It was just performance review season at my current job, so I spent a lot of time reading, writing, and talking about reviews. Around this time, someone asked me if (as a manager) I found peer feedback useful. While my answer is 100% yes, I have some thoughts on why that is, what makes feedback particularly useful, how I like to use it as a manager, and ways in which it can be less helpful.

First, what are we talking about? In my current role, and at my previous one at Microsoft, we go through an annual performance review. As part of that process, the employee writes up a self-review, the manager reads it and writes up their review of the person. With that input, discussions happen across the whole org to come to a consistent view of employee performance and assign the appropriate ratings. Peer feedback, or just any feedback outside of your manager’s, is a core part of the process; employees can request feedback, or another employee can submit feedback unprompted. Either way, that feedback is visible to the manager and to the employee (this might not be the case at every company, feedback might be only visible to the manager for example).

Even if you don’t have a system for this at your company, feedback flows in through less formal channels. After a project, you decide to send a message to someone’s manager to let them know how much you appreciated that employee’s work, or to comment on some issues you ran into with them.

How does this help your manager? #

When writing up a review for an employee, I am attempting to explain why they deserve a specific performance rating. I have my opinion, but I need to back it up with some facts.

Words to live by from the Big Lebowski

I might say that Susan is a deep expert in a specific area, and then include several examples of projects that illustrate that expertise. Feedback from another person is a wonderful way to bolster my own comments, adding in a different perspective. It may surprise you, depending on your relationship with your manager, but in the review process they are often seen as being your advocate. You are part of their team; they have a closer relationship with you than the other people in the discussion. This is great, but it also means their comments about you are treated with a bit of skepticism. Having a comment from another employee helps validate the point I’m trying to make.

Make your feedback as specific as possible #

This gets to the first piece of specific advice I have for feedback writers; provide specific examples in your feedback, backing up your comments. If you write a comment to me, saying Susan was really helpful, that’s good. If you provide details describing how she was helpful, that’s amazing.

Consider these two pieces of feedback:

“Susan has been a great team member for all of 2023. She worked with me on a number of projects, and I found her to be a wonderful partner! Excited to see her continue to do great on the team in 2024.”


“Susan and I worked together on multiple projects throughout 2023. Her deep knowledge of React was extremely helpful, as she both delivered her own pieces of work, and guided me through a bunch of really challenging problems in my code. She was also a continual positive influence on the project, keeping us focused on the user, escalating issues, and helping to get them resolved. In one particular case, we realized the design wasn’t going to work in a mobile view, and she worked with the designer to come up with a new plan that would solve the problems without a lot of rework. Without Susan, it would have been exceedingly difficult to finish this project on time.”

The first example could be helpful if I needed to back up a general assertion that Susan is a positive addition to the team, but it doesn’t do much more than that. The second, which is longer and would have taken a bit more effort to write, gives me direct feedback on why Susan is good to work with, and specific examples that I can bring into my review. It also phrases the positive comments around areas that are particularly important in reviewing an employee. Susan is an expert, she helps improve the quality of other employees’ work as well, and her involvement makes projects more likely to succeed. I don’t depend on quotes to tell the story, but I would add in a line or two from this piece of feedback after stating my opinion.

As the feedback writer, put the time in to give details, and try to tie them into what makes a good employee. There is no need to reference specific company principles or job ladder descriptions, just real examples that you think make this employee someone you’d like to see stick around and succeed.

Write feedback when you have the thought, not when it gets close to review time #

Related to the above, specific examples are easier to come by when it is fresh in your mind. If you are wrapping up a project with another employee and think to yourself “they really did great on that” … go write them some feedback. Just get some critical assistance on your own work? Send out feedback thanking that person and explaining what they did and how it helped. You won’t do it all the time, but however often you can remember to do this, the better for the employee and the company.

When you celebrate the completion of a project, include everyone who helped make it happen. Even if it isn’t direct feedback, being included in the announcement of a feature ship, or mentioned in the release notes of an update, is another concrete example that the employee and their manager can refer to in reviews.

