How Peer Feedback Can Take Center Stage As a Learning Tool

by Julie Winkle Giulioni | Posted | Learning

How Peer Feedback Can Take Center Stage As a Learning Tool

It's increasingly challenging to capture leadership and organizational attention in a complex, time-starved and geographically dispersed workplace. For many L&D departments, it feels like pushing a boulder uphill.

For decades, learning efforts have focused on the need for organizational and management support to ensure an appropriate return on investment. Studies have been conducted. Initiatives have been launched. Why? To tap and elevate that support toward achieving learning outcomes.

Still, a gap persists in L&D attention from leadership. All is not lost, however. The good news is that there' s an often-overlooked element of support that costs nothing and may contribute even more powerfully to results: peers.

People spend considerably more time with peers than they do with their manager or executives, and these peers have a dramatic effect on performance. So perhaps it's time to actively cultivate and leverage the power of peer feedback as a tool to drive learning, behavior change and results.

Chasing leadership support for L&D efforts? Try peer feedback instead! @Julie_WG
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Peer perspectives take different forms

Peers share feedback in countless ways day in and day out. One way to organize the potential touchpoints is below.




Scheduled Peer Debrief Sessions

Instruments, Assessments and Profiles


On-the-Fly Feedback Conversations

Online Peer Feedback Exchange Systems

The nature of the feedback that peers can offer each other ranges from formal to informal and can happen whether the people are together in real-time or separated by time and space. Employees can:

  • Engage in regularly-scheduled debriefing sessions in person or by phone.
  • Offer on-the-spot observations and feedback right in the workflow when opportunities arise.
  • Complete formal instruments and forms that congregate feedback into documented reports.
  • Contribute their perspectives via online systems that allow for the real-time capture of information about behaviors or performance that might be helpful to peers.

Each type of touchpoint has its place and, in most cases, the magic is in the mix. This means helping employees master the use of all forms and understand when each is most appropriate and useful. But, there's more!

Making any form function

Regardless of the form that it takes, there are some common requirements to fuel this type of peer feedback machine.

Permission - Historically, organizations have considered feedback to live exclusively within a leader's domain. Employees can be reluctant to share their observations or perspective about a peer's performance, fearful of stepping on toes or being on the receiving end of a "you're not the boss of me" response.

As a result, organizations that want to cultivate peer feedback as a learning tool must communicate unequivocally that we all have a stake and a role in the development of everyone else. Leaders must be overt in their permission-it's almost impossible to overdo this. And leaders must unambiguously establish offering feedback to others as a primary expectation of employees at every level.

Receptivity - Just as employees need to understand the expectation to become feedback givers, they must also understand the expectation to become feedback receivers. But this does not necessarily come naturally to many people; it's not a skill we normally learn in school. Yet, the quality of the feedback that is offered is frequently related to the level of openness of the receiver.

So, teaching employees how to welcome feedback graciously and process it for improvement is essential. Over time, organizations can aspire to generate a culture that is hungry for feedback. What does this look like? In real life, it's a culture characterized by individuals actively seeking out information about how they're doing versus passively accepting what's offered.

Information and context - Receptive receivers and appropriately deputized givers are essential. But for feedback to move the learning needle, it requires a relevant focus. Peers must have context so they can offer meaningful insights. And this requires information about the:

  • Development goals of others on their teams;
  • Learning outcomes of courses or development activities others have engaged in;
  • Action plans and commitments that are generated upon completion of training activities;
  • Key competencies required for success; and
  • Behavioral and performance expectations.

Without this information, feedback can be unfocused and unproductive, doing more harm in some cases than good. In contrast, though, relevant context allows peers to offer meaningful insights and support development that will make a difference to others.

So, rather than focusing exclusively upon the uphill boulder of management and organizational support, perhaps it's time to shift our focus to a broader and more proximate group - one that has more relevant and timely experiences that others can use for growth. Perhaps it's time to harness peer feedback as a powerful learning tool that can be tapped today.

How To Give (and get) Feedback

Learn how feedback between managers & employees can build trusted relationships and improve performance.

Free Ebook
Cover of the book
Cover of the book

How To Give (and get) Feedback

Learn how feedback between managers & employees can build trusted relationships and improve performance.

Free Ebook

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