After a trial run, Atlassian is implementing a new performance review system that it hopes will completely remove any toxic genius from its ranks.
Bek Chee, Atlassian’s global head of talent, defines toxic geniuses as “brilliant jerks” to Business Insider, and claims performance reviews feed an unconscious bias that helps them survive within the ranks, despite the damage they cause. “Some of these performance systems don’t necessarily account for unconscious bias, they don’t necessarily reward the behavior that we’re seeking to reward,” she said, adding: “We really want to enforce the way that values get it lived, the way that people impact the team and the way that they also contribute within their role.”
Atlassian’s five values are pretty direct, and simple:
- “Open company, no bullshit.”
- “Don’t #@!% the customer.”
- “Play as a team.”
- “Be the change you seek.”
- “Build with heart and balance.”
Its new performance review system still relies on performance as a metric, but leans more heavily into the ‘why’ of it all. From Chee:
“What we know — and we tested this with lots and lots of literature Australian based software giant — is if I said to this manager, ‘go ahead and rate your employee and just give them one of those three ratings, and try to in your head, think about how they live the values and how they delivered in the role and how they how they contribute to their team’. We know for a fact that those are going to be less reliable results if they just defined the person [as having an] exceptional year. And that’s just because of unconscious bias, and heuristics: ‘I like this person, I think they did good last year.”
An example: 2017 may have been a great year for your team, as far as productivity is concerned. You all earned praise, and raises. But 2018 may have been a downturn, numbers-wise. A normal review system would see a growth slump, and a manager may even assume your 2017 was an aberration.
But 2018 may have simply been your team supporting other teams, or working on updates for a product. Atlassian’s scheme would see reviewers asking “why” rather than nailing you for failing to squeeze out more productivity. Though things like growth and productivity still matter, Chee added: “We want employees to feel like when they come in are then evaluated and [they] get feedback on the behaviors as well as the delivery of the work. The second thing that we want [is] a fair workforce, we want people to get rewarded for what they delivered.”
What you or your team deliver isn’t always directly measurable against a spreadsheet. Atlassian understands this, and we’d like to see their performance review scheme implemented elsewhere. In our article on dealing with a toxic genius, we note: “When it comes to dealing with employees, the buck always stops with management. But it can take quite some time for a boss to step in, especially if the toxic genius is delivering spectacular results.”
This, along with Atlassian’s performance review system, underscores a core truth about the toxic genius: they hide behind results as an excuse to act the way they do. Taking away their shield opens the toxic genius up to the slings and arrows of the company’s culture, and forces their evaluation against other metrics that matter.