Some pros and cons of peer feedback directly given by peers

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I’ve written articles lately about the risks of peer feedback from surveys and how peer feedback can be best utilized to improve performance on your team and in your organization.  A frequent scenario is that the manager receives some sort of report with “360 feedback” from peers on team members’ performance.  Then the implication is that the manager has to do something about it.

When the feedback comes from a survey, the feedback is indirect, and it’s of lower quality. The feedback is coming from a secondary source, there is also a serious time delay, the facts of the matter are usually murky and there is no alternative course of action offered.  It’s also not clear if the person receiving the feedback actually did the wrong thing.  Really, as far as feedback to improve performance is concerned, it’s kind of useless.

But what about the scenario when a peer gives feedback directly to another peer?  Is this desirable?

For example, lets say you are working on a project and a peer consistently misses a deadline.  The peer says, “You have missed the deadlines, and this is causing project delays.  Is there a way you correct this?”  That counts as peer feedback, and it isn’t waiting for a survey process.

Here are some reasons peer feedback directly given can be desirable:

–The feedback is more likely to be specific and immediately given

–The feedback is likely to have an alternate course of action

–The feedback is likely to comes from an expert on policies and best practices

–The feedback is not directly tainted by managerial power relations related to promotions and annual review toxicity

–The feedback is likely aimed at immediately improving performance of both the individual and the team

These are all excellent arguments in favor of peer feedback directly given, but there is another argument in favor of direct peer feedback.

A great argument in favor of direct peer feedback is that one cannot expect a manager to be available to observe all team members’ performance and provide performance feedback.  It’s too hard to do, and a manager needs help in this area, as there are many other duties of a manager beyond providing performance feedback.  Peers, however, are close to the situation, are usually around to provide feedback, and can give it quickly and immediately without much ado.   My next post will examine this opportunity to increase the amount of performance feedback provided on a team.

So this is a big opportunity for increasing the feedback culture on your team.

Ah, but peer feedback directly given can also be undesirable as well.

For example, the peer, in an awkward attempt to provide feedback, makes many of the same mistakes of a manager who does not know how to give feedback.  The peer may say, “You’re so stupid.  You’re always way too late on your deliverables, and you’re hurting the team and everyone hates you.”

That’s an example of feedback poorly given, and perhaps you’ve been in a work environment where you have a peer who feels comfortable giving low-quality feedback like this.

This feedback is poor for, amongst the following reasons:

–It generalizes the performance to the personality of the feedback receiver

–It has way too many adverbs that reduce and cloud any behavior-based language

–It incorporates summary value judgments not tied to improving the team.

So peer feedback directly given can sting badly, not change performance, hurt teamwork and the team, and be useless, not to mention cause problems for the manager when the stung person reacts to the poorly delivered feedback.  Additionally, if the manager relies on peer feedback as the only source of feedback, the manager will lose both perspective and authority on what good performance looks like.

So there are pros and cons of peer feedback directly given.  And the cons are easily imagined and frequently experienced.  In my next post, I’ll describe how a manager can work toward eliminating the cons and promoting the pros.

Have you ever received feedback directly from a peer?  What it more useful than the feedback from your manager?  Would you describe the feedback as expertly given?

Related articles:

Why peer feedback from surveys doesn’t qualify as feedback

Examples of how peer feedback from surveys is misused by managers

How to use peer feedback from surveys for good (it’s not easy) Part 1

How to use peer feedback from surveys for good (it’s not easy) – Part 2

The Art of Providing Feedback: Make it Specific and Immediate

An example of giving specific and immediate feedback and a frightening look into the alternatives

Behavior-based language primer: Steps and Examples of replacing using adverbs

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Examples of how to improve employee corrective feedback and how to get rid of damaging adverbs

Behavior-based language primer for managers: How to tell if you are using behavior-based language

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Avoid using value judgments

Behavior-based language primer for managers: Stop using generalizations

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About Walter Oelwein
Walter Oelwein, CMC, CPT, helps managers become better at managing. To do this, he founded Business Performance Consulting, LLC .


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