Feedback from outside the team carries more weight #

Just like your manager is seen as an advocate, your teammates are seen as a bit closer to friends than other employees in the company. Feedback from a teammate is valuable, especially as it helps show mentoring or support provided within the team, but feedback from some other team is more impactful. That person over on some other team has little connection with the employee, so their feedback comes across as both more impartial and as an example of a broader impact on the company. It’s the best!

To get this kind of feedback can take some additional effort. For example, if you get some positive feedback on Slack from another team “OMG, you completely saved the day here, thanks so much!” … first, take a screenshot or copy that into your running ‘brag doc’, second reply back privately with something like “No worries, I think it is really important for our team to help with <x> … if you have a chance, I’d love to get some direct feedback through the system for future review cycles”. I know that may seem cringey and many people are reluctant to ask for it, but the person you are asking is an employee too so they know how important this type of feedback can be. They won’t always do it, people get busy, and it can slip their mind. Unless it was a large project, I wouldn’t push or nag them too much (or maybe not at all), but I would hang on to that original bit of feedback to reference.

Set the example in the feedback you provide #

For all these points, the best way to encourage it to happen is to start by doing it yourself. Write timely feedback for people who you see doing excellent work, especially outside of your team, and use specific examples to illustrate your points. I have received feedback after a project and had it remind me that I could do that same, perhaps not for that person specifically, but that I had some positive comments in my head about various coworkers that would be good to write down. Avoid doing this as a favor or feeling an obligation to do this for all your teammates. A good rule is, if you don’t have some specific examples of work or actions to reference, you shouldn’t write any feedback at all at this point.

What’s in it for the feedback writer? #

I’ve explained how your manager can use these comments and what makes for helpful feedback, but writing this material takes effort and a bit of time. Why would someone bother to do that if they aren’t your friend? I can’t speak for everyone who writes feedback, but I can suggest some good motivations. If you see an employee doing impactful work, it is in your best interest for them to be rewarded for that. The company will benefit (which hopefully is something that helps you out as well), and they’ll stick around to keep doing that same work, even on projects with you! As individual employees across a company, we don’t have a lot of direct control over the broader set of people we have to work with, but this is one way to influence things. Highlight the type of work you personally find valuable, and it will happen more. Following that same logic, if you aren’t particularly impressed with someone’s work, don’t give them glowing feedback just to be nice.

What about negative feedback? #

In the past, at Microsoft, feedback was only visible to your manager, and we used to receive a more balanced set of comments. Still mostly positive, because that was the main reason people decided to write feedback, but often with a few “areas for improvement” thrown in. That could be helpful, but in practice that feedback was available to the manager through 1:1s and other channels, and since it was somewhat confidential, you wouldn’t quote it in the employee’s review anyway.

Eventually the feedback system became fully open, where whatever someone wrote about you was visible to both the employee and their management chain. I have no data to support this, but it did seem to result in more positive feedback, and a reluctance to raise any negative feedback beyond vague “keep doing what you are doing” type of comments. I’m fine with this myself, because negative feedback between teammates is difficult, and having it formally submitted can add pressure that results in no comments at all. If you do see an issue, then mention it to their manager. If you are also providing positive feedback when appropriate, this should produce a balanced view. You can also just mention something to the employee, which can be challenging, but if done politely and privately could be helpful for them. Just try to give them the appropriate framing for your feedback “You did great work on that presentation, but I felt you reacted a bit defensively and shut down some of the questions raised in the meeting” is more specific and will be received better than “you kind of messed up in the Q&A part”.

Summing it up #

To make this a bit easier to remember and act on, I’ll wrap it up in some quick bullet points.

  • Feedback helps your manager to validate your excellent work.
  • Specific examples and details help more than just vague positive comments.
  • Feedback from others, especially outside of the team, is seen as more valuable than your own comments or your manager’s.
  • Write feedback when it is fresh in your mind, don’t wait until review time.
  • Encourage others to write useful, detailed feedback by doing so yourself.