By Chris Cancialosi – Forbes
We live in an era of oversharing. While most people are comfortable sharing what they ate for lunch, what they watched on TV, and what their relationship status is with 500 of their “closest” friends on Facebook and Twitter, the idea of telling their boss what they really think still feels pretty risky.
The traditional feedback process that’s become the norm in most businesses today relies on anonymous systems so employees can feel safe being open and honest with their employers. But there’s something fundamentally wrong if your employees are fearful to be open when providing feedback.
Meanwhile, leaders worry their employees won’t be forthcoming with their opinions unless they’re anonymous, so they default to the nameless employee survey, which limits their ability to follow up with employees who have particularly helpful ideas.
The idea of anonymity is outdated and ultimately unproductive. In fact, the confidentiality can interfere with the accountability you’re looking to build on your team and lead to other unintended consequences, including:
1. Skewed results. In most organizations, a small minority harbors a tremendous amount of anger toward leadership or their workplace in general. An anonymous survey just gives them a platform to vent. When their names aren’t attached, their feedback can be pointed, jaded, and even inflammatory, which can skew your results.
2. Misinterpreted feedback. The purpose of feedback is to gather information to help you make better business decisions. Unfortunately, with unidentified feedback, there’s no way to understand the context of issues that may only affect one department or even one employee. You may end up misinterpreting the data, which can cause you to make the wrong decisions.
3. A lack of follow-up. If a respondent has a moment of brilliance in an anonymous survey, you have no way to dig deeper into his ideas or recognize this visionary for his contribution. On the other hand, if an employee is unhappy about something, you miss the chance to have a productive conversation to identify solutions.
Non-anonymous feedback allows you to initiate that conversation and build upon the feedback loop throughout the year.
4. Limited responsiveness. Gathering anonymous feedback is time-consuming. You must first ask employees to fill out a survey, take part in a focus group, or share opinions in a confidential interview. By the time someone has gathered and processed the data, the information may no longer be relevant.
5. The inability to hold leaders accountable. Unfortunately, some leaders will react inappropriately to feedback, which is why organizations favor anonymity in the first place. Rather than tailoring this process to ineffective leaders, you need to start holding them accountable.
An open feedback system establishes an environment where leaders must learn how to accept criticism so employees feel comfortable being open and honest.
How to Create a Transparent Feedback Loop
If you want to encourage transparency and increase engagement in your organization, it’s time to ask employees to cowboy up and take ownership of their ideas. With that said, you’re also going to have to take responsibility for creating an environment where people feel safe sharing.
Moving from an anonymous survey to a transparent feedback loop won’t be easy or painless, but there are several things you can do to make the transition successful:
Invest in a platform to gather feedback. Thanks to techie wizards, a variety of platforms are now available to tackle the issue of employee engagement. Software like Officevibe, Vennli, and 15Five allows you to gather meaningful feedback from employees on a regular basis that you can use to make critical business decisions.
Coach supervisors on how to respond to feedback. For this process to work, leadership must understand how their reactions to feedback can shut down an employee’s willingness to participate. In those instances when a supervisor responds inappropriately to feedback, you must be willing to take swift action. If employees can’t go to leadership with their concerns, resentment may spread within the ranks.
Show employees it’s OK. Such a drastic change in feedback style will be met with some apprehension. However, the best approach is to jump in with both feet and reward people who provide useful feedback. Look for ways to demonstrate how you’re using feedback to implement positive changes so employees see that it’s safe — and even commendable — to be honest.
Removing anonymity allows your employees to become active players in the decision-making process, which can boost their dedication and allow your team to benefit from multiple perspectives. When you open an honest dialogue with employees, you can expand on ideas, gather continual feedback, and arrive at productive solutions to improve your company.