Performance reviews have evolved a great deal in the last few years. Once upon a time, annual or twice-annual reviews were the norm. Today, we understand that this is no foundation for success because they fail to offer actionable feedback promptly. They turn punitive and hold an employee’s success hostage to seemingly arbitrary demands for improvement.

Instead, most organizations have shifted to the one-on-one and check-in performance management methodology. That’s great – these models offer timely feedback, encouragement, and the ability to make real-time course corrections when they matter. However, they may not be sufficient in some cases.

Peer reviews can and should be added to your performance management repertoire. Why worry about them? What value can peer reviews offer? How do you pull them off successfully?

peer reviews

Why Peer Reviews Are Important

Feedback is crucial for all employees. It provides them with a benchmark against which to measure their performance and guidance for improving it. However, manager feedback can feel one-sided, even jaded at times.

It’s natural for employees to shrug some of it off as simply “not being connected to the real situation”. This is particularly true if managers don’t really have “boots on the ground”. They are on the outside looking in, and therefore cannot have a firm grasp on the situation.

Peer reviews provide a handy means of circumventing that. They offer constructive feedback from an employee’s peers – who are intimately involved with whatever situation might be occurring. It helps overcome the disconnect that occurs between employees and managers, created by the simple difference of position within the team.

However, peer reviews are not just beneficial for the employee being reviewed. They can also provide the manager with significant insights that may not have been available from the manager’s perspective. Some of the many benefits offered include the following:

  • A closer look at the employee being reviewed
  • Accurate monitoring and improvement of performance
  • Build a sense of teamwork and connectedness
  • Builds better employee engagement
  • Enhances employee performance

How to Conduct Accurate Peer Reviews

For managers, it is important to ensure that peer reviews are conducted effectively. A few tips and tricks will simplify that process and ensure that you can derive maximum value while delivering improved feedback to employees.

It’s Opinion

First and foremost, understand that all peer feedback is opinion only. Yes, it may be provided based on an actual situation that occurred, but the outcomes are the peer’s opinions only. Why solicit opinions? Simply put, they can shed light on performance, offer new perspectives, and help create a better picture of overall employee performance. Just remember that this information is subjective.

Tie It to Core Values

All peer feedback should in some way connect to your organization’s core values. Use this to formulate questions for peers. Connect questions and answers to specific behaviors that uphold core values. Otherwise, it becomes impossible to assess performance. “Does John do a good job?” is not a good question because there is nothing against which to measure “good”, for example. Instead, consider something like, “Does John work with customers to identify key outcomes and pain points?”.

Assess (and Encourage) Intent

Peer reviews are great opportunities to learn more about an employee’s performance. However, they can also be prime chances for team members to undermine them, pursue personal grudges, or spread gossip. It is important that you assess peer intent in terms of the feedback given, and encourage good intent.

Not only are these sessions opportunities for misinformation to slip in, but there is a chance that some peers may withhold accurate feedback out of fear that they will hurt the employee’s feelings. This is natural, and ultimately a commendable position, as it shows connection and care. Assure all employees that 1) their feedback will be anonymous and that 2) it will be used to help build the employee up, not tear them down.

Integrate That Information

It is important to understand that peer reviews are supplements to regular check-ins and one-on-ones. They are not intended to replace them. Managers must still regularly sit down with employees and discuss performance expectations, challenges, hurdles, and more, and they should do so only after actually observing the employee in action.

Information provided during peer reviews should be used to flesh out answers to questions that arise during that observation. It can also be used to create a better picture of overall employee behavior, as it is impossible for managers to observe 100% of the time. As such, it can be an important tool to help overcome issues like the halo effect or the horns effect, both of which create an inaccurate picture of the employee being reviewed.

Rinse and Repeat

The final tip is simply this – you must regularly include peer-provided feedback in your performance reviews. Doing so helps create a sense of interconnectedness within the team. Employees come to realize that they are looking out for one another and helping each other grow and develop. It can be incredibly empowering. It also drives engagement across the entire team, not just for the individual being reviewed because every employee feels invested in the success of every other employee.

Creating Your Peer Review Process

There is no hard and fast rule when it comes to creating a peer review system. You can go the traditional route and use pen and paper, or you can create a digital solution that is tied to your performance management system. You can create as many peer-focused questions as you like (within reason), but understand that the more questions there are, the longer it will take employees to complete them and the greater the chance that they will provide only basic answers as they attempt to both complete the questions and handle their regular responsibilities.

As a final note, make sure that the peer review system is “pro-employee” rather than “pro-performance”. It should be focused on constructive criticism and building people up. With a supportive, growth-focused stance, the entire team improves.