Reviews: An unpleasant part of the working world, whether you’re the one giving them or are on the receiving end. Sitting down to talk about job performance – usually with thoughts of salary, promotions and unemployment looming in the back of your head – isn’t the most comfortable of social situations. But it doesn’t have to be that way.

Gary Fortier, COO at development firm Raizlabs, has concocted his own approach to performance management that takes the sting out of reviews. Essentially, reviews at Raizlabs are done in a democratic – or crowdsourced – fashion. It’s gone so well that it’s caught the attention of other tech companies in the area and has left Raizlabs with tentative plans to productize the process for all.

Here’s why.

Before joining Raizlabs, Fortier had worked for sizable organizations, including the Army, Home Depot and Deloitte. At those companies, top-down reviews were king.

“In my career, I’ve had 19 bosses and have received 39 top-down reviews. And I’m not that old. That’s a lot,” Fortier told me. “It made me wonder how much of that helped me get better.”

“It was all about putting me into a box – a good box or not – but either way, it was a box,” he continued.

When Fortier started working at Raizlabs, though, he knew the corporate approach to employee reviews didn’t quite align with the company culture. Given the nature of a development firm, he found that teams, trust and creativity were at the center of working at Raizlabs. And as the company kicked into rapid growth mode, the need for finding people who performed while maintaining those ideals became more pressing.

“Greg Raiz, the founder, said to me, ‘As we’re growing, I want to make sure we’re only hiring the right people,’” Fortier explained. “And, being the sarcastic guy that I am, I said, ‘Well, that’s better than hiring bad people, I agree. But how do you know we have the right people now?’”

That question led Fortier on a journey of deep reflection. He was hung up on how one can truly evaluate engineers and their performance. Metrics like how many lines they can code in one day or how many bugs they generate weren’t real indications of how good of an engineer an employee was.

“How do you measure the inherently subjective? … What’s the difference between amazing and really, really good? You’re staring at shades of gray,” he shared.

Fortier did his research, reading through a PhD dissertation from UC Berkeley to find answers. Turns out, that researcher came to the same conclusion: You just can’t do it from a top-down perspective. That’s when he recalled a 360 Review he had encountered years prior. The review was entirely elective and had no ties to his state of employment or compensation. It was solely for his own betterment and had nothing to do with management.

In an effort to mimic the minimal hand that management plays in 360 reviews, Fortier designed a system where employee feedback is collected from 6 to 10 people – both colleagues and leaders. That way, reviews at Raizlabs come from multiple sources, including folks who are your equals and have no direct control over your professional fate.

“How do you measure the inherently subjective?”

Every quarter, “Everybody, from founder/CEO on down to newest person, we all do it with the folks we work most closely with over the last quarter,” Fortier said. “The whole company does it for two hours on a Thursday afternoon, so there are no excuses of, ‘Oh, I can’t. I have to run to this meeting.’ No, you don’t.”

Employees pick the people they want complete their performance reviews, and they must include someone from at least one other business unit and a functional area leader. All of the questions are tied to the company’s core values (pride in your work, pushing the envelope, delivering experiences that impact people’s lives and and having fun as a team). There are 30 questions revolving around subvalues, on which employees are ranked by their peers. At the end, there is also an open response bit where people can fill in what their colleagues keep doing, start doing and stop doing.

Once the process wraps up, all of the feedback is compiled and anonymously administered to each employee. As opposed to traditional top-down reviews, it isn’t a totalitarian system. Rather than having one person – who may not even spend that much face time with employees – deciding their performances, feedback is pooled, making it a more honest depiction of how someone works.

“At the end of the day, the people part is the only thing that matters,” Fortier stated. “If you have high-quality people – engaged, satisfied, high-quality people – chances are everything else is going to fall into place.”

Featured image via Raizlabs.