Because everyone should dig their job

360 Peer Review Pros and Cons

By Joan Lloyd

Dear Joan:

Do you have any experience with 360 degree Peer Review in very small groups or small government agencies? What are the pros and cons?

Answer:

I see from your address, that you are not only a small government agency, but in a very small town. So naturally, you are concerned about not only your working relationships, but your personal relationships as well. It's hard to tell your co-worker she is a poor performer when you know you are going to run into her in the grocery store and at church, too.

You mention a 360 degree review and peer review in the same breath, so I'm not exactly sure what process you are considering. A 360 degree feedback process collects perceptions from the person's boss, peers and employees—everyone around the person. Usually, the 360 is done for developmental purposes—not for a performance review. When I do 360 degree feedback process, it is typically reserved for leadership development, not performance reviews. And action planning and coaching each leader to understand and use the feedback is a key part of the process.

A peer review can be quite different. Typically, a manager solicits input from an employee's peers and uses it to add a more complete perspective when doing a performance review.

The pros of asking peers to evaluate each other are:

  • The manager usually isn't close enough to know how each person is contributing, so insights from peers can round out his or her perceptions. Good examples can add richness to someone's review.
  • It can add to a sense of team collegiality when compliments come from peers.
  • If the team works without much managerial oversight, it makes them more accountable to each other for results.
  • It helps the manager gain insights about any conflicts.
  • It helps the manager realize who the best performers are.
  • It gives each person more complete feedback on how he or she is doing.

The cons of doing peer reviews:

  • Peers may not be honest. They might not trust that the manager will handle their feedback delicately. If a manager is clumsy about it—shares raw data or quotes what someone said about the person, it can cause friction among the team.
  • Peers may sugar coat their feedback in hopes that "I'll scratch your back, if you'll scratch mine."
  • The community may be so small that the small town culture will prohibit honesty.

So, you might ask, would I recommend that you do peer reviews? I would answer, "Yes," with a few qualifiers.

If the manager is mature and seasoned and recognizes the pitfalls, peer reviews can add a lot of value. For instance, if the manager collects feedback in a confidential way and then filters the results, so that the message is heard without damaging relationships, it can be a very good process.

In many organizations, large and small, managers solicit internal customers, external customers and peers, to get a good sample of information to prepare the review. Usually, the feedback is consistent and supports what the manager sees on a day-to-day basis. But if someone reports something that seems extreme, or out of the norm, the manager can either not share that information, and watch to see if that behavior surfaces over time, or the manager may choose to share the feedback(especially if it comes from a customer) and ask, "This is someone's perception but I haven't seen it. Can you think of what you might have done to cause someone to have that perception? Let's explore that together." If the feedback is random, I wouldn't use it against the performance review, unless you can validate it.

Organizations that have not used any form of 360 or peer reviews before should err on the side of letting the manager screen the input and use it as background data. Forcing a group to bare all and share honest feedback before they are ready is a recipe for disaster.