What is Peer Review?
You may have heard of “peer review,” a concept from the world of scholarship and scientific studies. However, you may not encounter the concept in the business world as often. Quite simply, peer review is a way for co-workers to offer evaluations of a team member’s work performance.
Peer review will not replace traditional performance reviews entirely. But it can be an invaluable augmentation and supplement to the review processes that your company already has in place.
Why Peer Review?
It is a simple fact that managers cannot be everywhere at once. Traditional performance reviews made by supervisors and managers are, by necessity, limited to what the managers themselves have observed about a team member’s performance. But this may not offer a full picture of a team member’s skills, competencies, or attitude.
It is other team members who know better than a manager how a co-worker is performing.
Often, it is other team members who know better than a manager how a co-worker is performing. Other team members can help paint a fuller picture and offer additional details. That is why peer review can be a vital tool in evaluating an employee’s performance.
Designing a Peer Review System
Not every company is the same, and so not every peer review system will be the same. Some companies, like JetBlue and Hershey, use systems based on public social platforms, which offer near-real-time feedback. (To learn more about these systems, see the Harvard Business Review article on peer reviews.) Some systems, like the one outlined below, will be integrated into a more traditional review process.
Whatever type of peer review system your company decides to implement, here are some fundamentals to keep in mind about the who, what, where and when of designing a peer review system:
- Reviewers must be guaranteed anonymity. Anonymity encourages honesty by ensuring that reviewers will not experience any retaliation for feedback that might be perceived as critical or negative. This is obviously much harder to do in smaller companies; it takes a lot of careful thought to implement a process in situations where a team member could easily identify the source of particular feedback or the co-worker who has reviewed them.
- A reviewer, more commonly than not, should have a working knowledge of what skills are required to perform the team member’s job.
- The questions and forms for reviews should be relevant to the department in which the team member works, and the questions should be geared toward the relevant skillset required for each position.
- Evaluations should reflect the core values of your company. If your organization values fiscal responsibility, collaboration, and innovation, then be sure you communicate those metrics to the peers who are offering their reviews.
- Clearly communicate your expectations to reviewers. Ask for honest, fair, and thoughtful evaluations.
Sample Peer Review System
You can incorporate peer review into a more traditional performance review in the following manner:
Have the employee review themselves, answering the following questions:
- What are your 3 greatest accomplishments since your last review?
- What are your 3 greatest strengths?
- What are your 3 areas for opportunity? (Note: It might sounds like “areas for opportunity” is a euphemism for “areas of weakness,” but it’s not meant to be. These could be areas of weakness, but they could also be areas of potential—new areas in which to grow.)
Have the same employee identify 3-5 team members with whom they work closely to answer the following questions:
- What are this team member’s 3 greatest strengths?
- What are this team member’s 3 areas for opportunity? (Again, “areas for opportunity” does not necessarily mean “areas of weakness.”)
You, the manager, write a personal review of the employee, answering the following questions:
- What are this team member’s accomplishments since their last review?
- What are this team member’s 3 greatest strengths?
- What are this team member’s 3 areas for opportunity? (As above, “areas for opportunity” does not necessarily mean “areas of weakness.”)
You, as the manager, should try to write your review prior to reading any self- or peer-reviews. Don’t let your opinions be influenced by others’ opinions at this point. Then, after writing your review, step away from it for at least a day and come back to it with fresh eyes to see if you still agree with everything you’ve written.
Finally, after having made any necessary edits or revisions, you can then read the self- and peer-reviews with an eye toward calibrating your own review with those.
Peer review can be an invaluable tool for managers when thoughtfully implemented. It can provide a more comprehensive picture of an employee’s performance. It reinforces strong performance and team cohesion in the workplace because employees become invested in how they are seen by their peers as well as their supervisors.
When done right, peer review is also resource-efficient in that it solicits feedback from those who are, in many ways, best-positioned to offer it. Your feedback will become more thorough and actionable, and thus more effective, as you incorporate the feedback of your team members into your review process.