April 24, 2019

4 Questions to Ask Before Bringing Peer Reviews to Your Organization


It has become very fashionable to talk about annual performance reviews as an antiquated practice, too outdated and infrequent to be of any value to employees or organizations today.

It must be clarified, however, that performance reviews themselves are not inherently ineffective. It is only when they are executed improperly that they fail to support employee performance in meaningful ways. Indeed, performance must be understood as an ongoing practice. While annual reviews have their place, they cannot be used as the sole bar for assessment or lone channel for feedback.

Whether your company chooses to keep annual reviews and supplement them with more modern types of feedback or decides to replace annual reviews entirely, there is one specific kind of review that should be part of the conversation: 360-degree reviews, otherwise known as peer reviews.

At many companies, the year’s end sends HR pros and managers scrambling to evaluate everyone in time to hand out merit raises. Tell a harried HR pro or manager they need to add even more performance reviews to their workload, and they might just riot.

However, peer reviews allow for the establishment of more feedback loops in the performance management process without piling on additional time constraints. With 360-degree reviews, you can fulfill the needs of employees — who are increasingly demanding more feedback — while ensuring managers do not become trapped in a mire of performance reviews.

Wondering how peer reviews might work at your organization? Consider these four questions:

1. How Do I Implement Peer Reviews in My Company?

The first step is finding the right performance management technology. Even if you have a small team, managing performance conversations can become a big deal — and fast. You’ll need a system that allows managers to view performance conversations from several vantage points, and perhaps has some controls to ensure criticism is both constructive and instructive.

Every company is different in its technology needs, but in general, you should look for the following criteria in performance management tech:

  1. Ease of use: All employees will need to use the system to give and receive feedback, so it shouldn’t be too complicated.
  2. Transparency for executives: Leadership will need insight into the performance conversations happening throughout the company.
  3. Back-end data analytics tools: You’ll need these to gain insight into how talent is growing and to recognize trends among workers.

In addition to the right technology, you need a sound peer review policy. Since employees will be reviewing one another, they will need guidelines on how to give feedback, what makes for appropriate and helpful feedback, and when the best time to deliver feedback is.

Let employees know feedback is not a place to nurse grudges, get emotional, or bully coworkers. Similarly, you have to communicate to employees that both instructive and constructive criticism will be necessary to create truly effective feedback loops.

While peer reviews invite employees to review one another, you shouldn’t remove supervisors or managers from the equation entirely. Employees still need to understand how management sees their contributions, and they still need to hear from their supervisors in order to grow in their roles. Feedback from their peers is not a replacement for supervisor feedback, but a supplement that helps employees understand how their behavior, both positive and negative, impacts their coworkers.

You must also establish a rubric, rating system, or other scale for peer reviews. While freeform feedback has its place, a rating system allows for more concrete feedback. For example, without a rating system, you may not know Tim from accounting is highly skilled but difficult to work with, according to his peers. Moreover, when everyone adheres to the same system, it becomes easier to recognize patterns and trends across the workforce.

2. What Should Peer Reviews Cover to Be Effective?

A great 360-degree review will include input from the person above the reviewee, the people working alongside them, and the people they manage, if applicable. Peer reviews should cover both skills and attitudes in the workplace. The employee’s strengths as an individual and their performance as a part of the team should be discussed, and areas for improvement and career growth should be identified. Finally, all peer reviews should be conducted in a spirit of trust, respect, and employee empowerment.

3. What Are Some Common Peer Review Pitfalls to Avoid?

Peer reviews can quickly turn into dogpiles if the reviewee isn’t given a chance to respond. For this reason, reviewees should fill out self-evaluations on the same attributes and duties their coworkers are assessing.

Remember that peer reviews are not about crushing souls, but about unleashing a rising tide of performance culture that lifts all boats. Encourage everyone involved to coach the employee. Everyone wants to work with A players, and peer reviews offer an opportunity for employees to shape one another into the high-flying teammates they desire.

That said, the conversation should not be purely positive. Employees need both positive and negative feedback to grow. Only receiving feedback of one kind will lead an employee to stagnate or even decline in performance.

Performance conversations, including peer reviews, should also be linked to career opportunities. Show employees where they might be a better fit or the kinds of positions they could hold if they built certain skills or stopped certain behaviors. By making career paths tangible to employees, you motivate them to take feedback to heart and give them a goal to strive for.

To ensure performance conversations are always empowering — even when they are difficult or challenging — encourage employees to create individual development plans. When employees link the feedback they are receiving to future opportunities and create plans to more forward, they take ownership of their career development.

4. What Are the Benefits of Peer Reviews?

Peer reviews create more comprehensive pictures of every employee. Through multiple perspectives from multiple sources on the same employee, supervisors can get clearer, more comprehensive insights into the employee’s impact on the organization than ever before.

Moreover, the variety of perspectives allows an employee to better understand their own role in the company. They can see what their work means to others, which gives their daily activities more importance. This leads to higher levels of engagement — a necessary development, considering 68 percent of employees are disengaged.

Leaders often do not catch performance or attitude issues until it is far too late. In the best case scenario, this leads to increased turnover. In the worst case scenario, the disengaged employee starts spreading discontent to other employees as well. Peer reviews can help leaders and managers catch disengagement issues before they become epidemics, leading to higher retention and happier, more productive employees

Peer reviews also teach employees leadership and management skills. As your employees learn how to give solid, effective feedback, they are empowered in their current roles and prepared to take on management roles in the future. This is highly beneficial to succession planning and recruiting. Peer reviews give HR a more holistic view of the company, the skills and attitudes it has, and the skills and attitudes it needs to move forward. This data is invaluable to executives, recruiters, and HR professionals looking to future-proof their companies.

Peer reviews are powerful tools to have in your performance management tool belt. As you prepare to bring 360-degree performance conversations to your company, be sure to consider these four questions. They will lead you to successful implementation and all the benefits that entails!

A version of this article originally appeared on the ClearCompany blog.

Sara Pollock is head of the marketing department at ClearCompany.

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As head of the marketing department, Sara makes sure that ClearCompany's message, products, and best practices reach and assist as many HR practitioners as possible.