The peer-to-peer feedback-improvement cycle in action

I recently posted about the new peer-to-peer continuous-improvement program that we’re doing at Asynchrony. One of the key aspects of the program is its emphasis on feedback. Direct feedback is often difficult to deal with because people aren’t accustomed to it (especially if it’s critical), so we encourage face-to-face discussions in safe environments. Here’s a real conversation (names changed) that occurred over instant messaging between an employee (“Will”) and his advocate (“Jessica”), posted with their permission. Will has just provided his advocate with his self-review (a one-page overview of recent accomplishments, future goals and ways to improve) and has been collecting feedback from some of his personal stakeholders, which he has shared with Jessica.

Will:

What did you think of my self-review?

Jessica:

I think it was very in depth and really liked the explanation of why you did what you did but Pete raised a good question as to how you like to feel like the smartest person in the room… I think we should maybe address that in goals for 2014… Please advise

Will:

That’s something I’d like us to talk through. I think its good feedback but its also foreign to me. It feels like telling a razor to be less sharp so the other razors don’t feel bad. I was brought up and live in an environment where all the razors are helping each other be as sharp as they can.

Jessica:

We definitely need to work on being humble then… lol

Will:

I’m GREAT at being humble. 🙂

Jessica:

There is another saying, if you are the smartest person in the room… Maybe you should exit stage left…

Will:

I never claim to be the smartest person in the room.

Jessica:

Sometimes we don’t have have to say things to make that impression.

Will:

Yep. This is something we should talk about over a beer. Are you free after work today or some day this week?

Jessica:

Tomorrow night?

Will:

Sounds good

The two peers invited the colleague who provided feedback (“Pete”) to chat in person, and they had a very productive discussion to clarify the feedback and collaborate on ways to improve.

This is how we designed the advocacy program to work: People obtain feedback, the advocate holds him or her accountable and the two discuss improvement face-to-face. You’ll notice that the advocate doesn’t possess any specialized skills in career development or domain-specific expertise; she merely acts to reinforce the accountability loop by deftly supporting Will and at the same time not simply coddling him in the name of “advocacy.” Politely asking a colleague — especially one who has given you explicit permission — how he or she plans to address important issues is something everyone can do.

All three people in the scenario above were honest and respectful with each other: the employee honestly wants to improve, the third person has given honest, respectful feedback and the advocate honestly and respectfully responds when the person for whom he is advocating. Contrast this with the less-than-respectful way that anonymous peer reviews can come off and the sometimes-perverse incentives that people have for being interested in feedback in the first place (as a means to the end of making a case for a raise), and you see that this is a very different dynamic from how many organizations operate.

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One Comment on “The peer-to-peer feedback-improvement cycle in action”

  1. This looks like the ideal interaction. I’m eager to read more about it.


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