The thorny business of peer review: how your HRMS can keep things civil

The principle is sound: offering an employee a broader perspective on their performance represents more rounded, more useful feedback than their manager’s opinion alone. In a nutshell, that’s why organizations use 360 feedback – also known as peer-to-peer review – as part of their performance management and employee development frameworks. But it’s not always a smooth process. The easier it is for colleagues and peers to comment on each other’s workplace activity, the more scope there is for personal agendas and resentments to poison the well. Especially when the process is automated.

First, take control

As with any technology, the basic premise is that it makes a good servant and a poor master. Look for a system that allows you to create your own questions, forms, timetables, and so on. Don’t let the functionality drive your feedback process; instead, decide on a process that will fit your goals and organizational culture and then find the technology to enable it.

That said, bear in mind that your needs may change over time. For example, a system which allows anonymous feedback is ripe for grudges and grievances, but if your workforce is new to the concept of mutual feedback, anonymity can be a good way of easing them into the idea… then you introduce ‘owned’ feedback later on.

Don’t skimp on the support

Any new technology will probably require some training in how to use it, even if it’s only a technical guide that takes users through the process of which button to click and when. But there is probably a deeper need here. Crafting a good feedback statement is definitely a skill (and by good, I don’t mean positive, I mean that it is worded and delivered in a way that helps the individual receive and act on it). Many managers, despite training, seem to struggle with it, so how much more difficult might it be for people who have so far only been on the receiving end of the process?

Recommended reading: get your employees engaged with peer-to-peer reviews with our six steps to HRMS self-service success.

Provide training and guidance on how to give both positive and negative-but-constructive feedback. Then use the technology to make that guidance available as a refresher or a prompt at key stages of the process – the equivalent of having a ‘Help’ button that the user can click when they need it. Another option is to start with a system of rating scales and scores only, then introduce the option of ‘free text’ statements later.

Use technology to make things easier

One way to improve the quality of peer-to-peer feedback is to make the system easy to use. If someone is frustrated by the technology, human nature means they may take that frustration out on the subject of the feedback when they are ticking boxes and typing comments.

The big complaint about any performance management or assessment process is that it is time-consuming; that the everyday business practically grinds to a halt when the performance appraisals are due. Implement a system that is as ‘light touch’ as possible, uses automatic notifications to prompt form completion, and contain the process within as tight a window as possible, making it less obtrusive.

Finally, remember that the human factor cannot be removed – not only in terms of giving the feedback, but in relation to helping an individual understand and act on it. The technology can initiate and drive the process of gathering and sorting the feedback but there is still a job for HR and line managers when it comes to the delivery to the recipient.

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Dave Foxall

About the author…

Dave has worked as HR Manager for the Ministry of Justice for a number of years, he now writes on a broad range of topics including jazz music, and, of course, the HRMS software market.

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Dave Foxall