Every year, managers write performance reviews. They often consist of 360 feedback and goals for the next quarters, written in a document by the manager and discussed in a meeting with the direct report.
Writing good performance reviews is tough. At least for me. It isn’t fun work. At the same time, delivering a useful performance review is so fulfilling. One that makes the direct report feel understood, challenged and motivated. So despite pouring long hours into writing reviews, I’m always looking forward to performance review periods.
The first section of a performance review is the self review. You can read my reflections about it here: A structured approach to the Self Review summary in Performance Reviews.
The second section of a performance review is the peer review. It’s written by the manager, summarizing feedback given by selected peers through a written form. The manager rewords the answers and extracts common themes in order to deliver useful feedback without calling out who said what.
In the past, I’ve spent many hours preparing each performance review. Back then, I formatted them as letters. Lots of paragraphs and not many bullet points. I came up with connectors to make them cohesive. It required a significant effort. It didn’t scale for me.
But more importantly, it turns out that format wasn’t really helpful for them, my direct reports.
Here’s a fictional example:
Your peers say you’re very communicative, clear and engaging. They say your feedback is frequent, constructive and valuable. At the same time, they suggest you to work on showing more trust for peers as when you give feedback, it sometimes makes them feel you don’t trust their work has good quality.
This year, I’ve followed a more structured approach with some reviews. I’ve saved time. The writings are more consistently formatted. Instead of having some paragraphs connecting all answers, I copy the question name, show the multi-choice answers they got, and follow it with my reword of the comments.
It looks like this:
[Does the employee provide valuable feedback to others?] Answers: Sets a new bar, exceeds expectations, exceeds expectations. Comments: Your peers consistently reported you deliver feedback that is constructive, valuable and frequent.
[Employee communicates effectively with others] Answers: exceeds expectations, needs improvements, meets expectations. Comments: your peers say you’re communicative, clear and engaging. Also, two peers shared that they sometimes feel as if you don’t trust their work, based on how you give feedback about their contributions.
Now, my summaries are more accurate with what the peers wrote, as I don’t feel tempted to add extra words to glue the different answers. The best is that, during the meeting, it focuses the conversation on the specific topic of the question. It allows pausing, reflecting and discussing each of them.
The usefulness of the peer review depends heavily on the amount of feedback peers give for each other and their honesty. But also on the managers to summarize and communicate it appropriately to create behavioral change.
But the questions themselves are key. Bad questions, or questions with multiple meanings, result in not useful answers. On the other hand, good questions lead to answers that enable the employee to get good feedback and suggestions. Here are some good ones I’ve seen:
The employee communicates effectively with others.
The employee provides valuable constructive feedback to others.
The employee is approachable and receptive to feedback.
The employee is reliable, recognizing the relative importance of certain responsibilities, tasks, and projects, and can be counted on to prioritize in order to meet the deadlines.
The employee is resourceful and proactive to get unblocked.
What is one piece of constructive feedback you have to help this person be more effective in their role?