Employee Peer Review: How to Boost Morale and Productivity With This Ultimate Guide
We're different around people we consider equals vs. those we consider superiors.
It may sound unflattering to human nature, but your employees may be completely different people around their colleagues than they are with you. As a result, getting a peek into that side of them will give you a comprehensive idea of who they are as team members.
A peer review would therefore give you two different kinds of ammunition:
- A more accurate picture of who your employees are.
- A greater sense of responsibility and bond between your employees regarding their daily productivity and teamwork.
If your workplace is considering implementing peer reviews as part of your performance management system – it's definitely worth checking out!
We've put together this comprehensive guide to help make sure yours is as effective as possible.
👯 What are employee peer reviews?
A peer review is when your employees evaluate each other on their skills, strengths, and weaknesses. The idea here is to identify areas of improvement, create goals, and have meaningful conversations with each other and supervisors that benefit the whole team.
Why is this likely to work?
Peer reviews provide a space for constructive dialogue, where employees can openly share their observations with each other. They also encourage self-reflection, helping to create a greater sense of ownership and accountability among team members.
How does a workplace peer review work?
In a workplace peer review, colleagues assess each other's performance periodically to ensure they meet objectives and each person is aware of areas needing improvement.
Peers can rate various elements:
- leadership skills;
- problem-solving ability;
- communication style;
- collaboration and trust;
- overall contribution to the team.
📈 Why peer reviews benefit your entire organization
By providing support and shared knowledge, peer reviews allow you to identify risks before they become significant problems, typically leading to better results across departments.
For example, a peer review can reveal resentment between team members who work closely together, allowing you to intervene before matters worsen.
Ideally, what this will lead to is a high-performing, happy team.
What happens when teams understand each other's perspectives?
- Problem-solving becomes easier.
- Communication patterns grow more effective.
- Morale increases due to a rise in recognition.
💡 How could feedback from peers help in the review process: 6 Benefits
Incorporating peer feedback into the review process ensures that evaluations are multifaceted and grounded in the real dynamics of day-to-day work, enhancing the accuracy and usefulness of performance assessments.
Peer feedback isn't just beneficial for employees; you can use it to identify areas needing additional training, resources, or new processes.
The overall result? Everyone wins!
Instead of relying on subjective feedback from a single manager, peer reviews give your employees an honest assessment from those who work alongside them daily.
It fosters an environment of accountability, with everyone striving for success together.
More qualitative insights about any reviewee
Peers working on the same projects or teams often understand tasks, goals, and duties better than a manager may be able to. As a result, incorporating their feedback into reviews can add a lot of value.
It allows supervisors to gain a unique insight into team dynamics and information about overlooked behaviors.
The result? More holistic, accurate, and meaningful performance reviews.
Discovering hidden talent
By allowing employees to provide critical feedback, we can unlock a wealth of knowledge from our teams on who has potential that may otherwise have gone unnoticed.
This practice allows everyone to shine through peer collaboration instead of solely relying on top-down appraisals and reviews.
Helping monitor and measure performance
With peer reviews, you can help your people promote positive habits while managing negative trends among their colleagues – something that can improve the overall atmosphere and productivity of the organization.
Professional insight from multiple sources can give you a more comprehensive picture of your teams' performance and help you make decisions accordingly.
⚖️ Here are 38 metrics to measure performance. Factor these in when setting up peer reviews.
Peer feedback gives employees a chance to learn from each other and draw on the collective experience of the whole team. As a result, they become empowered to gain insights from unique perspectives, share ideas, and brainstorm solutions together.
Enabling an open feedback culture
The first step to starting an open feedback culture is to provide employees with proper guidance so that everyone is comfortable providing direct but constructive criticism.
The goal is to ensure that any conversations surrounding feedback remain respectful while still being helpful toward improving the team's performance as a whole.
Tip: Having anonymous feedback options encourages people to voice their thoughts more honestly without fear of retribution or annoying you with overly-positive responses.
🕵️♀️ Pros and cons of peer reviews in the workplace
Peer reviews encourage perspective from individuals who know firsthand about the employee's work habits and office presence.
Involving peers works incredibly well when the reviewer has no vested interest in a particular outcome.
On the other hand, there is reasonable concern about groupthink taking over evaluations or bias resulting from personal relationships among peers on any team.
Let's weigh the pros and cons in more detail.
👍 3 Advantages of the peer review appraisal method
Employees know that their peers are providing feedback on their performance which encourages them to be more responsive and proactive with their work.
For example, during a software development project, employees know their peers will review their code and provide feedback. This encourages them to pay closer attention to their work, debug their code thoroughly, and maintain clean, readable code to improve overall performance.
