The annual performance review is finally dying out. It has been replaced by modern performance management methods like check-ins and creating a two-way flow of conversation. Peer reviews can also be powerful tools that help to increase performance and build traction, but for many leaders and decision-makers, their role in modern performance management is a bit unclear. In this post, we will explore what peer reviews are all about and how they can help in your performance management process.
What Are Peer Reviews?
A peer review is precisely what it sounds like. In this scenario, employees review their coworkers, their peers. The concept is drawn from the world of scientific research and academia, where peer-reviewed papers help ensure accuracy, accountability, and quality. In the workplace, peer reviews serve similar goals. According to Harvard Business Review, peer reviews, “yield more and richer data on employees, offering managers a clearer picture of a team or company’s strengths and weaknesses and everyone a better sense of how they’re performing.”
How Do Peer Reviews Work?
While all peer review methods share some similarities – they all involve people who work with the individual being reviewed – there are many potential types out there. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach here. What works for one organization may not work at all for another. Adopting a custom approach will ensure the right fit and maximize the benefits offered. Of course, it helps to have an understanding of the various approaches used.
In some situations, it is better to go with a team or round-table format, rather than conducting multiple individual peer reviews. In this scenario, a group of peers sits together and offers assessments of the individual’s performance, strengths, and weaknesses. Some of the benefits offered include the ability for reviewers to balance one another, to build on the information provided by another reviewer, and to build a more accurate picture of the employee being reviewed.
Simple reviews are the most commonly used method. They are expedient (at least individually) and can provide a great deal of information about an individual’s performance. It is also pretty simple and straightforward. In most cases, you’ll interview the employee’s peers one at a time (or as a group) with the understanding that their feedback will be anonymous. Of course, if the employee being reviewed is present during the interview(s), anonymity is impossible.
Inspections are the most in-depth, time-consuming, and challenging to perform. In these situations, the goal is almost always to uncover shortcomings or weaknesses. Everyone taking part in the inspection must go through specific stages to uncover the information needed.
Note that the three methods outlined above are just concepts. There are no approaches set in stone. There are no processes that apply to all businesses and organizations. It is up to you to determine what approach to use and which processes will be most beneficial.
The Pros and Cons of Peer Reviews
Like any other performance management tool, peer reviews have their pros and cons. Understanding these will help you determine how and where to employ peer reviews.
There are quite a few pros to consider here, including the following:
- Accuracy – Often, colleagues and coworkers are better equipped to gauge the skills, knowledge, and work ethic of their coworkers than managers and team leaders. This helps to ensure more accurate reviews.
- Unifying – When coworkers can review their peers, it helps to create a stronger team by unifying everyone. The peer-review process reinforces the idea that everyone is part of a larger whole.
- Cohesion – When employees have a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of others, it helps to create better cohesion between all departments.
- Training – Based on accurate feedback from peers, managers, and leaders can create custom training plans that address the specific needs and challenges of individuals, rather than using a blanket training program for everyone.
- Identifying Talent – Peer reviews can be good tools to help employers and management identify, nurture, and promote talent. This is vital for talent retention.
While there are plenty of pros with peer reviews, there are also a few drawbacks that should be considered.
- Discomfort – Coworkers often form friendships. This can make it difficult to say something perceived as being negative about someone they consider a friend.
- Bias – Workplaces still contain cliques and there are both popular and unpopular people. Peer reviews can lead to information biased for popular people or against unpopular people.
- Grudges – If an employee holds a grudge against another due to a real or imagined wrong or slight, providing a negative review can be seen as a way to “getting back” at them.
Tips to Ensure the Best Results
Peer reviews are vital to modern performance management. The following tips will help ensure better results from your efforts.
- Provide guaranteed anonymity whenever possible. This will help ensure that employees can provide feedback without fear of reprisal if their review of the individual is negative.
- Make sure that anyone providing a peer review has a good understanding of the individual’s job duties and the required skills for the job. They must also work with that person regularly.
- Don’t tie peer reviews to any form of reward. Raises should never depend on what a person’s coworkers say about them, as this could lead to an employee cultivating relationships to influence raises rather than doing their job.
- Mix up the questions provided to various peers so that you get a good overall picture of the individual being reviewed.
Ultimately, peer reviews provide managers and employers with access to vital information that would otherwise be unavailable. They offer an insider’s view into the employee’s ability to do their job, their level of performance, and help determine what additional training or coaching should be provided. However, peer reviews are only one part of modern performance management and should be used only in conjunction with other tools and metrics, such as regular check-ins and conversations.