How to Give Awesome Peer Feedback

Many companies are incorporating peer feedback into performance reviews. Here's how I prepare to give awesome peer feedback.

In a Gartner article on how peer feedback boosts employee performance, Jessica Knight, research director at Gartner, said "High-quality peer input has become an essential part of effective performance feedback".

Every company I've worked for—Zappos, Walmart Labs and Webflow—in the past 8 years has incorporated peer feedback in the annual performance review (Webflow is the only one that doesn't tie compensation to this feedback).

For high performers and contributors who interact with others across an organization this can be a really great way to receive feedback, but the hidden superpower for people in these roles is that they have the ability to give insightful feedback.

One of the most important changes I made to how I give feedback was to start keeping notes for all of the peers I interact with through the year, then to reflect on and summarize those to write my peer feedback.

Step 1: Keep Notes Through the Year

Immediately after interacting with someone for the first time, I create a file in a folder in Dropbox called people with that person's name in it and use a text expander snippet to add a list item for that interaction. As an example, if I need help with a particular feature I don't know a lot about from a peer named "Jim Johns", I would created a file in Dropbox called people/ with the following:

# Summary

# Notes

- **2020-02-21T13:04** I needed some help with the slider element feature and Jane said "Jim knows a lot about it". Jim was really helpful and the way he walked through the internals of the feature felt like we were exploring it together and he was letting me learn it and ask questions. I was really comfortable asking questions that felt silly because he often responded to my questions by first saying "great question!".

Some things to note about the above example:

  • I keep a timestamp (format: [year]-[month]-[day]T[hour]:[minute]). I find the timestamp to be helpful because it helps me zoom out and if I have notes that are negative, I can look at my journal and see how I was feeling that day. I find that including "I was having a hard day" also helps to show that sometimes "negative" feedback comes from where I was that day and give context that "maybe this was just me on that day" if I have any negative feedback.
  • I write about what our interaction was about. The what's important to me because it will help me recall the situation better when I'm summarizing and will likely help the person I'm giving feedback to recall specific situations.
  • I write how the interaction made me feel. How I felt during/afterwards is important because it helps express what behaviors make me feel special. I generally only write about the behaviors that were positive (if I experienced behaviors that made me feel hurt or frustrated, I try to address that as soon as it happens. I've yet to have an interaction that ended negatively that repeated itself.)
  • I include the person who connected us. I believe connectors are critical contributors at work. Whenever I include the connector, it makes it easier to search the whole directory for people's names if they request feedback. If I find Jane's name numerous times, I can add that to the summary that I keep for her.

Step 2: Review and Summarize

Once I have 4-5 interactions, I'll try to summarize feedback into my # Summary section. I don't usually wait until peer feedback time to do this, but I usually do it when I can see that there are patterns of strengths, behaviors and qualities of a person that stand out. I also add a ⭐to a few of the interactions that I want to highlight to my feedback. I find specific examples as a good way to indicate I genuinely mean what I wrote in the summary.

Step 3: Identify Opportunities for Growth

There are always opportunities for a person to grow. Sometimes they'll feel negative, but other times it'll be opportunities around skills/strengths an individual has that they want to refine/get better at. A really great way to share this feedback is to find any interactions where you caught a glimmer of something stellar that you think that person has an opportunity to do more of that will also help them shine.

Give Awesome Peer Feedback

For the past 4 years I have had to give anywhere between 12-15 peer reviews per cycle and this process of capturing over time and collating at review time has made giving feedback an enriching, stress-free experience!

This is also helpful for people who you haven't interacted with in a long time or don't interact with that frequently. This is a wonderful gift to those people because it shows you cared enough to be prepared and that you, someone they chose to request feedback from, took the time to reflect on your interactions with them.

I should also note that people have asked me for feedback outside of these cycles and when they do, it makes it a lot easier to give that feedback because I've already done the work to collect my thoughts!

Thanks to David Hoang for inspiring me to write this post. His twitter post recommending managers keep a document on "what they've done" nudged me to write about the documents I keep to give awesome peer feedback.

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