Applying peer-feedback at work


OK. Fine for me!

Best, Tom

Does this look familiar to you? After hours of work you put into a text or a presentation you receive five words of feedback. In the numerous online courses I participated in, peer feedback was a central part of collaborative learning. I believe that the main ideas of peer feedback can be applied at work, too.

We all know that when time is short, it’s easy to send out a simple e-mail like the one above. But on the long run, both feedback giver and feedback taker benefit more from elaborated feedback. As someone giving feedback, you have to force yourself to read and understand the work you received. And as a feedback taker, everything is better than a simple “OK”. In peer-feedback processes in online courses there are sometimes very elaborated questions you have to answer and criteria you have to rate. Here are four simple but effective questions you could answer the next time somebody asks you for feedback:


  • How you understood it,
  • What works well,
  • What could be improved,
  • Who could know even more than you do.

These four questions guide the structure of my feedback. Whereas the first three are my own work, I love to connect people. I believe this becomes more and more important. Sharing what you think and who you know could support with respect to a topic. When it comes to the content, I try to remind myself of some basic rules of professional feedback.

  • Assume the good
    • Even if (in some situations) I see right away that someone has not put enough effort into a draft, I try to give constructive feedback. In the end it does not help anyone (especially not the company) if I would reply “This is not good enough, try again”. Assuming good intent means to trust in colleagues that they have a reason for asking for feedback and sending out a file like it is. I encourage sending out drafts, because I have the feeling that many still think they have to fix tasks all by themselves. It takes them three weeks until a final document is sent out which in the end completely misses the original task description. If you want to encourage drafts, you have to learn how to give constructive feedback on then. Assuming good intent is the basis for collaborative work and improving drafts.
  • Give examples
    • As soon as you start to write generic sentences like “you could write more straight to the point”, be sure you note down examples of your observations. This has a double-effect: On the one hand, it prevents you from giving unjustified ideas for improvement (if you can’t find examples, your feedback might be rather a subjective feeling than a objective observation). On the other hand, the feedback receiver can relate your feedback to actual content of the piece he or she wants to have feedback on. Comment functions in Word or Google Documents make this part of giving feedback very convenient
  • Use (passive) encouraging sentence constructions
    • In academia you are asked to write sentences like “Your article would benefit from …”. I find that too formal in most of the work scenarios I have to give feedback in. However, what I try to do is to write in a positive and encouraging way. Instead if “Don’t use that competence framework, it hasn’t worked for us in the past.” I would write “We had some trials with that framework. If you want to proceed with your idea, you should read the lessons learned about the trials or get in touch with Laurie.”
  • Should you comment on grammar, style and design?
    • From my perspective, commenting on grammar and typos first is the easy way out. You don’t have to understand the entire document, but you can correct the typos. I correct language mistakes only if they make it hard to understand something, so really crucial mistakes. It’s the same with design on Power Point slides. I give feedback on the overall idea of the slides, assuming that the arrangement will be fixed later on. It can be frustrating to have someone picking on the arrangement of boxes, if you rather want feedback on the concept. This depends on the feedback request. If a colleague asks specifically for a language or design check, then grammar and design become the focus of my feedback.

You might be interested in reading this and this article on giving feedback and peer-review as I found them useful for my own feedback development.

Below you can read a detailed peer-review I submitted for a distance course in cross-cultural management. Maybe it gives you some inspiration for your own work with feedback?

Overall impression with respect to quality and content

The assignment is clearly structured through seven chapters and well presented from a layout perspective. A short summary of the case and the current status of IKEA in Russia is given in chapter 1 and chapter 6 respectively. In the second chapter about “The IKEA way” the author refers to both, the case description and personal experience. The chapter also introduces training as an important component of the IKEA strategy. This chapter is well written and could be improved by a more explicit description of how exactly the IKEA culture and values are like based on the case study. Chapter three is a mixture of case description and introduction to the three concepts management, organisation and culture. In chapter four the focus lies on IKEA in Russia and here again the main source of information is the case description and an electronic resource by Crescente on how to do business in Russia. In the end, the author mentions “Browaeys et al (2015, p 70) confirms this opinions by saying that social networking is important for the Russian people; it means “helping each other and supporting each other, and that time matters”.” (p. 4). Here, case description and analyses are mixed.

