Peer Reviews: Are They Worth The Hassle?

Peer reviews can create a real headache for an IT manager
Peer reviews can create a real headache for an IT manager
Image Credit: AJ Cann

As an IT manager you would like to know who on your team is performing at their peak level and who is just coasting along. The realities of life mean that despite your IT manager skills you can’t spend all of your time with your team and so you may never be able to answer this question by yourself. However, the members of you team know who’s performing and who is not. Would permitting peer reviews help to find out who the best workers are or just provide a way for complainers to complain even more?

What’s Wrong With Peer Reviews

On the surface, a peer review sounds like a very good thing. These systems can take on a lot of different forms. Over at Amazon, it was revealed that their internal peer review system allowed other workers to send evaluations of you to your boss without you knowing about it. You can just image how a system like this could be used to gang up on a rival or for a group of workers to attempt to force out another worker that they saw a being a low performer.

The tools that are needed to collect peer review data are often already in place even if you have not received any IT manager training on how to use them. Many tools that we use for other tasks, such as, contain built-in peer review tools. Many companies are reluctant to activate these peer review tools because of the impact that it will have on the organization. What they anticipate happening is a flood of petty complaints based on long standing grudges or a lot of chatter about things that just really don’t matter.

One of the biggest unanswered questions about peer reviews is if they should be permitted to be anonymous. Managers who receive this type of feedback about their employees generally consider it to be either background noise or just simple whining. If other employees are permitted to send comments to your boss about you, then it tends to create a culture that is at the same time childish and competitive. Some companies have implemented rules that the users of the anonymous systems must only say things that they would feel comfortable telling the person that they are talking about to their face.

The Right Way To Do Peer Reviews

What an IT manager really wants is constructive criticism of the members of his or her team. Nobody is perfect and so the question is how can each member become better? All too often, what happens is that an IT manager gets a lot of peer review feedback on a team member, but it’s all positive. That will make the team member feel good, but it’s not going to help the IT manager make the team better.

One way to improve the way that feedback is given is to increase how often it is collected. Some firms are collecting regular, short weekly surveys in order to find out how things are going. This allows the IT managers to give the members of their team feedback on the things that really matter. In this type of environment, anonymous peer feedback has no role to play because it is far too easy to abuse.

Most, but not all, firms still conduct annual evaluations with their employees One of the biggest questions that IT managers are dealing with is how to work more feedback into the process in order to support this annual meeting. At some firms, they have set up systems where an employee has the ability to request a manager’s feedback on their performance in some specific area (presentations, meetings, technology, etc.) at any time. The goal of this type of program is to allow team members to better themselves in real time instead of having to wait until the end of the year in order to find out what they could be doing better.

What All Of This Means For You

The advance of technology has made peer reviews possible in most workplaces. IT managers have to take a careful look at both their team and their company in order to determine if this type of review holds any value for them. There are both benefits and disadvantages to any type of peer review system.

A peer review system opens the door to team members ganging up on other members. If the system allows comments on a worker to be given to an IT manager anonymously or without the worker knowing about it, then it is almost certain that abuse will occur. A number of firms are taking steps to try to capture the value of peer reviews while avoiding their downsides. They are collecting review data more often, banning anonymous reviews, and allowing team members to request their own reviews when they think that they need them.

The technology to allow anyone in a firm to conduct a peer review of one of their peers is now available However, this is clearly a case of just because you can do something, this does not mean that you should do something. Before turning on a peer review system, IT managers need to take a close look at the peer review tools that they have available to themselves and then determine if the data that they can collect using them would make them a better IT manager and help with IT team building.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Management Skills™

Question For You: If you started a peer review system and you got a lot of negative reviews on your staff, what steps should you take?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

Forget all that Facebook “like” stuff, there is a much bigger question that you need to be able to answer. Just how likeable are you in real life? You might shrug that question off and say that it doesn’t really matter, it’s what you can use your IT manager skills to accomplish that matters, but you’d be wrong. The people who control your career want to promote people that they like. Do they like you?