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Peer Assessments - The Double-Edged Sword  

When it comes to getting feedback, what would you prefer? Receiving feedback from someone who doesn’t really do the things you do or understand all the nuances of your work? Or, would you prefer to be judged by someone who’s currently walking in your shoes?

Most of us inherently want to be judged by someone who understands the travails of our jobs. We want our judges to empathize with the blood and sweat we’ve put into our work. So, why then are peer reviews such a counter-intuitive idea when it comes to the way business review employee performance?

The Inherent Paradoxes

The practice of a manager reviewing the performance of a subordinate is a practice that’s steeped in conventional ideas of management. It’s a view of performance management that seems clearer only because we’re more familiar with its ways. However, peer appraisal is relatively a new concept, that comes with its own set of inherent paradoxes.

Like, how can a peer be a judge? Or, Will the feedback given to an individual upset the entire team’s dynamic? Because of these speed breakers involved, peer review often tends to be skewed towards positives. Coworkers could conservatively avoid pointing out the negatives in their peers or offering constructive feedback, rendering the entire exercise futile.

This article on the Harvard Business Review, which delves deep into the paradoxes involved in peers assessing peers, talks about the role managers can play in helping employees overcome their fears regarding peer evaluations.

At a time when more and more companies are embracing the practice, it’s crucial that people understand the purpose behind evaluating their coworkers; that companies tailor the evaluation metrics according to the size and needs of the teams; and that managers support the practice and keep themselves open to positive and negative feedback from all around.  

The Bitter Chocolate Assessment

Fernanda Lobato, who is currently the HR Manager at Semco, remembers the first ever time she had her peer evaluation. She scheduled her feedback sessions with the three peers who had evaluated her and was anxious about the first session. For, her first session was with a coworker who had given her a very harsh and transparent evaluation and she knew it wasn’t going to be an easy conversation to have.

When the coworker entered the room, he gave her a bitter chocolate and drew a neat analogy: He said, “Just like this bitter chocolate, my feedback may be a little bitter but it’s sweet because it comes from my heart.” It was a very concrete act of generosity without any play of politics. He expressed his opinions transparently and offered actionable ideas on how she could perform better.

It was still a tough conversation to have, but he managed to convert it into a very constructive and open session that was much easier for Fernanda to accept. She understood that it was feedback aimed at her development and growth.

Feedback With Love

When peers assess each other’s performance, and when that evaluation becomes a part of the company’s performance management system, it helps weed out any managerial bias. What people have to say about their peers can add a valuable dimension to feedback on performance and promote transparency among team members.

And when people understand that the feedback comes from a place of love and understanding, it promotes better cohesion and trust in the team.

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