Many employees and managers alike quake with fear when they learn that their company is implementing a system that involves peers in the performance review process. Employees see writing reviews as a waste of time, even as they foresee co-worker conflict in their futures. Recognizing that peer reviews are not typically accurate, managers see them as an unnecessary complication to an already-stressful process.
The good news is that well-designed peer review programs can add value to performance reviews. Here are four ways to make them effective.
1. Choose Appropriate Reviewers for Each Employee
On the surface, it seems kinder and gentler to allow employees to choose the peers they want to write their reviews, but this approach can go wrong in two primary ways. At one extreme, friends give gushing praise to each other. At the other end of the coin, co-workers become overly-critical in an attempt to appear fair. Either way, you cannot fully trust the feedback that you receive to be accurate.
As a manager, you are in the best position to choose the right employees to review the work of their peers. Naturally, your decision needs include peers who regularly work together — and whose work may be affected by the employee who is under review. You also have to consider interpersonal relationships. While you don't want to choose a best friend, you also don't want to select a clear competitor.
Whomever you choose, make sure that everyone understands that your choice is as confidential as wage and salary information. Without confidentiality, the peer review process can easily lead to significant morale issues.
2. Provide Reviewers with Detailed Guidelines
Not all employees are managers; they probably have little experience and training to accurately review a peer’s performance. Avoid essay questions in favor of a set of multiple-choice questions that you want them to answer. Their choices can range from "Exceptional" on the high end, and avoid overly-negative terms for the low-end score. "Needs Improvement" might be as negative as you want to go. Then, make sure that they clearly understand the precise definition for each point on the scale.
Just as important, make sure that all employees understand the overall purpose of their peer reviews. While they may provide managers with new insights into their employees, they cannot directly affect any employee's official performance rating.
3. Ask the Right Questions
Employees are not privy to each other's job descriptions or to the expectations that you may have set forth. It is your job to review each employee's performance. You are the only one who should look at issues like accuracy, speed and errors. Peer reviews should enhance the process by focusing on the factors that you cannot witness on a daily basis.
In other words, the questions on your performance review should not overlap with those on the peer review forms. Co-workers are in the best position to provide meaningful feedback when rating attributes like the following:
- Ability to solve problems on the fly
- Natural leadership abilities
- Willingness to help other employees
- Ability to interact effectively with employees at all levels within the organization
- Consistent display of motivation for the job
4. Keep Peer Reviews in Perspective
No manager can constantly observe all activities on the floor, so peer reviews are a good way to help managers gain insight into what's happening when they're not around. But they should not receive too much weight in the formal performance review process. Positive or negative, they might say more about managers' successes and failures than they say about employee performance.
Peer reviews can enlighten your insights about your employees, but they cannot — and should not — carry as much weight as the assessment of the immediate supervisor. In fact, it is best to avoid the temptation to roll the peer rankings in with your own rankings, which are typically more objective.
Peer reviews can be invaluable in helping you address the future direction of your employees. For example, negative reviews pertaining to interpersonal skills or attitude can help you formulate a plan to help an employee improve in these critical areas. Just as important, positive feedback on leadership and motivational abilities can help you work with employees to identify how they can move upward within the organization.
Peer Reviews Have a Bad Rap
In their original form, employee peer reviews were typically blatantly unfair, wasting time and often causing disharmony within the ranks. With finesse and forethought, however, peer reviews can add a valuable new dimension to the review process.