Here's An Open Suggestion About Anonymous Feedback - Ditch It
Anonymous feedback does not lead to learning, accountability or problem solving. Stop asking for it, and do this instead
One of the most important leadership skills is the ability to identify when something in your organization no longer serves its purpose. For my company, Acceleration Partners, this was our practice of anonymous feedback, which became ineffective as we grew from a company of 30 to over 300 in six years.
After several years of using a software tool called Tiny Pulse to collect weekly anonymous feedback, we decided to ditch the tool, and stop our practice of sourcing anonymous questions in our town hall meetings.
This change did not mean we didn’t offer any options for anonymous feedback. It’s important to keep anonymous channels open for cases where an employee has a real fear of retaliation, such as when they are being harassed or treated inappropriately by a colleague or supervisor.
But for cases where an employee wanted to give feedback on our business, strategy, leadership or processes, we set the expectation that those comments were best handled through a transparent conversation which would help us respond to the exact nature and source of the problem.
Anonymous feedback is a closely held process for many businesses, but most companies would be well served to question the efficacy of this approach, especially as they grow. Here’s why.
If employees can’t speak freely, your culture isn’t healthy
I can hear the objections right now from some leaders. Many people reading this are no doubt thinking, “well if my team can’t share honest feedback anonymously, they’ll never say it at all.”
I’ll admit that is true for a lot of companies. I’ll add that those companies do not have a healthy culture.
One of the bedrock elements of any healthy company culture is psychological safety, which is trust at scale. Psychological safety ensures employees know that they can safely share feedback, or even criticism, about people or processes without fear of retaliation. If your employees are afraid to share feedback openly, they do not feel psychologically safe.
The best way to develop psychological safety around feedback is to lead by example. The most effective leaders I know have an open-door policy for feedback. They make it clear they are open to feedback on any topic. They may even highlight examples of things they have changed because of feedback on a company call or in another all-company channel.
If you think you need anonymous feedback to understand what’s happening in your organization, you actually need psychological safety. Don’t let anonymous feedback be the crutch that keeps you from developing more trust within your team.
Anonymous feedback often doesn’t lead to problem solving
When we used to regularly solicit anonymous feedback, micromanagement was a particularly common complaint, as were issues with delegation. Unfortunately, because the feedback was anonymous, we had no clue where the manager or team issue fell within our organization.
Essentially, getting this type of specific, anonymous feedback left us with two options:
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