More insightful data
You can gain insight into how well employees are performing and areas that require improvement by receiving multiple perspectives.
For example, in a marketing team, you will understand how well each employee contributes to campaigns and cooperates with other team members. This insight can reveal strengths and weaknesses, such as an employee's excellent copywriting skills but a need for improvement in collaborative brainstorming.
The peer review process encourages constructive communication between colleagues by creating a safe space for open dialogue and exchanging ideas.
👎 4 Disadvantages of the peer review appraisal method
The peer review process can be quite time-consuming, as it requires multiple people to provide feedback which can add up and detract from other duties.
For example, a sales team of 10 requires each individual to review the performance of 9 other teammates. This lengthy process takes precious time away from daily sales activities and other responsibilities.
Potential for personal bias
Even though anonymity is part of the evaluation process, there is always the potential for personal bias when it comes to peer reviews due to the subjective nature of the evaluation.
For example, an employee may give overly positive feedback to a colleague they are friends with outside of work. In contrast, another employee might rate someone more harshly due to a past disagreement, thus skewing the appraisal results.
Difficult to compare results
It can be challenging to compare the results of different peers because everyone has opinions on what constitutes a successful performance or skill set.
For example, one peer in a customer service team might prioritize problem-solving skills. At the same time, another might focus on communication style. These divergences of opinion can make it challenging for management to assess overall performance and fairly compare employees.
Because the process is limited in scope and relies on colleagues who may not be as knowledgeable in certain areas. As a result, peers could miss some crucial details or qualities in the evaluation process.
For example, in a research and development department, an engineer specializing in materials science may not be as knowledgeable about electronics. Consequently, when reviewing a colleague who primarily works on electronic components, the engineer may overlook crucial details or fail to assess the colleague's performance accurately. At that point, how valuable are their insights?
🤯 Can the peer review process be overwhelming for employees?
There is little doubt about it; the peer review process can overwhelm employees for various reasons.
- Stress from being evaluated: Employees may feel stressed knowing their peers are evaluating their performance. They might worry about how their colleagues perceive their work and whether this will impact their professional relationships.
- Anxiety about providing feedback: Some employees may feel anxious about giving honest feedback to their peers. Especially if what they have to share is negative or critical. They may worry about damaging their working relationships or being seen as overly harsh.
- Difficulty separating personal and professional opinions: Employees may find it challenging to separate their personal feelings from their professional assessment of a colleague's work. This internal conflict can make the process overwhelming.
- Fear of retaliation: Employees might be apprehensive about providing honest feedback, fearing potential retaliation or adverse treatment from the colleagues they review.
Considering all of these risks and issues, it is essential to establish a supportive and transparent culture around the peer review process through:
- Providing clear guidelines.
- Offering training on giving and receiving feedback.
- Consider maintaining anonymity to reduce the stress and overwhelm associated with peer review appraisals.
More on this in the following sections.
🪜 How to get started with employee peer reviews in 10 steps
If not conducted correctly, peer reviews can lead to hurt feelings and a lack of trust in the workplace.
But is there a one-size-fits-all peer review process? Short answer: No.
However, we outlined ten steps to consider when creating your process from scratch.
And even if you have a process in place, consider our tips for making it even better.
1. Create a strategy for your peer review process
Creating an effective peer review process starts with answering a few essential questions:
- Will the peer review be part of a 360 process? Or a stand-alone operation?
- Will peer reviews contribute to compensation decisions?
- What is the purpose of feedback, strictly evaluating performance or providing development opportunities?
Once you have an answer to these questions, you can develop a comprehensive strategy that meets the goals set out by your organization.
2. Decide if anonymity is suitable for you
We've already touched on the anxiety of reviewing peers and the fear of ruining workplace relationships. One way to mitigate these issues is to collect feedback anonymously.
But there are also downsides to anonymizing reviews. For example, people may be more likely to give a negative assessment if they don't have to put their name on it.
In the case of Netflix, anonymity did not make sense for their culture of offering candid feedback.
Funnily enough, they started with anonymized forms, but people were signing with their names.
By attaching their critiques or compliments with their names, employees showed that they live by a culture where giving meaningful feedback is essential rather than the chance to badmouth somebody.
🎥 Read the complete Netflix performance management case study to discover more unique approaches to driving high performance, such as the "Keeper test."
3. Outline expectations for the process
Involve managers and employees across departments at the early outline stages of your project.
You will bring in outside perspectives while reducing the chances of any significant hiccups later, which only depletes time and enthusiasm.
Be clear about what feedback you'd like beforehand so that reviewers know what to reflect on.
