Atlassian is weeding out the ‘brilliant jerks’, changing the way it does performance reviews to reward workers who show ‘heart and balance’ not just technical skills

Atlassian has revamped its performance review system.
  • Atlassian has implemented a new performance review strategy designed to give their workers a better evaluation of how they’re performing.
  • The new strategy focuses more on whether an employee adheres to Atlassian’s values rather than how technically skilled they are.
  • Atlassian’s global head of talent, Bek Chee, said the company wants its employees to “really focus on the way they do their work.”

Atlassian has ushered in a new review system that’s designed to create a better evaluation of how its employees are performing.

The Australian-founded software giant — which is valued at US$32.8 billion according to Yahoo, propelling its founders Mike Cannons-Brookes and Scott Farquhar to the rich lists — believes traditional performance reviews often celebrate workers who are technically skilled and efficient but may not contribute as much to the broader office culture or company values.

As a result, it is revamping the way it conducts its performance reviews. In 2018 it soft-launched a strategy where most of its performance review process will have nothing to do with the skills in an employee’s job, but more to do with how well they are living with the company values.

Now, the strategy is being rolled out in permanently and will be tied to employee bonuses.

Atlassian’s global head of talent, Bek Chee, told Business Insider Australia, about this more values-based approach.

“We want to be able to evaluate a whole person and encourage them to bring their full self to work and not just focus on skills itself, but really focus on the way they do their work,” Chee said.

She added that that while workforces have changed over the past 30 years, performance reviews, for the most part, have stayed the same.

“Some of these performance systems don’t necessarily account for unconscious bias, they don’t necessarily reward the behaviour that we’re seeking to reward,” she said.

Unconscious bias refers to judgements someone can make in favour of or against someone, usually based on past experience.

So in this instance, a manager could pre-determine an employee to be great (or terrible) at their job based on what they have done in the past.

With this performance review system, Atlassian aims to throw out the idea of the “brilliant jerk”, which Chee describes as someone is technically-talented, but perhaps at the expense of others.

Instead it is focusing on how an employee demonstrates the company values, how they complete their roles and how they contribute to their team.

“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 “Open company, no bullshit”, “Don’t #@!% the customer”, “Play, as a team”, “Be the change you seek” and “Build with heart and balance”.

Atlassian’s new system assesses whether an employee had an “off year”, a “great year” or an “exceptional year” but with a series of questions to better determine how and why.

“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’.

Chee said managers are going to be asked to give two examples of the values their employees are displaying. In the next part of the assessment, managers are asked to evaluate an employee’s skill set, their role and how they deliver on their goals this year through a series of questions. And finally, managers look at how the employee has made an impact on their team.

The company found that when they did performance reviews through this series of questions, it in turn generates a more accurate and less-biased idea of a staff member.

“We want employees to feel like…when they come in are then evaluated and [they] get feedback on the behaviours 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,” Chee said. “And we know that’s not always the case in some organisations, and so we’re really focused on that equitable experience.”

Now that the review system is being permanently rolled out, it will also be tied to worker compensation. So depending on whether an employee is rated as having an “off”, “great” or “exceptional” year, will reflect what kind of bonus they get.

Atlassian is also calling on other companies to think of readjusting their performance review systems as well.

“I would say every company consider to look at ways that they can approach biasing and approaching unconscious bias within their performance [systems]. It’s not something that I think is done enough and something that we’re real proud of,” Chee said.