5 Dos and Don’ts: The Best Peer Review Questions to Ask
They’re Vital to Your Organization, But Are You Asking the Right Questions?
Have you ever gotten an email with a bold subject line like “ACTION REQUIRED: Peer Review”? For some, seeing these words inspires feelings of dread, as you know you have some critical feedback for this person that you want to deliver nicely. Other times, you don’t know the person that you’re reviewing very well, but you still want to deliver the best peer review questions you can. And sometimes, you draw a blank when you see their name.
However frustrating and time-consuming they might be for those participating. Peer review questions are essential to gain meaningful feedback and form more fulfilling work relationships. In addition, they give managers access to a goldmine of information they wouldn’t have had otherwise and employees deeper insight into how their peers see their impact at work.
However, many employers are doing them wrong, leaving those collecting the review notes without actionable data. We’ll give you five proven peer review questions to add to your next quarterly survey, so stay tuned.
What Are Some Questions to Ask – and Avoid — in Employee Peer Reviews?
1) Ask for goal-oriented answers.
For example: What is one piece of constructive advice you would share with this person? How would this change impact your work?
The answer to this question also reminds the employee receiving feedback that your company has agreed upon certain metrics they’re expected to adhere to. The second part of the question illustrates that their performance influences team outcomes.
2) Ask questions that steer peers to as objective feedback as possible
For example: “If you could improve one aspect of this employee’s communication, what would that be, and how would that improvement better accomplish company goals?”
This one leads with a subject that could go into particularly subjective territory – communication. However, notice how the question points toward one key point to improve upon, avoiding any “he said, she said” scenarios. Further, the question ties back to business objectives: How can growth in this area influence the individual and organization positively?
3) Encourage people to provide explanations
For example: “Please provide 2-3 specific examples in which you think X employee could have handled something more in line with our core values.”
In the spirit of objectivity, it’s OK to ask people to back up what they said on the survey. Again, ensure to tie the question to a specific goal. If someone veered off course, what was the goal they weren’t hitting the mark on? Above, we used the example of core values metrics, but it could be anything from deadlines to sales targets or any other KPI your company values.
Soliciting examples disallows unsubstantiated claims. Peer surveys elicit plenty of subjective feelings, but rationalizing those with examples gives the manager more meaningful feedback.
4) Guide people to recognize patterns, not one-time occurrences
For example: “How many times this quarter would you say you felt encouraged to do better work because of a positive interaction with this teammate?”
Good peer reviews look for patterns, not the one-off time when someone came into work after a terrible illness or breakup. Of course, everyone has good and bad days, so recognizing overall trends and how to tie those back to performance always tells more than an unnecessary discussion of “that one time” someone cut you off in the office parking lot.
5) Keep surveys completely anonymous
This one doesn’t come with an example question, but it bears repeating: Keep peer review surveys completely anonymous. Anonymity provides a safe place for an employee to give feedback without damaging the working relationship.
1) Don’t ask vague questions
For example: “Do you enjoy working with this employee?”
Compare this question #1 with its parallel above in the “Dos” column. How are they different? You’ll see that one is tied to a common goal and asks for the single most important piece of advice you have on one specific area. It doesn’t ask for every observation all at once because that overwhelms both the employee giving and receiving the feedback.
2) Make everything about feelings
For example: “How did you feel about the quality of your communicating with this person?”
Subjectivity in questions about elements like communication can be a slippery slope. Varying personality and communication styles come into play and might unfairly represent the person’s effectiveness and communication skills. Compare this question to the “Do” query above for further guidance on how to make something as seemingly theoretical as communication more unbiased.
3) Leave out examples
For example: “How would you rank this employee on alignment with company core values?”
Without examples, this question devolves into personal feelings and can lead to an unfair review. Narrow down your review by trying out the similar question above.
4) Ask questions that lead people to discuss “that one time” something went wrong
For example: “Do you feel this employee interacts with you in a positive way at work?”
Again, negative interactions or misunderstandings come up in any work situation with more than one person. But make sure your peer review question allows some room for human error. However, if more than one employee reports frequent issues with another team member, that’s a pattern to watch.
5) Give hints about who said what
Lack of anonymity drives an employee to anxious guessing about the source of the feedback. Even knowing which department the peer comments originate from can lead them to overanalyze every interaction throughout the year or quarter – potentially influencing how they treat the person they feel criticized them. Eliminate the finger pointing by keeping feedback completely anonymous.
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