While they're not necessarily experts in whatever you're working on, their observations can be valuable in spotting mistakes or offering higher-level insights.
4. Define the process for selecting peers
When it comes to effective peer reviews, selection is vital!
Some great questions to ask yourself when selecting candidates would be:
- Who nominates?
- Who approves?
- Should there be a max number of peers per reviewee?
- Who can or should be a peer?
The person or team responsible for nominating peers should take into account a variety of factors, such as:
- Level of experience
- Diversity of opinion
- Level of trust
Limiting the number of peers who review an employee can also be beneficial, as too many voices can make the process challenging.
Who qualifies to be a peer?
Anyone whose work is connected or relevant to the reviewee – previous mentors or colleagues all fair game and could offer valuable insight into the feedback process.
Discover more best practices for choosing your reviewers.
5. Create your peer-review survey and questions
Creating an effective peer-review survey can be tricky.
You must carefully consider the questions you include and your choice of words.
- Ensure the survey questions focus on specific situations to get the most accurate answers possible.
- Include open-ended questions that invite unique insights and allow your peers to provide more context to their insights.
- Consider adding concrete instructions under each question.
For example, Google asks peers to reflect on:
- One single thing the person should do more of.
- One thing they could do differently to have more impact.
"We reasoned that if people had just one thing to focus on, they'd be more likely to achieve genuine change than if they divided their efforts." Laszlo Bock, former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google, in his book Work Rules.
📝 Curated by our learning scientists, here are a few employee peer review templates you can use immediately.
6. For meaningful peer feedback, distribute each reviewee's job responsibilities and required competencies
Define each reviewee's job responsibilities and required competencies. Your goal is for everyone involved to get the best possible understanding of what their colleagues do and what they need to perform well.
Connecting job responsibilities with feedback will allow peers to offer more targeted suggestions for improvement.
For example, one of your graphic designers received this peer review:
"Your presentation skills are excellent, and you are adept at engaging your audience. However, I noticed that you could work on improving your data analysis skills, particularly when it comes to using advanced statistical techniques and interpreting complex data. You should consider taking a course in data analytics to enhance your abilities in this area."
This feedback is valid and reasonable, as data analysis skills can be valuable in various professional settings.
However, for a graphic designer, whose primary responsibilities involve creating visually appealing designs and communicating ideas through visual elements, advanced data analysis skills may not be directly relevant to their core job functions.
So you want to prevent this scenario.
7. Communicate the methods, expectations, and timelines of the new peer review process with everyone in the company
Clear communication is vital for the successful implementation of any new process.
Discuss how you will roll out peer reviews, timelines, goals, and expectations with your teams.
Encourage them to use this information to create an effective learning environment that values open dialogue.
8. Train peers to give effective feedback
Peer reviews can be incredibly useful, especially when delivered constructively and received with an open mind. But not everyone feels comfortable giving feedback.
This challenge became apparent, for example, for Zappos as they were overhauling their performance review system:
"Providing truly meaningful feedback is not a skill that many of us are taught. Some people are born with tact and grace, but for the rest of us, the uncomfortable conversations are, well….uncomfortable." Darshan Bhatt, a developer at Zappos, focused on developing tools for enabling a positive workplace culture.
👠 Read the complete Zappos performance review case study to discover how cultural values can be the North star of any performance and growth effort.
So, you cannot expect your peers to give meaningful meaning by default. As a result, it's important to train others to give effective feedback.
This training should teach them how to:
- Be specific and constructive.
- Avoid generic phrases that don't carry much insight.
- Comment on facts and evidence instead of opinions.
- Keep language respectful and professional.
- Provide actionable advice.
- Focus on the immediate context rather than evaluating the person behind the work.
And to ensure you drive your points home, include some samples of peer-review example phrases. Include both positive and negative examples to illustrate does and dont's.
Without training all performance review participants, you'd just repeat the same feedback process over and over without any tangible progress in between.
Getting into this kind of constructive attitude toward giving feedback might take time. Still, it's worth your patience.
With a little practice, you and your peers can have enjoyable review sessions that result in meaningful progress for everyone.
9. Consistently track results
Tracking results add an extra layer of accountability and can boost ongoing performance. It also increases team cohesion as people strive to be better together.
Zavvy can help here. Our feedback analytics enable you to gain better insights and more context into each employee's evolution.
10. Collect feedback on the process itself
Did the rollout go according to plan?
Did the peers feel prepared?
Were the deadlines realistic?
What were the survey participation rates?
How was the quality of the insights shared by peers?
Asking these questions can help you improve your current peer review process and implement any future people strategy.
