“I would stand at the subway and I’d say, ‘I’m Ed Koch, I’m your congressman,’ and people would just rush by, thinking of me more as an impediment to their getting to the office on time. And then, serendipitously, one day I said, ‘I’m Ed Koch, I’m your congressman. How’m I doing?’ And people stopped to tell me! Most of them good, some bad. (…) I had made the connection. And so I put that on my literature from that moment on, it was on the envelopes of my congressional mail, and it was a question that I constantly asked: How’m I doing? It became associated with me. Corporations spend millions of dollars finding a slogan that fits them. Mine didn’t cost a nickel.”
That was the late, great three-term New York Mayor Ed Koch talking to The Wall Street Journal about the genesis of the little phrase that will forever be a part of his legacy. Those words offered each passerby a platform. They were an invitation to share one’s mind outside of the traditional tool for collecting political feedback: the ballot box.
When I worked for Bazaarvoice, the product review platform, I remember hearing tales about how hard it was in the early days to sell the idea of collecting feedback—negative and positive alike—from customers and displaying it on one’s own website. I saw some of this myself, though by the time I arrived in 2010, many companies were realizing that customer conversations were happening with or without them, so it made sense to build a central forum and start a dialogue. I remember one of the founders predicting that product reviews were the tip of the iceberg, and that reviews of people (as individual professionals) would soon be commonplace.
Collaborative economy (aka sharing economy) platforms have popularized the act of reviewing people as service providers. We can gush or kvetch about our Uber trips, AirBnB stays, TaskRabbit helpers, and anyone else we’ve transacted with in this new marketplace. But these platforms have also taken feedback an important step further by asking individual professionals to review their customers. Customers can be wrong, unfairly biased and dishonest, just like sellers, so this relatively new twist seems only fair.
Mutual reviews help to keep us accountable on both sides of a transaction. Jeremiah Owyang, founder of Crowd Companies, argues that mutual reviews (or “two-way ratings,” as he calls them) are a kind of “quality assurance mechanism”:
“This smart system ensures that high quality providers (drivers/hosts/consultants) and partakers (riders/guests/clients) are interacting with each other. It’s interesting to note that AMEX has partnered with Uber and Airbnb, which could eventually result in a new type of customer score that involves social ratings.”
So, can mutual reviews create a similar accountability dynamic in the workplace? Yes, if the system is implemented thoughtfully. Transparency, frequency, timeliness and convenience are all important to this end.
When Uber implemented mutual reviews, it chose not to make transparency a two-way street. You can see a driver’s rating easily within the app, but you’ll have no such luck finding your own rating easily (but you can put in a request to customer support). This is problematic because it severely limits your ability to correct the record and fight unfair profiling based on things like race, disability status and gender. Obviously, this is not a good model for the workplace.
Instead, your mutual review system should be transparent to all stakeholders. Transparency gives people the data to make better decisions, levels the playing field, rewards good actors and reduces backstabbing.
With all the buzz about big data and real-time analysis, it seems positively antiquated that most companies only conduct performance reviews on a quarterly basis. It’s much easier to accurately report on several single projects than an entire quarter of work, and this goes for self-evaluation, too. So, up the frequency!
More data points give us better pattern detection, and a fairer, more accurate basis for coaching individuals to change work habits.
Our memories are subject to distortion and degradation over time, so asking someone for feedback on something while it’s still recent and top of mind is critical for accurate feedback. Timeliness also makes feedback way more valuable because it can immediately be put to use—before the next project begins, rather than at the start of the next quarter, for example.
It shouldn’t be a hassle to review a colleague. Complicated, labor-intensive platforms and processes carry the unintended consequence of insulating poor collaborators from feedback they really need to hear, because it’s less likely their teammates will provide it.
When building or buying a mutual feedback system, think about how to create convenience across a variety of contexts that reflect the pace and mobility of today’s worker. If you’re a team leader, try telling your team to take the first 15 minutes of an already-scheduled meeting to submit input (and make sure you do it, too). Build review collection into other business activities your team does frequently to eliminate the need to drop everything and switch gears entirely.
A mutually-reviewed future
Choice and transparency in the marketplace is a good thing, and mutual review features within collaborative economy platforms should prove to be a positive force in that regard. Business software tends to emulate the best of consumer applications (after some lag time), and this process is speeding up thanks to trends like agile development. We expect and hope to see the review systems within leading organizations change radically—and for the better—in the near future.