Feedbag #11: Exemplars vs. Reviews

Hello and welcome to this month’s edition of the Feedbag! Last month, we covered how to sell your local TOs on the value of feedback. This month’s question comes to us from Luis Guimarais of Portugal:

When you perform exceptionally in an event or during your everyday judge activities, you may get an exemplar. The reviews meant to praise your work may have become rarer in a post-Exemplar world. I do not have the data for the entire judge program, this is just an assumption based on my experience and my country’s fellow L2s. However, reviews do have the “Areas to improve” field. On average, reviews may become reflections of those days where you were tired, where you failed a task or just plain tilted because of whatever. Whilst the large majority will not bother to write a review for those days where you have done everything you were asked (and according to Futurama “When you do things right, people won’t be sure you’ve done anything at all”) if you fail at something then there will be a reason to write a review.

So, after rambling on a bit, what I’m trying to get at is: Do you feel Reviews have become overshadowed by Exemplars? Exemplars have deadlines, and we might save notes for them. This diverts efforts from Reviews. Are we saving reviews for those times where people actually remember you because you messed up something?

Like Luis’ question, the answer can also be found in Futurama: Why not Zoidberg both?

Exemplar recognitions and reviews serve different purposes, but they’re not mutually exclusive. The existence of the Exemplar Program shouldn’t diminish the value of reviews or relegate them strictly to records of negative interactions.

Exemplar recognitions are definitely sexier than reviews. They’re pretty much all upside: you get to say nice things to people; those nice things are shared publicly so everyone gets to see them; and the nice things you say are often accompanied by some exciting things in the mail.

However, there are several ways in which traditional reviews can provide value that Exemplar recognitions cannot. The first is related to timing. Because the Exemplar program is structured in waves, it’s likely to be several months between the time you write an Exemplar recognition and the time your recipient is able to read it. Writing reviews to capture things that other judges do well is important for this reason. If I did something exceptionally well or something that had a positive impact on another person, I’d really like to hear about it sooner rather than later. That helps to make sure that I’m aware of the significance of my actions and can repeat them across all my tournaments and interactions over the next few months. If I was awesome, I want to continue being awesome.

As an example of this, I wrote a review for a Grand Prix head judge a few years ago just to highlight how much I appreciated his pre-event communication. I didn’t end up interacting with him much during the event, but his pre-event work was really impressive. I wanted to make sure he knew the effort was appreciated, and would continue that level of involvement for his upcoming tournament. If you put a lot of effort into something, having someone go out of their way to validate that effort really makes a big difference in your willingness to continue spending that effort in the future.

Additionally, Exemplar recognitions are by their nature reinforcements of behavior. A recognition might be written in response to effort over time or a single Exemplary contribution, but in both cases the recipient had to be doing something well to get one. There’s no opportunity to provide suggestions or guidance.

It’s easy to feel like because Exemplar recognitions are all positive, traditional reviews must focus on the negative in contrast to Exemplar recognitions. This doesn’t have to be true unless people make it that way. Your reviews should still focus on your subject’s successes as well as their areas for growth. Don’t view reviews as a vehicle only for criticizing someone when they’re screwing up spectacularly. Reviews are a way of engaging with another judge and helping them to develop. They should be used to do that well before the point that a judge is lighting the event on fire.

Reviews shouldn’t be perceived as the stick to Exemplar’s carrot. Exemplar recognitions feel good to receive, and reviews should also. I think people easily lose sight of the fact that if a judge writes a review of you, they probably care about you a lot. Where Exemplar recognitions tend to be brief and public, reviews are often more detailed and no one will know that one was written except the writer, the subject, and the faceless old woman who secretly lives in your home. That means someone is putting a lot of effort into something that’s unlikely to be recognized, and the only payoff is that you will find value in it and improve as a result.

Ultimately, the Exemplar program is designed to be a peer recognition program and reviews are designed to be a peer feedback program. These two programs serve different goals. My mission here isn’t to claim that reviews are better than Exemplar recognitions, but to make sure judges are aware that they are different tools. One shouldn’t replace the other, they each have a lot of value and should be used in complement (and sometimes to compliment).

Thanks to Luis for his really excellent question this month!

If you’d like to submit a question to the Feedbag, please contact me via JudgeApps.


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