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As a part of our yearly performance review, my manager asked me to meet with some colleagues I work closely with to receive direct performance feedback from them. I also happen to be friends of them IRL, so that meeting was planned as an informal, out-of-work one - but mandatory. After expressing my concerns, the manager gave me the option to organize a formal meeting with a third person from HR as a "moderator". Either way, it would lead to each of us stating our concerns, if any, with the performance of each other, face to face. I fear both options could lead not only to an uncomfortable moment for both of us, but to something which damaged our friendship as a whole and worsened the environment at the workplace.

As I know, this meeting isn't something that my workmates proposed, either.

Is this a normal occurrence, and my concerns are unrealistic? Is there a better way to approach this issue?

40

Getting feedback from your peers is nothing unusual and your boss only suggested that you meet and even did not request your colleague/friend to submit anything to him.

Peer Feedback is also part of the 360-degree_feedback.

Asking a friend in a private out-of-work meeting is imho the best option to get honest feedback without any repercussions, so I think you should use this option to learn something about you and how others see you.

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    You've missed the part about how the meeting is "mandatory". Getting honest feedback from friends is important and necessary, but should be organic and not mandatory. – Möoz Oct 27 '20 at 23:41
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    yes, private feedback independent of work is cool and helpful, but doing official mandatory feedback rounds in private? wtf? not only is that mixing private with professional on purpose, it asks for private time to do work, it keeps it off the books and makes it officially unusable ("but I thought everything was good, all my colleagues were happy with me", "there is no record of that.."). So considered independent, sure, ask friends how to improve, privately, too, but a boss asking for mandatory meetings to be held privately doesn't strike me as usual in any way. – Frank Hopkins Oct 28 '20 at 1:56
  • In other words, as an improvement suggestion: is there any data, personal experience (perhaps with region or type of work) that would support the claim that this is something common somewhere? – Frank Hopkins Oct 28 '20 at 1:57
  • @FrankHopkins: Asking for data on something that happens off the books is self-defeating. – Flater Oct 28 '20 at 11:58
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    @Flater: OP is not describing "something that happens off the books." They have described a mandatory meeting at which an HR rep will (optionally) be present. – Kevin Oct 28 '20 at 17:30
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Sometimes management think that "360 degree" appraisals are a good idea.

You really don't want to get HR involved in any meetings. I assume you also don't want to stab all your colleagues in the back.

So this is your opportunity to say what is good about your colleagues. Then anything that needs improvement becomes "training opportunities", never criticisms. The result should be as bland and inoffensive as possible, with nothing that could come back on you, or the colleagues you are appraising.

If you wish, you could agree with each other what you are going to submit before you submit it. But make sure you do that out of sight of HR or management.

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    +1 except for the last line. The last line is understandable, but not ethical or a good idea. – bob Oct 27 '20 at 18:23
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    This is all fine, until one person gets some negative feedback, and then it becomes a 'Survivor Tribal Council' situation. – Möoz Oct 27 '20 at 23:42
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    This answer is for another question. Here, OP didn't say their interlocutor would submit anything anywhere except the binary information "mandatory 1-on-1 meeting done, yes/no". – kubanczyk Oct 28 '20 at 10:11
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    @Möoz: and in some companies the compensation scheme ('forced-ranking bonus pool'/'stock grant') is designed to guarantee that feedback is a 'Survivor Tribal Council' situation. Or, when people figure that mass layoffs are coming. It's not always a growth story. Now less than ever. – smci Oct 28 '20 at 18:48
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    @bob what is unethical about it? Just because management wants to test some particular performance review methodology doesn't make it my moral imperative to follow along. – Z4-tier Oct 29 '20 at 2:02
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A face-to-face meeting for this is unusual and unprofessional

All companies I've worked in have had 360-degree review systems. I've had to review my colleagues' performance, and they've had to review mine. I've also had to review my managers' performance. This is best practise.