🚫 The dos and don'ts of setting up a constructive peer-review process
Creating an effective peer review process promotes open feedback among colleagues while allowing them to understand their strengths and weaknesses better.
Here are some tips on how to set up a constructive peer review process.
Don't skip on training employees and managers
An easy mistake is thinking that employees need little to no training to enforce or receive feedback effectively.
On the contrary, without proper instruction, chances are high that peer reviews will be misunderstood and ineffective. Criticism does have a way of touching nerves.
Training may take extra effort, but it will help employees understand what is expected of them in such discussions and how they should give and receive feedback respectively.
Don't forget to document your process and make the information easily accessible to everyone
Not forgetting the documentation aspect when setting up a peer review process is imperative.
A clearly-documented process keeps everyone on the same page regarding expectations, deadlines, and other rules.
Of course, having quick access to that information is also key.
At Zavvy, we use training journeys complimentary to performance review cycles. These introduce the tool to participants (different training materials for employees and managers) and teach participants how to give and receive constructive feedback.
You should also document any changes or amendments in one place.
No one should have to go digging for information!
Don't forget to create precise peer nomination and approval rules
Clear guidelines ensure that the selection process for peers is fair and objective, reducing the risk of personal bias or favoritism.
What you DO want to do is:
- Create a level playing field for all employees, regardless of their relationships within the organization.
- Prevent conflicts of interest by ensuring that peers do not have any personal or professional relationship that could compromise the objectivity of the feedback provided.
- Include diverse perspectives in the evaluation process to create a more comprehensive understanding of an employee's performance and contributions to the organization.
A standardized set of criteria for nominating and approving peers also helps maintain consistency across the organization. This consistency enables management and employees to trust the process, knowing that a similar group of peers is evaluating everyone.
📊 What should you do with your peer review results?
The whole point of collecting feedback is to find opportunities for improvement and drive change.
So your employees must be able to use the feedback to improve their work. Make it a no-brainer for them in the following ways.
Once the peer review process is over, you have gathered insights into your people's strengths, areas for improvement, and unique challenges. Use these to:
- Design programs focusing on experiential learning, such as job shadowing or apprenticeships, where employees can learn by doing.
- Create interactive materials that promote engagement, such as videos or podcasts.
- Use technology to personalize the learning experience. For example, you ensure that people have access to training materials at any time from any device.
- Use formative assessments throughout the learning process to ensure your employees are mastering key concepts before moving on to more complicated material. (You can also use Zavvy to track their progress and gauge how motivated they are.)
Instead of letting your employees feel discouraged or overwhelmed by the feedback, use it as an opportunity to reflect on how they can use these critical observations to develop themselves.
Here's a tip on getting started:
- Consult with each employee to assess their goals and objectives and create a plan tailored to their needs.
- Develop an actionable timeline for when they should complete each task/goal and any milestones to ensure they are on the right track.
- Offer incentives for completing certain parts of the development plan, such as additional training opportunities or rewards.
➡️ Enable your people with Zavvy
Here's the thing, everything we've described above will 10x your business with proper execution.
The problem is that feedback is a continuous process, and peer reviews are especially so (matching the right employees with relevant reviewers is tedious).
Set up a fully customizable peer review process with Zavvy to normalize a feedback culture in your company. We offer software that systemizes:
There's plenty you can do with a system like this, like:
- Set up recurring developmental talks and 1:1 check-ins.
- Draw up unique feedback processes for your remote employees.
Build unique surveys that address problem areas, and distribute and track them with a click.
Start using Zavvy to its full potential from day 1 with templates from our learning scientists.
Book a demo to learn how Zavvy can help with your specific workplace needs.
What is a peer-to-peer review?
A peer-to-peer review is when two or more peers provide feedback on their work or actions to improve their skills or performance. They allow employees to create an action plan with solutions and a timeline for making changes based on what elements discussed in the review.
How does an employee peer review process improve performance at the workplace?
Peer review processes can be a precious tool for cultivating an engaged and empowered workforce. By providing employees with a forum to give and receive feedback from peers, you can tap into the collective knowledge of their teams, creating an opportunity for each individual's skills to be recognized and highlighted.
What are the main aims of peer reviews?
The main goals of peer reviews are to:
- Help identify issues.
- Strengthen work.
- Provide constructive criticism from others' perspectives.
- Guide employees in the right direction on areas of improvement.
Will the input from peers be reliable? What if peers rate each other based on friendship?
Peers may rate each other based on friendship rather than clear assessment criteria.
You can mitigate this risk by creating clear peer nomination criteria and asking a preliminary question in the peer survey to assess whether or not the peers involved have firsthand experience with the work of the reviewee.
These are measures for additional validation of a peer's feedback.