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What I look for in Peer Review Feedback at Microsoft

Pete Brown - 15 June 2011

It's that time of year at Microsoft: everyone's reviews are underway to be completed and sent up the chain by the end of the month. One part of the review process, one given even greater emphasis this year, is peer feedback/review. While I'm specifically talking to the 90k Microsoft employees here, I think these comments apply to any organization that incorporates peer feedback into the review process.

At my last place, before I joined Microsoft, I started incorporating peer review feedback into the annual review for my directs (this was not the usual process). I found it worked really well, so I was happy to see that as part of the official process at Microsoft.

I have three directs at Microsoft (Jon Galloway, Jesse Liberty, and Joe Stagner). This is my first year doing calibration and review, as I became their manager only last September/October. It also happens to be the first year with the new review process and rating system, so that actually helps me out a bit :)

At the start of the review process, each of them submitted to me (we have a tool for this, of course) a list of people they'd like peer feedback from. It's optional to respond to feedback requests, so you usually get around a 40%-60% response rate, depending on how many you send. As a manager, you can see the feedback for your directs, but no one can see their own feedback, nor can they see who actually responded. During the review process, you take themes from the feedback and report that.

What I look For

While succinct and glowing praise is nice to read if you're the recipient, as a manager, it doesn't really tell us anything. In fact, it can sometimes reflect poorly because it shows the person didn't care enough about the recipient to write something meaningful. Of course, there could be any number of reasons for that, but it still doesn't help.

When I read feedback, I'm looking for some combination of the following:

  • What you worked on together. Something specific that shows the person is completing feedback based on actual work done together.
  • Helpful information on how the recipient collaborated with the feedback submitter. Did they lead? Did they follow? Did they contribute well? Were they just warming a seat?
  • What value the recipient provided to the effort. Anything specific that says "Because of [recipient], we were able to do X" is very very helpful.
  • Constructive feedback on what the recipient could have done better. If they really did a bang up perfect job, you can leave this out, but that is rarely the case.

Remember, the recipient won't see your direct feedback (unless you send a copy, which some do), so you should feel free to be honest and candid.

Because that's what I look for, that's also what I try to provide. If I can't incorporate a few of those things into the feedback, I generally decline to offer feedback on that person.

What You Should Do When Asking for Feedback

In my opinion (and I didn't even follow my own advice this year), I recommend that when you submit a list of names to your manager for peer review, you should, at the same time, send each of those people an email that briefly states the following:

  • A note saying you submitted their name as a person to provide feedback, and how much you value their feedback in the peer review process (so they'll complete it)
  • What you worked with them on (a reminder so they can write something about it)
  • A thank-you for their time (again, so they'll complete it)
  • Any special dates for feedback deadlines, in case your org (like mine) has an accelerated calibration schedule

That quick email will help get you back into the person's mind (maybe you worked with them 10 months ago) and show that you value their feedback.

I hope that all helps, and gives you one manager's perspective on the peer feedback process.

posted by Pete Brown on Wednesday, June 15, 2011
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1 comment for “What I look for in Peer Review Feedback at Microsoft”

  1. Albertosays:
    Dear Pete,
    For a long time, since from the second version of silverlight, I was soaring all the most important blogs to catch all possible tricks useful for silverlight developers. It was the time where msft leads the technology. Today I'm writing you with an iPad on the shore and I'm soaring over adobe's blogs because Now I develop with flex for the desktop, the web, the iOS devices and android. Sometime I come back to silverlight.net and there you Are, last of the mohicans, speaking on a dead project like the last romantic hero in a movie...I'm little sad, silverlight was a fantastic product but today is unclear where msft will go. It's the confusion of a giant that discover himself not prepared for the Apple revolution. I can understand. Anyway, thank you for your posts, they was useful in the past and I wish to thanks Scott, Now working in other more important projects. Both you was great in my silverlight adventure.



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