Asana, is a silicon-valley startup founded in 2008 by former Facebook developers, Justin Rosenstein and Dustin Moskovitz. (Fun fact: Rosenstein was one of the developers who created the Like button.) And in 2017 Asana ranked #2 of the top 100 Best Mid-Size Workplaces in the country by Fortune Magazine.
The company is well-known for its offerings of top-notch employee benefits like unlimited PTO, a culinary program, yoga, and Uber credits, but where it really shines is in the area of employee self-improvement, Asana describes self-improvement as fundamental to its culture.
Beyond the perks
The 297-person company offers employees external mentorship and life coaching. The program includes an all-star list of coaches to help with anything from improving interpersonal relationships to hands-on engineering apprenticeships.
One reason Asana invests so much in employee growth is that they give them a large degree of personal autonomy.
Rather than a traditional business hierarchy, the company uses "areas of responsibility" or AORs to delineate the roles of its employees. Each department is documented as an AOR with one person as its "directly responsible individual", or DRI. While everyone in the AOR is expected to take full responsibility for the tasks within it, the buck ultimately stops with the DRI.
The role of the manager is to be a coach. Rather than directly approving or directing decisions for the DRIs, managers empower them to make their own calls and give them the direction for the future.
Continuous Feedback and a Culture of Transparency
Asana is completely mission-driven. Rather than focusing on the wheels and bearings of 'how', each and every project is led by their overarching 'why'. But that doesn't mean they're completely free of a structured appraisal process.
On the contrary, Asana's leaders regularly engage with employees to increase employee happiness and keep performance on track.
Bi-Annual Organizational Appraisals
Every six months, the company halts all normal business operations for its Roadmap Week. This is the time for every member of the organization to step away from the daily grind and reflect on the big-picture progress made over the last six months.
They consider it a kind of organizational meditation—a time to sit, reflect and gain deeper insight on the business. During Roadmap Week, Rosenstein and Moskovitz will either lead a session, or simply sit in on DRI and manager-led sessions in order to get a better feel for what's happening on the ground.
Regular Departmental Reviews
In addition to the bi-annual Roadmap Week, select teams at Asana hold a regular Friday Product Forum.
The goal of the Friday Product Forum is to share observations and offer guidance—but managers and DRIs are trained to detach from any need to have the last word. In an exclusive interview with Conscious Company Media, Moskovitz described their transparent, bottleneck-free philosophy as, "Strong opinions weakly held." This approach allows them to challenge employees to do their best work, while remaining agile as an organization (a typical Friday Product Forum can take as little as 15 minutes per team).
Two-Way Channels for Peer and Self Reviews
Asana also uses regular peer reviews and conducts an annual employee survey via a third party. They even go as far as to share negative feedback publicly, and commit to making changes quickly. And according to their head of people ops, Anna Binder, this is the real reason behind their 4.9 star rating on Glassdoor.
“Our employees say wonderful things about us on Glassdoor. That doesn’t mean that we’re perfect, or pristine. What it means, what I believe that it means, is that we’ve created channels internally for people who have unhappiness to speak about those unhappinesses in a direct way.”
One-on-One Performance Coaching
In keeping with its emphasis on personal growth, the company has regular one-on-ones between reports and managers. But instead of focusing on status updates and deadlines, these meetings are meant to address employee satisfaction and engagement.
Here are some of the common questions an Asana people manager will ask:
- What are you feeling?
- What’s holding you back from being able to blossom and do your best work?
- What would you like to learn and develop skills around?
- What are your long-term career aspirations?
- What are your long-term human aspirations?
Compared to traditional performance review structures, Asana's approach may seem a little out-of-the-box, even hokey. But with 99% employee satisfaction in virtually every area, it would seem its enlightened approach to appraisals is working out pretty well.
Asana is not the only organization going its own way. These days most great organizations are thinking critically about performance management and coming up with innovative new solutions. Here are a few more examples to help inspire your own strategy.
And if you're ready to take the next step, check out our guide to creating your own modern performance management process.