We resort to a series of programs and practices like job rotation, reverse evaluation, and self-management. They’re intended to help people tap their reservoir of talent and to preclude the need for weeding out. We never assume there are weeds among us. – Ricardo Semler
In a Nutshell
When it comes to getting feedback, what would you prefer? Receiving feedback from someone who doesn’t really do the things you do or understand all the nuances of your work? Or, would you prefer to be judged by someone who’s currently walking in your shoes?
Most of us inherently want to be judged by someone who understands the travails of our jobs. We want our judges to empathize with the blood and sweat we’ve put into our work. So, why then are peer reviews such a counter-intuitive idea when it comes to the way business review employee performance?
The practice of a manager reviewing the performance of a subordinate is a practice that’s steeped in conventional ideas of management. It’s a view of performance management that seems clearer only because we’re more familiar with its ways. However, peer appraisal is relatively a new concept, that comes with its own set of inherent paradoxes. Like, how can a peer be a judge? Or, Will the feedback given to an individual upset the entire team’s dynamic? Because of these speed breakers involved, peer review often tends to be skewed towards positives. Coworkers could conservatively avoid pointing out the negatives in their peers or offering constructive feedback, rendering the entire exercise futile.
This article on the Harvard Business Review, which delves deep into the paradoxes involved in peers assessing peers, talks about the role managers can play in helping employees overcome their fears regarding peer evaluations. At a time when more and more companies are embracing the practice, it’s crucial that people understand the purpose behind evaluating their coworkers; that companies tailor the evaluation metrics according to the size and needs of the teams; and that managers support the practice and keep themselves open to positive and negative feedback from all around.
Add peer evaluations to your company’s performance management processes.
When peers assess each other’s performance, and when that evaluation becomes a part of the company’s performance management system, it helps weed out any managerial bias. What people have to say about their peers can add a valuable dimension to feedback on performance and promote transparency among team members. And when people understand that the feedback comes from a place of love and understanding, it promotes better cohesion and trust in the team.
Determine who evaluates who in a team: In order to share the burden of assessing everybody in the team, make everyone assess about three or four of their peers. If everyone had to evaluate everyone else on their team, it would be a very tedious and time-consuming process. So, for instance, a team consists of 10 people, each person will evaluate three of those 10 people. And every year, the set of three people they evaluate should rotate in order to avoid any bias.
Use a questionnaire to assess peers: Develop a questionnaire that allows people to evaluate their peers on things like the way they respond to criticism; their general disposition; their willingness to join team efforts; their prejudices; and the way they react in a crisis situation and so on. Provide multiple choices that show gradation and help people narrow down on the option closest to the characteristics of the person(s) they’re evaluating.
Consolidate results and have feedback sessions: Once the results of the peer evaluation surveys have been consolidated, every person in a team should schedule individual sessions with the three people who evaluated them. It’s important for both parties to remember that it’s an exercise meant to help the other person develop themselves. It’s not about ranking or giving grades. So, it’s critical to start the session with an appreciative inquiry and create an atmosphere that’s respectful and conducive to learning. People should be transparent and generous while making their comments and offer constructive feedback. It might be true that someone is really doing a bad job, but it’s very important to trust that they’re capable of doing the job in the first place.
Use coaching-style questions to lead feedback sessions: The feedback sessions, especially among peers, may lack a sense of direction or be to skewed towards the positive aspects alone. To avoid that, use the Four Semco Style Coaching Questions to lead the feedback sessions.
Schedule assessment when there’s lesser business pressure: Although there is no specific period in a year when you need to conduct peer assessments, it’s better to avoid times when there’s a lot of activity in the business and people have too much on their plate already. Usually, the beginning of a year is a good time to schedule peer assessments because the pressure on the business end of things tends to be lesser. Of course, it’s entirely acceptable to have an assessment done on demand, if the team feels there’s a need for it.
Level to implement
Start with appreciative inquiry and trust
Offer constructive criticism
Choose a time when business activity is less to conduct assessment
Use the four Semco Style Coaching questions in the same order
Use it as an opportunity to decimate coworkers
Make personal comments
Offer only positive or safe feedback
Creates space for constructive criticism
Leads to tangible action
Team members arrive at the same page
Needs time to be worked into the system
People may be fearful of upsetting the balance they’ve achieved in the team
Things can get heated and personal
Fernanda Lobato, who is currently the HR Manager at Semco, remembers the first ever time she had her peer evaluation. She scheduled her feedback sessions with the three peers who had evaluated her and was anxious about the first session. For, her first session was with a coworker who had given her a very harsh and transparent evaluation and she knew it wasn’t going to be an easy conversation to have. When the coworker entered the room, he gave her a bitter chocolate and drew a neat analogy: He said, “Just like this bitter chocolate, my feedback may be a little bitter but it’s sweet because it comes from my heart.”
It was a very concrete act of generosity without any play of politics. He expressed his opinions transparently and offered actionable ideas on how she could perform better. It was still a tough conversation to have, but he managed to convert it into a very constructive and open session that was much easier for Fernanda to accept. She understood that it was feedback aimed at her development and growth