What anonymous feedback will (and won’t) tell you
Aperformance evaluation can be a powerful tool for making a team more effective. The first message that consultants and human resources professionals often communicate on these surveys is: “To ensure that the team gets the best data and feels protected, we will make sure responses are confidential.” The widespread assumption is that if team members know their answers are confidential, they will respond honestly. But if you ask for confidential feedback, it might create the very results you are trying to avoid.
If team members are reluctant to have their names associated with their responses, then you may have already identified the most signif icant problem: lack of t r ust. Leaders routinely i nsist t hat employees be accountable as a team, so the logic follows that they should also be accountable for giving good critical feedback. But enabling respondents to comment without being l i nked to t heir responses actually catalyses the situation the survey is designed to overcome: It seeks to create increased accountability using a process that lacks transparency and precludes accountability.
Without a basic level of trust among team members (including the leader), team performance, working relationships and individual well-being suffer. And when it comes to the negative outcomes of confidential surveys, there are some key unintended consequences you might recognise. I saw all of these outcomes early in my career, when I designed and administered surveys for the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center, and facilitated feedback meetings for leaders and their teams: