It’s that time of year: performance reviews. You’re concerned about your own performance review process, what your manager(s) might say, and potentially whether you’ll be eligible for a pay increase, bonus, or promotion. All those concerns don’t even cover the anxiety you might feel if your company includes peer-feedback and 360-degree feedback elements in reviews. Writing a peer review is another level of pressure: it takes up valuable time, you’re not always sure how to phrase your feedback, and there’s the concern that if you have negative things to say, it might affect your coworker’s job. It’s understandable that this is all a little stressful, but by keeping some helpful tips in mind, you can learn how to write a performance evaluation for a team member — and even see it as a positive thing.
Most of us would rather do a number of unpleasant tasks before readily giving feedback on a fellow employee's performance appraisal. Both giving and receiving feedback can feel vulnerable, and many of us are afraid we don’t know how to give feedback without sounding like a jerk. This feeling definitely applies to peer reviews, especially because you have to do them. Rather than letting your discomfort about writing a peer review rule how you approach the process, though, consider the positive aspects: peer feedback is an invaluable part of the review cycle. After all, your team members work with you, so their perspective on your job performance can likely help you grow as much if not more than that of someone who supervises you, and you can provide that same insight to others.
It can be easy to see peer-reviews as a big chore when you’re busy at work, even when you do recognize the importance of peer feedback. One thing that can be really helpful is actually giving consistent feedback, and using feedback to be a better coworker. It’s great if you’ve got a performance management system in place where you can track how you and your coworker have helped one another — but if your company hasn’t incorporated feedback into its culture, you can still do some work to prepare for reviews. For example, you can take notes throughout the year to keep a record of what projects you’ve worked on together, how you’ve helped each other, any patterns you’ve noticed in their work, etc. That way, when it comes time for reviews, you have something to draw on to help you get started.
In addition to doing a bit of prep work, it’s important to remember to keep it concise when providing coworker feedback. Don’t include more than a couple of strengths and a couple of weaknesses (4 key points, or 6 at most). Be succinct in describing them and give specific examples; this will help the manager collating responses, as well as keep you from going overboard.
It’s normal to be concerned that your constructive feedback might have a negative impact on your coworker, especially if what you have to share is critical. However, in an Evil HR Lady column for CBS, HR expert Suzanne Lucas reminds readers that in a 360 review your manager will: “look at your knowledge, skills, abilities, and attributes, but also consults your peers and direct reports.” In other words, so much is going into that review that it’s unlikely your critical feedback will threaten someone’s job. If you give only positive feedback while writing a peer review and don’t share an opportunity for improvement, it’s possible no one else will let them know. This is especially true if your feedback specifically has to do with how your positions interact— you don’t want to miss the opportunity to let them know, and in turn, make working with them an easier and more pleasant experience.
That being said, you don’t necessarily have to be harsh: as dean of the Villanova School of Business Joyce E. A. Russell writes for Forbes, “you have to give honest feedback to people who are not doing what they should be doing, but you can still do this in a kind, compassionate, nice and firm way.” You can write your performance review in a way that is useful and forthright, but kind.
The benefits of peer feedback in a review cycle are clear, but peer feedback and peer coaching can have a host of positive impacts on your experience, on your job, and on the work environment in general. HBR notes that peer coaching helps tackle the rampant problem of workplace loneliness by fostering one-on-one connection so that people feel more engaged. When you’re genuinely interested in helping your peers through feedback, whether during the review cycle or day-to-day, it improves their experience at work.
Seemingly tiny things can also be impactful: Babson College’s Kerry Roberts Gibson and Boston College’s Beth Schinoff wrote in HBR that the little things really impact our work relationships: “....coworker relationships are actually made up of a series of ‘micromoves’ — small actions or behaviors that seem inconsequential in the moment but affect how we relate to one another.” Something, like holding a door open or giving your coworker praise for a job well done, “can bring people together and help build long-term trust, researchers suggest.” So, peer feedback, both inside and outside the review process, can make a huge difference to your work relationships.
Peer reviews don’t have to be daunting — with a little prep and thought, they can be relatively painless. Even better, you can utilize reviews to get in the habit of providing regular feedback, which will have a positive impact on your relationships at work, too!