Actionable Reviews

If you ever talked to another judge about reviews I’m sure you’ve heard the term “actionable” tossed around. “Reviews should be actionable”, that’s something that’s said quite a lot. But what does it mean? Let’s go to the definition:


It makes sense, doesn’t it? We want reviews to have practical value, we want our reviews to matter to the subject. We could write paragraphs and paragraphs but they are only worth it if they inspire action in the reader. Why write a review if it’s not actionable? That’s exactly what I want to talk about today.

I know I’m not talking, I’m writing, but get off my back.

Actionable areas for improvement

The most obvious place where actionable items and concepts matter is on areas for improvement. We’ve all written the dreadful phrase “you should work on your rules knowledge” on reviews. What does that mean? We all have to work on our rules and policy knowledge — always. There is no new information there, there is nothing the subject of the review can immediately get up and do. Maybe, just maybe, that sentence will inspire someone but more often than not it will be met with agreement but absolutely no action.

Go back and read your reviews, find your non-actionable sentences. I’m sure you wrote some and received quite a few. “Be more social with players”, “remember team meetings”, “take more notes”; they all sound like great advice but will not have the impact we mean them to have. I like to make my reviews go through The Actionable Test™: when the subject finishes reading it, do they have the tools to immediately get up and start working on their areas for improvement? If the answer is no, then I need to change something. But what?

Make it specific

Try to narrow down your comments as much as you can. If you tell a judge to re-read the Comprehensive Rules they are probably not going to do it right away, or ever for that matter. But if you tell them to focus on replacement effects they might. Not only it’s a couple of pages long, but since you identified something specific it will motivate them to actually get to it. You can also find different ways to phrase the same concept to make it more actionable. Instead of suggesting that they pay attention to other judges in order to write better reviews, you could say that they take notes during events. That is something specific they can focus on doing which will tackle the broader problem too.

Make it achievable

If a judge has problems with their missed triggers, don’t tell them to learn the IPGs by heart. It would solve the problem, yes. It’s actionable, yes. But it’s impossible to achieve so it won’t motivate anyone to even attempt it. It doesn’t pass The Actionable Test™. Don’t make it too easy, find the sweet spot between achievable and a good challenge. If you think the judge is falling really short on an area, you could give them a path of small improvements. Don’t make it daunting from the beginning because all you’ll achieve is getting a demotivated judge.

Make it tipsy

I know the title doesn’t really work but all of the others started with “make it” so I had to go there. Bare with me.

Don’t only list what they should work on, but also give tips on how to achieve it. Maybe you never struggled with that specific problem but I’m sure you can think of a couple of ways to deal with it. I love it when I read a review an experienced judge wrote on me and they give me tips and tricks to go about it after I finished. It will definitely improve the chances of me dealing with the area I need to improve on and start working on it right away.

Make it testable

This is the pinnacle of actionable. If your advice is actually testable, and the judge can see and measure their improvements, then your work is done and you can go to sleep. If you’re suggesting the judge to work on their rules knowledge, maybe challenge them to get a 100% on a hard practice exam. If you want to motivate them to write better articles, push them to get to the most voted article of the month. There’s nothing better for motivation than seeing and measuring the results of the work.

Make it short

Maybe you have ten pages of notes on this judge and you could identify five or six areas for improvement. Don’t spell them all out in the review, focus on the most important. Ideally one or two. You will have a chance to work with this juge again, there will be plenty of opportunities for you to give them full feedback. But it’s not actionable if it seems impossible to achieve. Try to limit your feedback to something that can be dealt with to keep the judge motivated to try.

Actionable strengths

fashion-tips-for-tall-menWhenever I talked with other judges about actionable reviews, the focus was always on areas for improvement. That’s the natural focus, because it’s where we need to do things in order to improve. But what about strenghts? Strengths are an important part of reviews, not only because a little pat on the back is always welcome, but because it’s useful to know which behavior is well received so that we can repeat it. But if this section is not actionable, then it’s not really useful for the judge receiving the review.

Let me give you an example. Let’s say you’re on the paper team at a GP. You have a teammate that is really tall. Because of that, they can post the pairings a bit higher which makes it easier for players to see them. When you’re reviewing them, on strengths you write that it’s great that this judge is tall because they could post pairings better. What is this judge supposed to with this information? They can’t stop being tall for an event, or grow taller. It’s amusing that you recognize that trait and how it helped the tournament, I would include it in the review as a joke. But it’s not actionable, it’s not behaviour the judge can repeat.

Make sure your review has actionable strengths, you want to motivate good actions. This is a little bit harder than areas for improvement because we can be easily deceived. Speaking more than one language, having good handwriting, being fast on their feet… all these are non-actionable strengths and while it’s great to recognize them, they don’t make good review material.

So, act upon it

Now you know what makes an actionable review, both in areas for improvement and strengths. Make sure to include this concepts in your next review and a few months after you wrote it, you can follow-up on the judge. And if you did your homework they should have plenty to act upon.