Matrix evaluations

Managing teams

Engineering managers at Nebulab are responsible for periodically evaluating their reports on our Competency Matrix. This can be a daunting task the first time, as the matrix is fairly large and much of it is open to interpretation (by design). This guide is aimed at equipping you with some basic knowledge that will make matrix evaluations (also called "check-ins") a bit less intimidating.

We commit to holding formal evaluations at least once a year—in reality, most managers at Nebulab will evaluate their reports every six months. Six months is long enough to see some real progress since the last evaluation, but short enough to provide constant, actionable feedback.

Initiating an evaluation

While managers have the last word on their outcome, matrix evaluations are initiated by the report. This is because we want growth to be a bottom-up responsibility at Nebulab, rather than something that's imposed by upper management. Allowing everyone to initiate their evaluation gives people control over their own growth path, and is appreciated at all levels of the organization.

One aspect of confusion is whether people should evaluate against their current position or the next one in the matrix (e.g., should an IC2 Software Engineer evaluate against IC2 or IC3?). There's no clear-cut answer here, and you may typically encounter a couple of different scenarios:

  • If your report is still working on critical areas for their current position (which is often the case with juniors, for example), there's no point in overwhelming them with an even more demanding evaluation.
  • If, on the other hand, they're mostly aligned with their current position, you should encourage them to evaluate against the next position, so that they can start working on the skills that will lead them to a promotion.

The rule of thumb is that the matrix should be used as a tool to coach your report. Before initiating an evaluation, you should always discuss this aspect with your report and use your best judgment to give a recommendation.

Filling your side of the evaluation

Pro Tip: During your evaluation, you will be able to see the answers left by your report. We recommend only doing this after you've left your own evaluation for each skill, in order to minimize bias during the process.

Once one of your reports has initiated and completed their side of an evaluation, you'll get an email notification and you'll be able to provide your input.

For each skill, you can enter whether the person is working towards, meeting exceeding the expectations. You will also be able to leave some free-form feedback for each skill. This is strongly encouraged for anything other than a "meeting expectations": if your report is under-performing or over-performing, they should know what they could improve/what they're doing well!

Once you've evaluated all skills, you can submit the evaluation. This will notify your report and allow you to complete the joint review.

Reviewing the evaluation together

The last step in the matrix evaluation process is the joint review. You and your report should meet (this usually happens during a longer-than-usual 1:1), review your answers together and resolve any discrepancies.

As you may imagine, the joint review can sometimes lead to pleasant surprises (e.g., if your report has evaluated themselves lower than you have), but it can also be an uncomfortable process (if the opposite has happened).

You should go skill-by-skill and listen to your report's point of view thoroughly. If you think they have a point, feel free to change your evaluation accordingly, but remember that the matrix is a tool for growth, and you're not doing anyone a favor by being overly permissive in your evaluation. Whatever you do, make sure to explain your thought process clearly and transparently at every step of the way, to reassure the other person you have their best interests at heart.

The final step of the evaluation is leaving some general feedback on the report. This can be a powerful tool for giving them a high-level direction until the next evaluation, so take your time and use it wisely!

Recommending a promotion

Sometimes, once you've completed the evaluation, you'll realize that your report is ready to be promoted to a more senior position. We don't have algorithms for determining when people should be promoted: we always require them to be mostly aligned with the competency matrix for their new title, but managers have some flexibility in deciding whether to give out a promotion a bit ahead of time.

The rationale for this flexibility is that some skills on the competency matrix can be especially hard to master, and we don't want them to impede people's overall career progression if they're performing well. If you're unsure, look at the high-level description for the new title in Progression: does it seem like the person is aligned with the described seniority, scope, impact and responsibilities?

If you've decided to promote your report, you should submit your request to a Director. Once the request is approved, you can update the person's title in Progression and celebrate the event in the #shoutouts channel on Slack!

Note that, when your report gets a promotion, their salary will be adjusted during the next compensation review.