Peer Reviews: Are They a Good Idea?

peer reviews


Peer reviews were made popular in training sessions in the later part of the 20th century. They were considered innovative and provided a different way of assessing training participants, school-aged students, and even employees working for large organizations. In general, the idea of peer review is a great one: it encourages colleagues and fellow students to take a vested interest in another person's’ career or training opportunity. Peer reviews encourage people to pay attention to what is happening around them because they know that they will need to provide feedback. But there is a darker side to peer reviews that no one likes to talk about: if you are going to use peer reviews, you need to consider the pros and cons of using them. So we wanted to give you the good, the bad, and the ugly related to peer reviews. Let’s start with the ugly.


The Ugly Truth About Peer Reviews

Anytime you put someone’s performance in another person’s hands you run the risk of pairing them with someone who doesn’t like them. Some people are petty and jealous of other people’s success, smarts, and determination. This could lead people to sabotage peer reviews to undermine those around them. Sure, it’s not a common occurrence, but if you are going to use peer reviews, know that bias and misunderstanding can find their way into the feedback you get.


The Bad

One flaw associated with peer reviews is that some people might do the complete opposite of sabotage: they might praise someone who doesn’t deserve it. Employees or students who are engaging in training might not be interested in what the peer review means overall, or they might not care. This could lead them to give their peers 5-star reviews for fear of being confronted or called upon to defend their poor reviews. Again, this doesn’t happen all the time, but it is possible.


What’s Good About Peer Reviews?

The number one reason to use peer reviews in your training programs is that it eliminates the sense of authority and makes people feel comfortable with providing feedback. They know that they will provide valuable feedback, for the most part, and get valuable feedback in return. Because students aren’t going to see you on a regular basis, it makes sense for people who see them every day to provide feedback on their performance and engagement. You just met these people. If you happen to be an in-house trainer, that’s all the more reason to use peer reviews. Peer reviews protect your position as the trainer, and as a colleague of those, you work with on a regular basis. You deliver the training; you don’t have to deliver the critical feedback that could change or challenge relationships and your status as a trainer. That’s what HR departments do. In this case, peer reviews are good for that as well.

If you have never used a peer review before, consider incorporating it into your training sessions. Now that you know the good, the bad, and the ugly associated with using peer reviews, you can show up prepared to coach participants on how to use peer review processes in a way that is both effective for the participant who is being reviewed, and meaningful to the entire experience.