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Writing Reviews for Really Competent People

CJ Horton | Feb 1st, 2020

It’s review season at my workplace, and once again I find myself confronted by the dilemma of how to write meaningful peer feedback for people who are great at their jobs.

My first draft of one of these peer reviews – let’s call the person Jude – usually goes something like this:

Q: What is Jude doing well?

A: Everything. Jude is a fantastic human. They exude joy and everything they > touch turns to golden rainbows.

Q: What could Jude do better?

A: Nothing. Well, the golden rainbows thing is a little confusing, maybe – how can something be both gold and rainbow-colored? They should work on that.

A fair amount of blog ink has been spilled on the subject of giving negative feedback in a kind and constructive way, but what if I have no negative feedback? What if the person is already doing a great job?

This career goes to 11

This situation requires a perspective shift. Jude probably wants to advance in their career. They want to get promoted, make more money, become someone that other people look up to, and eventually retire comfortably, secure in the knowledge that they have made a positive contribution to the world.

I want this for them too! I enjoy working with them and I want them to learn and succeed and grow as a person. Luckily in my position as Jude’s Peer Review Career Detective, I get to help them do just that.

What’s holding them back?

Maybe there’s a technical skill that they’re missing, or maybe they’re great when working solo but don’t collaborate much. These are things that could keep them from making an effective case for a promotion or raise.

How can they strengthen their strengths?

If they’re great about answering questions from other engineers, maybe they could take their effectiveness as a mentor up a notch by offering to pair. If they write clear, well-commented code, maybe they could further improve their skill at technical communication by writing documentation to go with it.

You get the idea – what’s something they already do quite well, and how could they do it even more effectively?

This all sounds like a lot of work

What’s in this for me?, you may be thinking. Why should I go to all this trouble just to help my co-worker get promoted?

Well, apart from getting a reputation as someone who gives really insightful feedback, you get to build stronger ties with your coworkers while also feeling good about your own analytical skills. Plus, it makes peer reviews way more fun. I’d call that a win-win.

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