What anony­mous feed­back will (and won’t) tell you

ROGER SCH­WARZ

Finweek English Edition - - MANAGEMENT -

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:

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