But those reviews have always been emailed to the person running the review process. The person being reviewed should never see who made what comment. What your manager proposes is seriously unprofessional.

There are obvious risks here.

  • The reviewer is someone who likes you, and they feel unable to raise issues which they know will upset you, or at best they soft-ball those issues. The review fails because issues are not raised.

  • The reviewer raises issues which are not fair. The review fails because the manager has to arbitrate in an argument. The subsequent working relationship with your peer is affected.

  • The reviewer raises issues which may be fair, but you have trouble hearing from a peer. The review fails because the manager has to arbitrate in an argument. The subsequent working relationship with your peer is affected.

  • The reviewer raises issues which may be fair, but you have trouble hearing from a peer. The review is OK, but the subsequent working relationship with your peer is affected.

  • Your peer hears issues raised by the manager which should remain private (e.g. health problems) and should not be shared publicly with your peers. Your manager and the company are exposed to lawsuits for disclosing this information. The subsequent working relationship with your peer is affected.

Basically there is no world in which this can be successful. Either the review becomes worthless, or it destroys your team, or both. I strongly suggest raising your objections with HR. Normally HR are not your friend, but in this case they may stop your manager doing something which is clearly bad practise.

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    I'm reading your answer again and again, but the main message I get from it is always "It is more professional to backstab my colleague by emailing a complaint to our superior, rather than trying to communicate with my colleague directly to let them know I think we could improve our relationship and our work together." I strongly disagree with that message. – Stef Oct 28 '20 at 15:09
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    Appraisals aren't about backstabbing, they're about offering judgement on somebody's strengths and areas for improvement, and in a good office you won't be telling management things that are very new to them. And they're not about your relationship with your colleague, they're about improving work performance. – Stuart F Oct 28 '20 at 15:34
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    @Stef Yes, yes it is more professional. That's what "superiors" are for. If you're "backstabbing", your superior can filter out that bullshit and call you out. If you have genuine concerns and they check out, your superior is the person who acts on it so the team isn't screwed up. That's what professional looks like. – Graham Oct 28 '20 at 20:32
  • @Stef then communicate directly with that person. No need for the manager to be involved, if you feel that disclosing your comments to the manager would be stabbing, back- or otherwise. – njzk2 Oct 28 '20 at 21:39
  • @Graham: frequently, supervisors encourage backstabbing, e.g. to implement forced-ranking compensation, or when they went to keep employees at each others' throats. It depends entirely on the incentive structure and culture. Just because you experienced situations in which this didn't happen, doesn't mean it isn't widespread, doesn't mean the manager is some trustworthy neutral arbiter of truth, and doesn't mean email can't be abused as Stef pointed out. It depends. Insisting using anonymous email is necessarily more professional is counterfactual; it might be, not be, depends on circumstances – smci Oct 29 '20 at 22:45
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The true test of friendship is if you can give someone negative feedback without them taking it personally, and if you can receive negative feedback without taking it personally. If you feel like this meeting will ruin your friendship, then you probably aren't really that great of friends.

However, you may want to ask your manager to leave HR out of this. You can frame it that you want your friends to be as honest as possible and they might not be honest if their words are being recorded and might be used in hiring/firing-type decisions. If your manager has a problem with this request, you may have a greater problem.