The first four chapters give good insights into the case and the headlines indicate important concepts. All chapters would benefit from a connection to further resources besides the case study and the electronic resource to make clear the connection to concepts from the course literature (if this was the intention). Also, from the structural point of view, it could be considered to join all chapters and form sub-chapters of the case to indicate that they all deal with the description of the case from different perspectives. This would make the differentiation between description and analysis even clearer.

Chapter 5 acts as the main chapter for the case analysis and is divided into market analysis, staff and leadership, marketing and corporate structures and employee motivation. The chapters are rather short (especially the marketing chapter 5.3). All chapters are characterised by evaluation of the author (“Entering Russia the way IKEA did was fantastic”, p. 4; “ It could be framed as a successful “Intercultural marketing” […]”, p. 5; …), assumptions (“It must have been a strategic decision not to have immediate profit.”, p. 4; “[…], someone, perhaps Mr Kamprad himself or people around him made the decision “to go with the flow”.“, p. 4; “Experienced staff with high IKEA standards must have come from Sweden to do the training for the Russians. The newly recruited Russians must have been chosen after an IKEA-recruitment process, which normally includes tests and interviews in various steps.”, p. 5; …) and personal opinions (“In my opinion, some sort of Market analyses was done; I would like to argue […]”, p. 4; “[…] but personally, I do not believe in that!”, p. 4).

This chapter 5 could be improved by using a more neutral language and a clear connection to the resources used rather than to own experience and assumptions.Furthermore, choosing concepts which are being dealt with in-depth in the course material. This would give the author the opportunity to base the analysis on more course resources and also to elaborate more in detail on the different concepts. Also, the connection to cross-cultural management could be improved in this way.

For example, market research per se as described in subchapter 5.1 would not be the crucial point but rather the differences in national culture / organisational culture that meet here and how to prepare a market entry. The way market research was done would then be an outcome of these differences. This line of reasoning would give more opportunities to elaborate.

Subchapter 5.2 is another example where a different focus would be beneficial for the overall quality of the analysis. The first half of the chapter describes the recruitment process which was not analysed in depth in the case and is thus based on assumptions and personal experience by the author. The second half deals with leadership, one of the focal concepts in the course material and in cross-cultural management. The author refers to adequate course material. This subchapter would benefit from a more detailed description on different perspectives on leadership, on the characteristics of a leader which seem to be applicable in different cultures and which concept of leadership exactly it is which applies in the IKEA case.

The marketing sub-chapter 5.3 is hard to follow and it does not become clear what the underlying cross-cultural management concept is. This chapter could be improved by a more detailed elaboration.

Subchapter 5.4 has a sound introduction by describing the concept of corporate structures and employee motivation based on the course material first. However, this description is followed by personal experience when it comes to structure and motivation (p. 5). The actual analysis of the case consists of two sentences at the end of the sub-chapter “In this case, I see that the match was very good, the structures made employees motivated. The motivation of the employees created a good business platform that fitted well in the Russian culture” (p. 5). This subchapter would benefit from a more detailed description of the IKEA organisation and also more insights into employee motivation. This is difficult, as for both not so much information is given in the case study. This is a another example where a shift in focus concepts (towards those where more information are provided in the material) would be beneficial for the analysis.

Chapter 6 concludes the assignment by describing the status quo of IKEA in Russia. The content itself could be improved by comparing business related information which were also mentioned in the case (e.g. number of stores, number of employees, sales). The focus on ethics is an interesting one and it would be even more consistent if this concept was also mentioned in the analysis earlier. All in all, a summary of the main points from the analysis could be an alternative way to end the assignment.

Summary of opposition

  • the student connects and refers to the course material
      • The student refers to two resources from the course material, Browaeys and Trompenaar.
  • the student express him-/herself independently from used course material and references
      • Even if some direct citations are used, the student expresses herself independently from the resources used.
  • the student uses the concepts, which have been discussed in the course
      • The student uses concepts from the course material, which could be described more detailed.
  • the student is reasoning in a clear manner
      • Generally, the line of reasoning is clear. However, at some times it is hard to follow and could be improved by more elaboration.
  • the student motivates answers i.e. explains why they are adequate/accurate
      • Not all of the answers are explained and the assignment would benefit from more motivation with respect to the answers chosen.
  • the student sticks to the question and distinguishes what is relevant from what is not relevant
    • The assignment would benefit from more cohesiveness when it comes to the concepts used.”

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