Peer Review: A Case Study

Some organizations are wary of conducting peer reviews—where employees get a chance to provide feedback on the performance of their peers.  Such wariness is not surprising because peer reviews do require careful thought and planning, and can be counterproductive if not done well.  But a client of mine recently introduced a peer review for its six senior managers who report directly to the CEO.  While this is admittedly a small scale and selective peer review, there are some interesting features of this process that I thought would be worth passing on.

The first thing to note about this process is that it was conducted in the context of employee development, not compensation decisions.  The reviews were conducted off the compensation cycle and their only intended result was to provide helpful feedback to each participant.

Each individual was asked to write a short memo for each of his/her colleagues that addressed certain areas of their performance, both strengths as well as suggestions for improvement.  These areas were:  technical knowledge; team play; “owning” the organization’s goals; communication skills; and management skills.

The memos, of course, were confidential.  They were sent directly to me from each person.  I summarized each one into a report and sent the report to each participant, gave them a chance to review, and then had a discussion with them about the comments that had been received.

The CEO made a point of insisting that he not see the feedback at this point in the process.  He wanted individuals to be free to write whatever they thought would be helpful for their colleagues.  I thought this was an interesting twist, and a good idea.

The plan going forward is to repeat the process in about six months and see if some of the areas in need of improvement have been successfully addressed.  During this second round of the peer review, the CEO will be informed of the results so he will be in a better position to coach each of his direct reports going forward.

The whole process was not very time consuming and proved to be extremely helpful to each participant.  This is a small firm and perhaps this process may not work as well in a larger organization.  But it does prove that peer review, when done correctly, does not have to be a time consuming, onerous or threatening task.  I believe each of the participants will benefit greatly from the candid feedback they received.

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