The three questions Atlassian asks when doing performance management


Mike Cannon-Brookes (centre) and Scott Farquhar (third left), co-founders and co-chief executive officers of Atlassian Software Systems, smile during its successful entry into the Nasdaq in New York.

Letting people go is often said to be one of the hardest parts of business, and bar rare cases of completely recalcitrant employees, it’s a process hard on both the employee and the founder doing the firing.

This is why many businesses have thorough and well-thought-out performance management processes to try and make sure any dismissing of employees is only done when absolutely necessary. But even then, the term ‘performance management’ still strikes fear into the heart of worker and founder alike.

For Aussie SaaS unicorn Atlassian, performance management becomes even more of a minefield thanks to the company’s longstanding focus on teamwork and collaboration, with the company’s NASDAQ ticker even being TEAM. Speaking at a recent Facebook Workplace conference, Atlassian’s chief people officer Helen Russell ran the crowd through why the multi-billion-dollar company struggled so much when it came to performance management.

“Our goal as a company is to unleash the potential of every team, and ‘team’ itself is one of our values,” Russell said.

“But the typical systems coming out of the HR world tend to be very individualistic. So holding something up as a mission and value, but [having] your programs and your processes are incongruent is in direct conflict.”

So upon noticing this conflict, Russell says the company realised there was work to be done in this area, and picked out performance management as a way for the company to improve. The executive said the company wanted to ensure it was “incentivising the employee to be the ultimate team player”, rather than just pointing out all their flaws.

“We are trying to really make sure the team is held up as a higher order on how employees have to contribute in their roles. And similarly, from a rewards standpoint, how we can build incentives in that recognise what the employees collectively did, as opposed to just what one of them did,” she said.

The three questions

With this in mind, the company developed three questions it would ask during performance management meetings in order to make employees feel like they were being assessed as part of a team, rather than individually. Russell says in doing so, the company removed “a lot of bias” out of the performance management process.

Firstly, the company asks the employee how they’re doing in their role, with Russell saying she has a range of statements to reference against to assess how the employee is performing, with each statement resulting in a numerical score.

“Next, I ask how the employee is upholding Atlassian’s values, which again is rated,” she said.

“Finally, I ask how the employee is elevating the performance of the team.”

The last question is the crucial one, which works to align the process with the company’s core values.

“Each of those questions are equally weighted, so if you drop in any, you can’t come out with the ultimate score,” she says.

“This is not something we talk about as just being nice to have, this is fundamental to how we operate.”

SmartCompany attended the Flow conference as a guest of Facebook.

NOW READ: Scott Farquhar on why Atlassian spends millions on local staff training, but still needs 457 visas

NOW READ: Atlassian shares soar on news it will sell chat products to Slack through new strategic partnership


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