By Chally Kacelnik
A couple of years ago, I was working on a current state analysis for an organisation that was in the midst of significant change. We were gathering data for the analysis in lots of different ways, one of which was an anonymous survey. This is a useful tool for several reasons, but it’s particularly important for getting accurate information in a low trust environment in which people fear a backlash for being honest.
Now, in both paper and electronic form, this survey was genuinely anonymous. I know because I’m the one who set it up. However, we got fearful questions about what data we were gathering about individuals’ computers and a few sarcastic comments in the survey responses (“yeah right, anonymous”).
What was the problem? It turned out that the organisation had previously set up so-called anonymous feedback mechanisms that people had used in good faith – only to get hauled into their managers’ offices and questioned about their responses. The question was no longer about why some people didn’t take the anonymity of our survey at face value – it was about why anyone was brave enough to fill it out at all.
The answer is that they wanted to help improve their organisation so that dynamics like this were no longer occurring. The contribution of staff like these ultimately helped the organisation to turn things around.
If you want genuine contributions and organisational change, genuine mechanisms for anonymous feedback are very helpful. Even if you consider that you generally have a high trust environment, you may never know what’s going on for another person and their experiences at work. A genuinely positive culture is one in which people don’t just assert that it’s positive and leave it at that. It’s one that leaves open the possibility that not everything is going well all the time, and encourages people to speak up.
Have a secure suggestion box – and keep it out of the direct view of a camera. Have an electronic survey or intranet suggestion page – and make sure you’re not tracking people’s email addresses or computer identification. People who are still trying to make things better when they’re scared of a backlash, or don’t have a lot of faith that anything positive will happen, are people from whom you really need to hear.
Giving people lots of options for giving suggestions, ideas, and feedback – including anonymous means – will help foster a robust and healthy organisation.