Jessica Powell, the former Google vice president who wrote The Big Disruption and told you how to quit your job, is here to answer your common but tricky work questions. Check back every other week for more management advice with a tech inflection.
At my company, we do peer reviews as part of our performance rating and promotion process. A co-worker has asked me to give him a review. Am I actually supposed to be 100% honest in a peer review, or do I tell him the bad stuff privately? What if he’s up for promotion? I don’t want to keep him from being promoted, but I definitely have some constructive feedback I think he should hear.
The answer to this would surely be “100% honesty” if the workplace were truly a meritocracy and if people actually wanted to hear your opinions about them. But companies are rarely a meritocracy, and people generally don’t like criticism. In that case, the best guiding principle is probably to be honest but careful.
You say that your peer has asked you to write a review, so it sounds like your workplace work lets employees pick some or all of their peer reviewers. Most likely, this reviewer thinks you two are on good terms and is expecting that you will give him a positive review. (Rare is the employee who actively seeks critical reviews and feedback, though they do exist and should be praised for this behavior.)
In addition, this employee apparently knows he is up for promotion, and it sounds like you are supportive of his move to the next level. So, overall, you should plan to write a positive review.
The important thing to remember is that writing a positive review doesn’t mean writing a review devoid of critical feedback. At any point in our career, we have development areas — just think of your sociopathic CEO, who probably has at least 10 things they could work on.
Start by writing all your positive feedback. If you are supportive of this promotion, you have a lot of good and valuable things to write.
Now let’s tackle the hard stuff. Writing useful and honest critical feedback does not involve listing every fault of…