Feedback whether positive or negative, provides valuable information that can be used by the management to make important decisions. Leading companies make sure that ‘continuous improvement’ is not just a fancy catchphrase. It’s a true focus based on feedback from across the entire organisation – customers, clients, employees, suppliers, vendors, and stakeholders. Top performing companies are not only good at accepting feedback, they deliberately ask for feedback. And they know that feedback is helpful only when it highlights weaknesses as well as strengths.
One of the challenges while dealing with feedback is, how honest people are when they are sharing their views on something. Some cultures encourage anonymous feedback to assure employees are not punished for being upfront.
What happens when companies seek anonymous feedback
If given an option of giving feedback anonymously, employees do not have to worry about retribution. It is most often this reason that they do not provide truthful answers. They can be sincere and express their views/observations about company’s policies, their peers or even managers if need be. If this feedback is not anonymous, employees would worry that expressing any critical opinion would invite negative reactions from the feedback receivers. When employees are directly asked about their opinions on company rules they do not approve of, they either make up lies as evasive replies or praise these rules. Opinions that are not honest or that are not based on facts are not exactly beneficial for anyone.
A formal, non-anonymous feedback may only reveal some of the superficial issues that affect the workplace, without mentioning the more important, underlying problems. The real problem here is that no one talks about it because they know they are so important that they may raise some serious issues. In fact, these issues are the ones that need to be brought to the management’s attention as soon as possible. They should be addressed by the entire team before they become a source of unhappiness, conflict and lack of productivity.
The case against anonymous feedback
It’s true that anonymity protects employees from the fear of retribution in some organizations, but that doesn’t always encourage honesty. It may reinforce the impression that it isn’t safe to speak up openly. If team members are reluctant to have their names associated with their responses, then you’ve already identified what is probably the most significant problem in your team – lack of trust. Although there are ways to address these issues.
Thus there is no ‘one right answer’ for all the teams. One has to diligently identify what may and may not work for her team. Blindly doing one or the other will definitely won’t work. Progressive companies thus balance it out between anonymous & attributed feedback.
Tips to make best out of anonymous feedback
This may sound a little over the top. But before employees are given the opportunity to share anonymous feedback, they must be sensitised about consequences. Best way to get them going is to train them about anonymous feedback. What should be the content & how it should be phrased, for the feedback to have a constructive effect.
e.g. one of the obvious side-effects of using anonymous feedback in a highly dis-engaged environment is its potentially abusive nature. If something like this materialises, it does more harm than good.
Even if you are using some employee feedback software, make sure that handy guidelines are easily available. This would ensure that when someone intends to provide anonymous feedback they have their guidance ready. Of course, these guidelines should not be very specific that they take away gist of the feedback exchange.
e.g. teams can create a list of traits that the anonymous feedback should adhere to.
Assure team members that no matter how critical their feedback is, its attribution will not be revealed to anyone. This can be done efficiently by relying on a third party software, as employees tend to have more trust in systems that are out of the management’s control. At the same time, management has to deter abuse of anonymous feedback. This can be achieved by making them aware that on exceptional occasions creator of the feedback can be revealed.
From time to time, conduct surveys on or discuss the topic of anonymous feedback with all your team members. Check with them to see if anonymous feedback is helping them in any way or if it is turning out to be more of a medium to vent anger. It will only make sense to continue using anonymous feedback if it has a positive impact on the team’s behaviour.
What other things do you think will be helpful to make the best of anonymous feedback, let us know in the comments.