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Risk of PIP!!! Performance Review: Sometimes Meets Expectations x2.

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Mid-Level Software Engineer at TikTok8 months ago

My Role is Senior SRE

I received my second performance review and it came in at a -M which means Sometimes meets expectations. This is my first year in big tech and I'm at a loss for words. I worked 12-hour days since I started. The first 6 months I just winged it and did not realize how strategic and crucial these performance reviews were.

So for my second 6 months, I aligned with my team lead and manager. I executed every project they asked me to and even created some projects to help the entire team. I was led to believe I was doing good work. However, this Tuesday I received the news that my rating is again a -M. They said that they did not put me on a PIP because they saw improvement from the last PR.

They told me the reason was that I am one of 3 Sr. Engineers and that two of them are performing more than I am. Since we are rated on a curve I am last. 9 out of my 10, 360 reviews were positive and an M or above. I have a follow-up meeting next week with my manager to discuss my improvement plan. I also set up a call with my manager's manager for a coaching/mentorship call.
Here are my questions.

  • I feel like my manager sees others as more proficient than me. Even though other colleagues tell me I am better than the other senior engineers how can I break out of this perception my manager has?
  • How can I avoid a PIP? Our next performance review is in 2-3 months due to some changes they made in the yearly PR schedule. I don't think I can make enough changes during that time.
  • What should my approach be towards my manager and his manager?
    • I want to be humble but also direct.
    • I feel I am not being treated fairly but I also think the system may be designed this way. I don't want to appear like I am a victim either.
  • I fear that I will get a PIP due to my manager's subjective opinion I will lose my job, my apartment, and I will have lost the last 2 years of working myself to the bone. How can I escape being in this state of survival?
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Discussion

(2 comments)
  • 10
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    Tech Leadership Coach • Former Head of Engineering
    8 months ago

    It core issue sounds like it's misaligned expectations caused by a broken feedback loop (with some stack ranking toxicity happening in the background).

    Here's what I'd do to tighten that feedback loop, so there are no surprises.

    • Assess the OKRs 1-2 levels above yours and map your contributions to those. If this feels hard or there's misalignment, you'll know which efforts are likely not perceived as 'valuable'. The more specific and quantifiable, the better.
    • Take an example of your best contribution and one that was subpar from awhile ago. Do an honest diagnosis on both in terms of what improvements can be made.
    • Show the work you did in the prior two points to your manager in your upcoming 1-1. Give your manager a heads-up prior to the meeting, so they come prepared.
    • Come to an agreement on what the gaps are together and more importantly, an action plan bounded by a timeline to close these gaps. Ask to see a concrete example of what "good looks like" if you feel the feedback is too vague (it's easier to do here since you did the work to analyze 2 examples of your past work)
    • Put EVERYTHING into writing as a "recap email". Do not neglect this step if you feel a PIP might be coming and there are subjective factors/biases at play here.
    • Track your progress rigorously against this action plan and provide a written update each time you make tangible progress. *Even better if you could keep it in the same thread as your "recap email".

    Subjective factors suck and will exist to some extent. However, you can mitigate that by putting more of your contributions in writing and aligning to higher-level OKRs. If you're getting good reviews on 360s, you should capture those as 'testimonials' (while it's still fresh in their minds, not last minute before year-end) and include them in your perf review doc.

    DM me if you'd like to chat further.

  • 9
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    Tech Lead @ Robinhood, Meta, Course Hero
    8 months ago

    Oh god, I'm so sorry to hear this. This is a prime example of how evil any form of stack ranking is - If you are in an abnormally talented org (which you want to be in for max learning), you get punished for it. And since your band of senior engineers seems very strong, that's happening to you.

    At a high-level, here's your problem:

    1. Your manager wants A
    2. However, your manager thinks that you're at B, which is lower than A (whether or not that's true is up for debate but is irrelevant)
    3. You need to figure out exactly what (A - B) is

    Here's my advice going through 1 by 1:

    I feel like my manager sees others as more proficient than me. Even though other colleagues tell me I am better than the other senior engineers how can I break out of this perception my manager has?

    You probably need to have a crucial conversation with them, ideally with a coalition. If you have Staff+ engineers heavily vouching for you, leverage that as much as possible - Get it writing and maybe even have them reach out to your manager.

    However, you need to not come across as accusatory. Say something like "I know I have lots of room for improvement, but I've gotten glowing feedback across the board. Can you help me figure out the exact gap this feedback isn't covering?"

    Here's a good thread that covers this in more detail (it's about promotion, but the same concepts apply): "How to drive my promotion discussion with my new manager?"

    How can I avoid a PIP? Our next performance review is in 2-3 months due to some changes they made in the yearly PR schedule. I don't think I can make enough changes during that time.

    Constant communication. Literally every 1 on 1, ask how you are trending and if it's in PIP danger zone. Now's not the time to beat around the bush. Be firm and cut straight to the point.

    I recommend attending the event we have literally tomorrow on this: [Masterclass] How To Work Better With Your Engineering Manager

    What should my approach be towards my manager and his manager?

    Be empathetic, initially assume good attempt, and truly try to understand their perspective. Again, communicate a lot and don't be afraid of hitting an awkward conversation (which many engineers unfortunately are). An awkward conversation is easily worth your survival.

    I fear that I will get a PIP due to my manager's subjective opinion I will lose my job, my apartment, and I will have lost the last 2 years of working myself to the bone. How can I escape being in this state of survival?

    At senior levels, especially at Big Tech, you have to ruthlessly prioritize. Follow the advice from here: "How to figure out what the most important projects are?"

    If you have extra time, I highly recommend going through our productivity playlist: [Taro Top 10] Time Management And Productivity

    Please reach out to me on the Taro Premium Slack as well - I would love to chat and help you through this.

TikTok, known in China as Douyin, is a short-form video hosting service owned by Chinese company ByteDance. It hosts a variety of short-form user videos with durations from 15 seconds to ten minutes
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