Experience with the Appszoom Peer Review Process
A group can only learn and grow on the basis of its individuals stretching their wings.
One of the things lean start-ups are able to do much better than bloated old school big business is directly connect the personal growth of its participants to the growth of the company. One of our Appszoom values is Fearlessness, a big part of which is plunging our hands deep into the thick of the unknown. That holds true whether we’re trying out a brand new review format, developing SEO training sessions for each other, or honing our interpersonal skills.
To this end, all of us are going through a peer review process. It’s designed so that each gets out of it just exactly what he or she puts into it.
I’m introspective by nature, so I leapt at the chance to intersect my personal growth with professional development. Here’s my experience through the steps of the Appszoom peer review process.
All materials used in this process are available at the end of this post.
BUT FIRST: What’s a peer?
We use the term peer loosely for this process. There’s the classic understanding of the term, of course – folks whose tasks are similar to mine, meaning fellow Appszoom editors in my case. I asked Manu and Pedro if they would help me out.
For the purposes of evaluation and growth, though, it can be useful to have a peer that you perceive as having skills you would like to develop yourself. For me, this meant asking a couple members of the A-Team, Anna and Albert, to be my peers as well. Among other tasks, Anna manages the Content team, and I’m strongly interested in her skill at implementing lean start-up techniques like experiments and measuring. Albert, the AZ CEO, has years of experience running successful small tech businesses, and I wanted to pick his brain about drive and vision.
Step 1: Where am I now?
It’s hard to improve if you don’t know where you’re starting from. This is just as true for defining KPIs for our Hoshin Plan as it is for becoming more effective, awesome team members ourselves.
I completed a trio of questions inviting me to deepen my understanding of my present state:
- What three professional characteristics make you feel particularly proud of yourself?
- What three aspects of your personality and way of being make you feel particularly proud of yourself?
- What two things about yourself do you want to improve in the next six months?
I also set up a Johari’s Window, which is a neat free tool for comparing the way in which you describe yourself to the way in which others describe you. You pick five or six adjectives for yourself from a list, then send your link to peers to do the same for you. In this way, you can see what’s well known, what you might not be aware of, and maybe even where you might be kidding yourself.
Step 2: Preparing my evaluation
The next step was to identify my hard and soft skills.
Hard skills are technical abilities and concrete knowledge that I bring to the table, perhaps learned in a class or read in a book. In my case as a native English content creator, these are written English and knowledge of the sector.
Soft skills are more universal abilities that can be applied to almost any profession. They can be learned conceptually, but require plenty of hours “at the wheel” in order to incorporate into one’s character. My strongest soft skills are autonomy, clear communication, and adaptability.
After considering my skillsets, I personalized a Google Form that I could send to my peers to evaluate me on the skills I already had as well as the ones I hoped to develop (like SEO wizardry, social media management, Google Analytics, and so on). I entered in answers for myself, and then I forwarded a copy of the form plus my Johari’s Window to my four peers.
For fun, I also posted my Johari’s Window to my personal Facebook profile, just to get a wider range of responses.
Step 3: How do others see me?
The responses to my Johari’s Window post started coming in right away, and soon enough I had a decent cross-section of the kind of image I project to others.
Something itched at the back of my head when looking at the JW site, though… it was like I remembered it from ages ago, somehow. Just in case, I tried replacing the username I entered this time (JanelTorkington) with the one I always used years ago (janellish), and lo and behold, results from when I was 18 years old – nearly 10 years ago!
Of course, most people going through the peer review process won’t be lucky enough to have access to these kinds of unbesmirched results over such an extended period of time. But hey, I got lucky – and it was definitely interesting for me to see how some traits remained popular choices (adaptable, spontaneous) while others disappeared completely (silly).
After each of my chosen Appszoom peers completed the JW and Google Form for me, I made an appointment with each of them for a coffee in the sun to discuss my results.
Each of these meetings lasted approximately an hour – which can be an uncomfortable proposition, since most of us aren’t used to speaking exclusively about ourselves for such an extended time. Bringing along the data I had gathered plus observations and questions that had arisen was a big help. Equally important: pen and paper.
I discussed with each person about what they saw as my strong points as well as what I wanted to improve, and we thought about concrete ways to make that happen. For example, I spoke with Anna regarding my wish to become the best damn copywriter that there ever was or will be, which resulted in the two of us taking a look at possible online courses and ordering a book for the AZ library.
I also spoke with all four peers about the dynamic that they saw between me and the rest of the Appszoomer team: what was working well and what I might try changing. One tangible piece of advice that came out of the meetings was to quit automatically leaping at all the tasks that arise throughout the course of the day, because I wasn’t leaving enough space to focus on my more in-depth projects. ¡Oido cocina!
Step 4: Devising an Action Plan
I took plenty of notes from the coffee meetings, plus I had all the data from the JW/Google form as well as from my own written evaluation. Time for an action plan!
I answered just three questions inviting me to reflect on what I had learned and what I wanted to do with what I had learned:
- What have you done in the past three months that you feel especially proud of?
- Imagine yourself celebrating something on a day like today 12 months from now. What will be the evidence that you’ve accomplished what you wanted? Write it in the present tense.
- What will you do in the next three months to get yourself closer to that vision you’ve just imagined?
Step 5: Check In and Get Going!
After putting together my Action Plan, I forwarded a copy to Anna (who organized the whole Peer Review process) so that she could take note that I was off and running.
I also shared what I wanted to accomplish with fellow editor Manu. We’ve noticed we have complementary skills in terms of creating and publishing content, so he seemed like the perfect person to periodically check in with regarding my progress.
One Month Later…
The biggest change I’ve seen myself make is not automatically volunteering for every single task. There are entire email threads that happen without me. This is monumental. It strengthens my belief in the capabilities of the entire team plus leaves me free to focus on the projects I’ve already begun.
I also notice significant improvements in my copy. I’m getting much more effective at explaining complex concepts in a way that’s accessible. My ability to focus has also grown stronger, and I see each step of bigger projects more clearly.
I still need to focus much more on learning SEO and Google Analytics. Our SEO contact, Céline, is in the process of collaborating with another editor, Ana. I’m planning on checking out this material as soon as I can. I’m also going to speak with Manu about how he deals with data – I know he’s set up some interesting spreadsheets that generate stats directly from Analytics.
One goal that’s going splendidly: come to work happy, leave work happy. I feel great about what I’m producing, and the opportunity to reflect upon it just reinforces that it’s massively worthwhile.
Appszoom Peer Review Process Materials
Step 1: Where Am I Now? Questions
Step 2: Soft & Hard Skills Evaluation Form
Step 3: How Do Others See You? (coffee in the sun)
Step 4: Action Plan Questions
Step 5: Check In and Get Going!