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Google Performance Reviews (GRAD)
Google rolled out a new performance review system back in 2022 called "Google Reviews and Development" or GRAD. The goal was to streamline the review process, which was infamous for being the most time consuming out of all the big tech companies. One major change was the switch to 1-year reviews vs the previous 6-month cadence. There was also a change to the 5 point rating scale. The current Google Performance Rating scale is listed below:
- Transformative Impact (TI or T)
- Outstanding Impact (OI or O)
- Significant Impact (SI or S)
- Moderate Impact (MI or M)
- Not Enough Impact (NE or N)
Google Promotion and Review Changes in 2023
It's been a rough year for tech workers in general, and Google has taken this opportunity to make some additional changes to its performance review process. One unfortunate change is that a higher % of people will be receiving low performance ratings, and those ratings will come with additional consequences.
Historically only 1-2% of people were put on "corrective action" plans and now Google expects 6% of people to be on what they call support check-ins (SCI) and an additional 2% to get an NE rating, which is essentially a full-blown performance improvement plan. This more closely mirrors Amazon's structure with Amazon's Focus (equivalent to Google's SCI) and Amazon's Pivot/PIP (equivalent to Google's NE). However, Amazon still puts roughly 2x more people on those plans than Google aims to.
It's worth noting that some groups within Google are worse than others. At the end of 2022 Google Cloud rolled out a bunch of SCIs right before reviews, allegedly because that org was below the target percentages. This is particularly challenging for employees to navigate as receiving a SCI right before the end of year review cycle gives you little time to course correct. We'll cover some tactics to avoid this below.
We're also seeing changes for strong performers aiming for promotions. First off, only 22% of employees will get Outstanding or Transformative Ratings vs 27% before. Additionally, Sundar has explicitly mentioned on earnings calls that very few people will be promoted to L6 and above. We support a number of staff level clients at Google, and while there are still promotions happening, it is tougher than ever. One particularly annoying thing we are seeing is tenure being used as an excuse for not promoting employees, even if they have outstanding or transformative ratings.
How to get promoted faster at Google
Google is notoriously slow for promotions and the current market conditions (along with the points mentioned above) aren't making it any easier. However, despite the change to the 1-year performance review cycle, Google employees still are eligible for promotion twice a year. The biggest change is that you now have to be much more proactive in pushing for a promotion vs. just delivering high quality work. For many people this is uncomfortable, but it's really the only option if you want an accelerated promotion timeline and higher comp.
There is a whole multi-step process, but we will just cover the four most important pieces below.
First, you need to manage your manager, as they of course have a huge influence on your promotion case. You are doing it wrong if you are L5 or below at Google and not discussing your progress on closing skill gaps with your manager every 2 weeks. These "skill gaps" are the areas stopping you from being promoted today and you should have identified them with your manager early in the year along with specific projects where you will have the opportunity to demonstrate improvement.
Another key, and often overlooked, component of a successful accelerated promotion case is choosing the right projects to work on. Not only is important to work on relatively high visibility projects, but you also need to make sure there is strong potential to quantify impact and that you manage expectations well at the beginning of the project.
Documentation is particularly important during performance reviews, and it is 100% worth the time to document successful projects or areas of improvement you are focused on. For example, it's much harder for your manager to question your ability to independently lead projects if your name is on the initial scoping document, launch review, etc.
The last piece which is much more relevant in 2023 is creating leverage. In some rare cases your manager or director will try to delay your promotion despite you setting up everything right. In these cases, the best thing you can do is carefully bring external leverage to the table. We've seen this work extremely well each time it's been done. This external leverage can be discussions with another team for a position at a higher level or even just mentioning that a recruiter from another company reached out to discuss a position at a higher level. These conversations need to be handled diplomatically, but it's less complicated than you'd expect and can make all the difference between getting a promotion or being stuck waiting.
How to avoid SCI or Google PIP
The first step to avoiding PIP is of course to avoid a support check in. 95% of the time Googlers first get SCI before being put on a PIP, though there are rare cases where this doesn't happen. With that in mind, it's important to realize how much influence your manager will have on whether or not you get put on a performance improvement plan. The decision to put you on SCI is almost entirely up to your manager, which is different than a typical rating cycle where an NE rating (and subsequent PIP) is determined by the review committee not just your manager in isolation.
While getting your manager on your side can sometimes be tricky, there are a number of specific things you can do. One of the most important aspects is to prioritize your ramp up period. First impressions really matter and it is so beneficial to put a little extra time upfront to ensure you start on the right food. It's also critical to seek feedback early during your manager 1:1s because that is the period when they will have the most leniency. Additionally, if you don't get along with your manager it is best to discover that early when you still have the option to switch teams. If you received a NE or MI rating during the performance review cycle you won't be eligible to switch teams.
Update: in H2 2023 Google will be phasing out support check-ins. The process was deemed overly political (almost entirely influenced by manager relationships). However, there are downsides as some managers will now give employees very little warning before they receive a MI or NE rating during the performance review cycle.
What to do if you get an NE or ME rating
If you get a SCI or ME rating there is still a reasonable chance you can dig yourself out. Google has a much higher success rate of people recovering to a "Significant Impact" rating vs. companies like Amazon where attrition from Focus and Pivot are much higher. Your manager will be giving you lots of feedback during this period but what often works best is to find a trusted colleague or mentor who you can go to for feedback first on key deliverables. If you want to continue working at Google, it's really important to invest the extra effort at this stage.
If you get an NE rating and are put on PIP there are definitely ways to get off, but at at this point it's also important to start hedging your bets. We would recommend starting the recruiting process with other companies at this stage. We have lots of advice for this process, but the most basic is that you should never mention you are on PIP. There will also be a series of decisions about when you should take severance, but this varies from person to person so it's hard to provide general advice.
If you have more situation specific questions or want the comprehensive breakdown (this article just covered a handful of higher level points), you can book a free call with our team here.