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Aaron SmilingAaron Bruce | Thinking Out Loud

Reading List: Performance and Incentives

Here's what I'm reading on the subject of performance management, compensation and incentives

In the spirit of learning in public, I want to share some of the reading I’ve done and am doing on performance management, compensation and incentives. When you make the shift from engineer to manager this is an area that you suddenly have to start learning about, and I recommend taking it seriously. Start by learning from your predecessors, but you’re going to need to form your own thoughts an opinions on this subject, and reading is the best tool for the job.

Some Articles

Newsletters are good, actually. Some of the newsletters I’m subscribed to will occassionally include a link to a recent blog post or two about performance management and incentives. I haven’t read most of these, but I’m saving them up.

I’m a subscriber to Kent Beck’s “Tidy First?” newsletter, and this morning he published a summary of some of the writing he’s done on the subject. Apparently he has a whole separate newsletter on just incentives. I’m going to repost a snippet from that email verbatim:

Some Books

Read books. Sorry, you gotta. I’m going to link to the Powell’s books store for these instead of Amazon because I live in Portland and I’m gonna be all Portlandy about it ;P.



I’ll have to write a summary of drive and publish it separately. It’s must-read material for leaders. It summarizes the science of motivation and how motivation relates to performance.

Abolishing Performance Appraisals


Why performance reviews are bad, and what to do instead. I went into this book hoping I’d learn how to completely abolish the need for reviews, but it hasn’t done that for me. What it does do is talk about how disfunctional performance reviews are and it’ll help you design performance management systems that avoid the worst mistakes.

An Elegant Puzzle


This book is not strictly about performance management, but it’s a great book and it includes some discussions of career levels and review cycles. This is a highly recommended read for engineering leaders. Check out his blog, too.

Manager’s Path


This is a pretty standard recommendation, and well worth the read. It’s another that isn’t strictly about performance management, but it does cover the topic. I wasn’t as thrilled with how the topic is dealt with in this book, but it does contain good advice for managers. I’d say this book is a mandatory read for managers, anyway, so just read it.

Other Books Worth Looking At

These are less well known, or books that I haven’t read yet.