Every three months, companies get everyone into a meeting room for a special meeting. With presentations and charts, team leads take turns talking about how things went in the past three months, and then, what's next for the next three months.
Some teams call it performance review and some call it quarterly all-hands. Whatever you or your company name it, numbers of similar one-on-one review sessions happen before this.
Team members report to their division lead. Leads report to their department manager. Then, managers report to someone at a higher position that will eventually escalate up to the CEO and the board.
I don't have much experience working in a setting like this before joining the Sumo and AppSumo team. I was a barista, a bartender, and a cafe manager at several local restaurants and coffee shops. The regular meeting sessions we had were a 5-minute briefing twice a day before peak hours.
Even when I stopped working behind the bar, I was a freelancer working solo with clients, at most, a few other freelancers on bigger projects. Getting into a company like the Sumo Group taught me a lot. One of which was how to move fast while staying on track.
Performance reviews are nothing new. People and businesses have been thinking about how to get more productivity and satisfaction at work since the industrial revolution. While there was a massive transformation of how reviews are being done since then (with various criticism along the way), it has proven to be effective.
At Sumo and AppSumo, I saw firsthand how quarterly reviews move the teams towards the one North Star we set at the beginning of each year. Even better, how these reviews helped us pivot to focus on the right thing when our hypotheses (of outcomes and executions) are wrong.
That got me thinking, "Why don't we do the same in our personal life?"
Remember the feeling when you completed an annual review at the end of the year and came up with a new year resolution? You're clear with where you want to go, feeling motivated with a sound plan at hand, and ready to crush it again in the new year.
It felts great and things just work (or you make them work) with that level of enthusiasm. Instead of waiting for months, why don't we intentionally create more of those moments every 90 days?
With that in mind, I did my first quarterly review this April. Here's a quick rundown of them:
I have a personal OKR system set up on Notion at the beginning of the year. OKR stands for Objectives, Key Results. So you should see I name my goals key results below but call it KPI or anything you like.
I started Q1 with a mess. The first two weeks were all about planning and getting things in place. The blog traffic and lead conversion rate weren't ideal in the beginning. To resolve that, we created a list of experiments and tactics (that we would implement every week) and track their progress and performance one by one. With the help of the team, we got the KPIs back on track in February and blew past it in March.
Notes: We call our goals KPIs at AppSumo. But I also add it to my OKR system since it's one of the projects that I'm spending most of my resources on.
While I was short with the goals, I'm happy that I finally moved my site from WordPress to Webflow. It was a long process but I did enjoy the work. To me, Webflow has more design flexibility and is easier to manage.
I was 81kg with 24% body fat at the beginning of the year. I'm happy with the progress even when I didn't hit the body fat goal. Part of it is because I'm getting healthier in general. At the same time, I've improved my pull-ups from a lot in Q1.
Health and fitness are a long game. While I have a product goal to lose weight (body mass and body fat percentage), the process goals to stick to my workout routines and intermittent fasting are my main focus over the long run.
I finished four books in the first two months but then was stuck with the fifth one. That happens because I was spending more time and energy on Wolo Yoga (more on that later) starting March.
Social activities are hard to come by during this time due to Covid-19. But I still managed to spend some great times with my wife, family, and friends. All of the key results here are a process goal.
Here are a few other areas where I work on:
Doing quarterly reviews has several benefits. The most immediate one to me is how it cheers me up with all the small wins. It may feel like you haven't achieved anything sometimes, especially when you're not looking for them.
Before conducting the review, I don't think I've accomplished anything in Q1 this year. But then I found quite a few small wins that I was very proud of and many fortunate things that I was deeply grateful for.
Quarterly review could also help us reevaluate what works and what doesn't. It's hard to know if something works when we don't measure it. Most of us do an annual review. But 12 months is a long time to wait. If something goes wrong, you want to learn about it as soon as possible, not hundreds of days later.
A quarterly review means you have around 90 days to hit your key results, and then find out if your hypotheses on the outcomes and strategies are right. If they are wrong, you get to pivot in the next 90 days cycle; if they are right, you get to double down on what works. The 90-day cycle also helps you break a big project down into smaller milestones that are easier for you to stay focus on the execution.
The truth is you could reevaluate your key results and strategies anytime you want. But thinking about it every now and then isn't productive because it will take away the time and energy you could spend on executing. It will soon become a form of distraction and procrastination.
Ultimately, a quarterly review helps us focus on the small progress while aligning ourselves to the big, long-term vision. At a higher level, you can use the 90-day cycle to evaluate the opportunities available in the market and the unique leverage you have too. Asking questions like "What's the market need now?" and "What are something I can leverage to get 10x or 100x the results?"
Before you start doing your quarterly review, you need to have goals to go after. Any goal-setting method or system would work as long as you have something to aim for. I'm using a personal OKR system to set and track my goals this year. I like how it connects my long-term objectives and short-term key results.
If you've already been doing an annual review, a quarterly review should be easy. In my annual review worksheet, I focus on what went well and what went wrong, following up with a rating in different areas of my life.
Instead of an overarching theme and rating of different life areas, your key results should be the major focus during a quarterly review. After evaluating how well you perform based on your key results, spend the time to take notes on how your strategies play out. Think like a scientist and dissect what works and what doesn't, and why. Next, you could also jot down how you feel about the progress you've made in the 90-day cycle, and the insights you get from those feelings and emotions.
For an annual review, I usually go through every single area of my life. While I did the same for my first quarterly review, I learned that it's better to focus only on a few key areas. 90 days pass by quickly, so growing every area in your life is not practical. Instead, figure out what area you want to grow the most. This ties back to how I set my OKR in the first place which is something I learned during my first quarterly review.
Over the time of a year or multiple years, everything will grow if you have a plan—even a modest one. But that won't be the case for a shorter time frame like 90 days. In this case, the concept of growth mode and the maintenance mode by Tynan become a great way to think about what you should be focusing on.
At any given time frame, find out the areas you want to grow to the next level and set a product goal for them. In most cases, you need to come up with a strategy around the product goals. For the remaining areas, figure what you need to do routinely to maintain them. These routines become the process goals.
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Head of product and engineering