the greatest room to grow.

Personal retrospectives can help professionals to improve their individual performance and their contribution to the team:

This isn't a review. No money, position, or responsibility changes are made as a direct result of what is said. It is a safe forum for enabling feedback to help folks at Relevance along in their journey. Such a personal and sometimes difficult meeting may not be for everyone nor for every organization, but it is an option you and your team should consider when looking for additional ways to get to the next level of individual and group performance.

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