If you’re committing time within your organization to foster a culture of feedback through performance reviews, it’s essential you make them valuable. Feedback for feedback’s sake can leave an employee feeling un-tended to, and shallow remarks will only make them question how they can truly grow within your team. Let’s talk about why performance reviews can be important, and how to convince your team that being critical in a peer performance review is the key to making them productive and impactful.
Performance reviews only work if they’re honest — and maybe a little (constructively) blunt. Just writing that sent a tiny panic through me at the thought of hearing a blunt criticism of my work, trust me: nobody feels amazing hearing a direct critique. But, I bet you can agree that hearing things directly tends to give you a bit of relief — phew, I know exactly where I stand. Once the blood rushes from your face and you settle into the reality of what you’ve just learned, the plan for action can unfold and suddenly the mechanism for improvement is in your hands. What power, hooray!
I had a professor in college who ran our freshman Biology lab, and always insisted on doing peer reviews after the completion of each experiment cycle. She had these little forms she handed out that really forced you to think about the hard stuff. She thoroughly explained the importance of keeping our peers accountable and assured us our responses would be valued, but also anonymized. Don’t worry, she won’t tell Marie you said she didn’t actually prep her own slides for that group presentation on the glowing yeast you made last week. In Science, there’s little room for error, and the realities of our performance can make or break some significant successes. Yes, even if those successes mean a result of glowing yeast in a petri dish.
In the real world, this awareness has only grown in importance in my experience. As a professional in any team environment, success is measured by all people that are affected by your performance. We thrive in collaborative environments, so why not embrace the fact that critique should also be collaborative? Some of my best work is not my own, simply ideas others have shared with me that I’ve executed on. If you’re not open to the perspectives of others, you’ll only satisfy yourself, in my experience. And maybe not even then, because trust me, I do not always have the best ideas for myself — I wore jelly shoes well into my adulthood.
Highlighting something a peer or coworker could improve upon is not being mean, it’s providing them the opportunity to see another perspective and work on something that might be irking more than just you, or something that might make the next project fail. If you stare at the blank form, pondering what you’re going to suggest this person Start, Stop, or Continue doing, and you don’t write something for each, dig deeper. Even if it becomes a general suggestion because you haven’t witnessed anything that directly warrants criticism, offer a helpful growth opportunity they can reach for. You have a unique perspective that is valuable, and even your encouragement will reflect that.
So what do you do with that? Coach your team on why it’s important that they think very critically when approaching a peer review. Here are a few tips to share with any reviewer:
- Spend real time pondering scenarios that warrant growth – specific examples help
- Think through professional advice you’ve been given that was helpful, and think about incorporating that into your review/suggestions
- Consider the value of an average score vs high score if certain qualities are measured on a scale. Think about the MOST OUTSTANDING person that reflects each quality. Save those 5s for them, it’s okay for someone to have to reach for the top scores.
- Remember that criticism isn’t “mean” – keep it productive, helpful, and honest, but don’t hesitate to make suggestions. We can’t grow without that.
- Think about performance not only in their work product, but how do they participate in meetings or other team interactions? Could they be more assertive? More prepared? Even if it doesn’t leave a terrible impression, there’s opportunity for improvement in all of us, so it’s helpful to hear.
- Remember we’re getting a comprehensive view and your responses are not here for a witch hunt – your word will not determine someone’s ultimate fate, and you should feel safe in sharing your honest, thorough feedback (and mean it when you tell them that!)
At SOLTECH, we want to help our team learn and grow, in order to be the best they can be. If you have an insatiable thirst for knowledge and a willingness to learn, check out our open positions. We want you on our team!