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    Friendship helps, but people vary in their ability to take difficult to hear feedback. Some people are more sensitive than others. And I think it would be harder to hear from a friend, not easier. – bob Oct 27 '20 at 18:21
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    People also vary in their ability to give negative feedback. Someone with any degree of social anxiety may be loath to directly criticize someone. – Wayne Conrad Oct 28 '20 at 7:06
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    If what a friend says can land at my manager who decides about my future career, this friend stops being a friend, but becomes a professional colleague; the relationship can sour at some point, and it completely changes the power dynamic. In such an atmosphere, it is better not to be too much friends with your colleagues. It does not mean that should not get along with them, but you will be much more cautious. – Captain Emacs Oct 28 '20 at 12:55
  • @CaptainEmacs Right. It's important to hold this meeting in private, and in confidence, with only OP and his friend and nobody else in the room. That's part of my answer. – Ertai87 Oct 28 '20 at 14:50
  • At the risk of straying into interpersonal.SE territory, there are many different type of friendships which are desirable, and people shouldn't necessarily feel the need to put them to the test like this in order to discover whether it's a "true" friendship based on a particular metric, and tests like that should certainly not be mandated by your manager! I know I wouldn't want to offend someone I previously got on well with, then just write it off as "not a true friendship". – colmde Oct 30 '20 at 0:27
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Either way, it would lead to each of us stating our concerns, if any, with the perfomance of each other, face to face

What helps is a change of perspective:

Don't look at it as a meeting where you are telling your friend on what they are doing wrong.

What you need to do is have a meeting where you recognize each other potential and give each other advise on how to be even more successful in the future.

It is not always easy to get good self-assessment, getting feedback from a friend will help to cover the blind spots and people need feedback from people that are interested in you succeeding, to progress in their careers. Be that friend that gives that type of feedback.

So don't ask yourself "What is Bob doing good and bad?" ask yourself. "How can Bob be promoted to Senior sooner?"

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    and then tell Bob, privately. No need for anyone else, manager, hr, or otherwise, to be involved – njzk2 Oct 28 '20 at 21:34
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Consider asking your manager whether the handling of appraisal feedback can instead be conducted between your peers (as reviewers) and the manager, as a broker.

  • Feedback about you could be accepted in written form so that your manager doesn't need to spend a lot of extra time gathering notes, and so that your peers could have plenty of time to think about what to write/say.
  • Your manager can act as a neutral/honest broker in terms of gathering your peers' feedback and your own responses to those comments, without needing to worry about straining relations or creating tension between you and your reviewers.
  • Each reviewer could request that their name is not linked to the feedback they provide; this puts the emphasis on what is being said rather than who said it, in addition to helping to preserve the cordial relations you have with your peers
  • Suggest that feedback could be optional (although strongly encouraged) - if someone is truly unable to think of anything constructive to say, they ought not to feel pressured. You or your manager may still prefer to make it mandatory, in which case there should ideally be extra training and guidance available to reviewers.
  • Suggest that your manager provides a short and open-ended 'brief' which your reviewers can follow so that those providing feedback have an idea about what would be useful to the appraisal process. This could be in the form of 'leading' questions to prompt them to comment on key areas such as whether they feel you're an effective communicator, or how they perceive your attitude and capability in your role.

Once your reviewers have submitted their feedback to your manager, there would hopefully be a discussion where you get to find out what was said (but not necessarily who may have been attributed to each comment) - that gives you the chance to discuss and respond to any points raised, honestly to your manager on how you feel about your peers comments (without your responses needing to be heard by anyone except your manager).

Also, many people find it helpful to take a few days to reflect after hearing feedback before agreeing to sign-off, particularly if it involves personal development planning. So also consider asking your manager for several days to think about the feedback and how to respond, to make sure that you don't miss anything, and hopefully be able to feel comfortable with the end result.

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    The key is to allow people to think about their judgments, and give people space to react to comments made about them, and focus on the comment not the people. Otherwise you risk it being a bland "everything is ok" conversation or turning into a bear pit of hurt feelings, abuse, and recrimination. Offering guidance on how to judge performance and what categories to use is a good idea if you want useful feedback. People need to be trained to do this. I'm less sure about making feedback optional - it risks silence, but if people are responsible they should respond when able. – Stuart F Oct 28 '20 at 15:40
-1

People coming at a company are in search for a place to work, not in search for colleagues. Most often you can't have both of worlds. I mean you need to earn your living, and in a small company you could have the luck to find good people working on similar positions as you do, or instead some bad luck to find fellows that aren't of best quality as people. They are there also to make money not to become friends of you. Either way, the first matter that is considered is to be professional at your work. You are there to provide a good service to the company.

