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A Letter To My Coworkers Concerning Peer Reviews

Every six months, we at Sparkbox do peer and leadership reviews. We’ve been at it for about two years now, so I have a feel for an approach to providing feedback to my coworkers. Following a conversation I wrote the following letter to my fellow Sparkboxers and dropped it in our #general Slack channel. After some positive feedback, I was further encouraged to share this letter, verbatim, with the world. Peer reviews can be tough, its giving feedback to coworkers in manner that can be a bit intimidating. This is a letter written as an encouragement to help prepare a good mindset for writing a peer review.

Alright y’all, here’s a quick little internal post on how I do peer reviews. It has taken some time and a lot of gleaning from others in the office. So, some of this may sound familiar, but perhaps this will help some of you.

Peer reviews can be super intimidating. When I started my very first peer review, I felt like I had to write these review for Ben and Rob to read. Later on I heard some one say they approach the peer reviews like they are telling the person directly. I’ve really taken that approach to heart. To me reviews have become a great way to reflect on why I like working with y’all and getting an opportunity to tell you why that is so freaking awesome. Think of the review you’re giving as though it were a conversation you are having with that person in the kitchen over some coffee and Oreos. Use emojis, make it fun, but be honest.

I got up this morning and went to Press to work on my peer reviews. After coming into the office I got talking to one of the folks I was reviewing, and I just had to tell them some the things I wrote done. Things that make me so excited to work with them. It turned into a beautiful and encouraging conversation.

The other intimidating thing about the reviews are the number scale questions. It’s hard to come at this without the thought that you are putting a numeric value on people you really like. My first review, I gave everyone max numbers, because you deserve it. But, as time has gone one I’ve adopted a number approach akin to Ben’s. I start with the middle number for everything. The middle number, to me, means you are doing a killer job. Above that, you are kicking some serious ass. If I ever feel like I need to give a number below the middle, I explain it in the comment. And like above, I try to approach it conversationally, I put myself in the mindset that I am sitting down face to face with the person. It brings a level of empathy and humility to the words you choose.

I love, love, love working with you all. The feedback I have received from past reviews have made me a better person and a better worker. I savor your feedback, and hope this helps you with overcoming any apprehension you may experience going into writing your reviews.

To give some context, our peer reviews consist of a handful of questions followed by two section that are number-based ratings. The first set is 1-10 rating on Fluency, Humility, and Empathy—the foundations of the company. The second set is a 1-6 rating on a myriad of aspects. Each section allows for an opportunity to explain the ratings, which I try to do. But, this is my chart for assigning the numbers in those sections:

1 (Loweset Rating)

I like you, but we should sit down and chat a bit. Something is up, I’m not sure if it is me, you, or what.

5 or 3 (Middle Rating)

You’re terrific and I love working with you. You are exactly as I’d hope you’d be.

10 or 6 (Highest Rating)

You are so effing awesome, I cannot contain myself. I’m going to start drawing plans for the monument I want to build in your honor. Would you like more coffee?

That’s how I approach peer reviews at Sparkbox. I get that I have a freedom to be rather informal in my approach, but I feel like it is adaptable. Regardless of format, providing honest feedback in a conversational voice has helped me overcome my apprehension of peer reviews.