Are Peer Reviews a Good Idea?

Posted on August 9, 2012.

A recent WSJ article discussed the increased popularity of peer reviews.  Companies have taken the traditional 360 feedback one step further where employees can send in anonymous ratings and comments about their peers. How would you rate your co-workers?

My guess is you’d say it depends. It depends on some of the following unwittingly biased experiences:

  •  Has this person gone out of their way to help me when I needed it?

  •  Has this person always been friendly and personable?

  •  Has this person shared information that could help others?

  • Does this person spend more time managing up than being part of the team?

  • Does this person take credit for work others have completed?

  • Does this person go out to lunch with us or choose to stay more isolated?

The reality is that without even thinking about it, you’ve formed some judgments based on these experiences. And on the flip side, if you just happen to really like this person, few of these experiences, good or bad will impact the way you rate him or her. The bottom line is that someone who may do an exceptional job but remains shy or aloof will likely get lower peer reviews.

I’m not totally against using some kind of peer input in an overall evaluation, but believe that specific information should be sought so the ratings are consistent. Additionally, the information should only come from people that work together closely on the same projects or work product.   Try using a simple Start/Stop/Continue form that can be completed on line.  By limiting the number of people that need to complete it, you also avoid burn out.  Sometimes I had to complete so many of them for people that I just wanted to get them done and off my desk.  Not sure I even remembered who they were for half the time. Likely others did the same.

If you work for a smaller company and can create a very open environment where feedback loops are the norm not the exception, then peer reviews may work well for you.  Otherwise, let the result speak for them.