Now your question could be put as "do you want to lose your job or your 'friends' ?" Remember, they are your 'work friends' probably because you make their job somehow easier (so you both provide to the other something valuable during work time). I think this hasn't to do with the fact that the meeting is asked to be made in 'private time'.

My advice to you is to be sure that your 'friends' understand that this review might be similar to a work duty (at least in the eye of the employer) so that they must understand that you could express some opinions that are for the best of the company (not of them). Even if I sound a little bit too harsh, making some 'alliance' with your 'friends' could be similar to stealing from the company (by accepting some bad behaviours from your friends part).

First of all, I strongly think that if your 'friends' are not good professionals you MIGHT NOT BECOME FRIEND WITH THEM in the first place, no matter what. This way you have nothing to regret about what you tell to your manager about their performance.

Second, imagine that starting from tomorrow you become their boss (so you create a company and hire them to work for you). Would you be the same relaxed person around them ? Would you accept to them any 'friendly attitude' as a kind of excuse for their lack of performance ?? I doubt about that! Or similar, you are put in a position of becoming THEIR team leader, and are penalized for any bad thing they do during their work. Would be you same good 'friend' as before?

In conclusion, they better first should deserve to be real friends of you, before you make worries about what you will say about them. And it's not important if they have other roles in the company - compared to you. Nor it's important that instead of having directly a review meeting with the manager he appointed some other person to be present in his place. You should worry nothing. Probably you should worry that the colleagues did not understand how well you do your job and maybe they give some feedback about you that isn't that positive (in your opinion). But anyway be positive, and try to receive their feedback with an open mind, in order to help you to become better if possible.

I would end with the remark that your own fear of others' opinion is the real sign that truly the most important factor at job is how good you are, and nothing else.

If I would hire people to work in a company I would ask them not to become friends (and stay in complacence together) but instead to educate each other and also learn from each others so that eventually all of them become as good as the best one from the team. And that best one will finally receive some good help from his fellows from now on, of course.

I remember of having in the office a fellow that had a bad character (the type of those stabbing people in the back, very eager to give bad opinions on the 'quality of code delivered' especially of people more qualified than him - behind their back, of course) so I suggested him that if he thinks he's so good, then go ask from the manager to put him as the project manager (or product owner, as it's in the software industry). He understood since then that he is very weak and not capable of assuming such role (or tell to better developers what they should do and how to do it) and since then stepped back from his toxic attitude. Most often people can't resist to a confrontation to their true self (not the others). Because the worst enemies are not the fellows around but themselves actually.

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    Strained relations between co-workers are hugely damaging to a team's output productivity and quality; collaboration and close working with others is non-optional in most jobs, which means it's impossible for individuals to work to their full potential if the team around them is dysfunctional. When relations break down between people who are required to work together, it becomes a barrier to effective communication and collaboration between those people, leading to misunderstandings and miscommunication, which are among the main reasons why mistakes are made and why projects fail. – Ben Cottrell Oct 29 '20 at 14:13
  • This answer has some good advice for a new employee just starting with the company but doesn't really work for established employment relationships. – barbecue Oct 29 '20 at 20:16
  • @BenCottrell, imagine that you are repairing the wheels of a car while other workers repair the engine of that same car. The owner is interested to take his own car as fast as possible back to road, fully repaired. My point is that each one must be "friend with his own duties" not with strangers that just happened to have come to repair same car of a client in the same day. Actually we are paid to make our job not to lose time befriending around with people that we just met in the same building. I mean this is in the best interest of the car owner, don't you agree? And of our earnings I think – Eve Nov 1 '20 at 1:53
  • @BenCottrell I'm not saying that your answer isn't right, just explaining my point. Of course if people make a good team this might work for the end result in the same time but sometimes it doesn't. – Eve Nov 1 '20 at 1:55

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