Tag Archives: anonymity

Who Said That?

Disrupt HR is an event made up of short form Ignite talks, and while the talk format is very popular and increasingly common, yesterday’s session was the first time a series of talks like this were offered under the Disrupt HR banner in London. I couldn’t make it to the event, and when time permitted, I was keeping an eye on the Twitter feed. One of the talks was titled HappyOrNot and the constant pulse of employee satisfaction. During the talk, the speaker stated that real time continuous measurement and feedback of your employees pulse is essential in our changing world, and for this feedback to be effective it needs to be:

  • Easy
  • Effortless
  • Anonymous

Putting aside a nagging concern I have about the somewhat Orwellian nature of continuous measurement and feedback, it feels right that the process of gathering data should be easy. I’m less convinced about the idea that feedback should be effortless. I may have misunderstood where the speaker is coming from here, and I’d like to think that some effort has gone into the feedback I exchange with you, colleagues, and customers.

Next on the list is anonymity – and my feedback alarm bells are ringing off the hook. I do not understand why our default option is to insist on hiding our feedback behind a veil of anonymity. I accept that this is the way we’ve always done it, and I believe this needs to change. I wrote about enforced anonymity in a little more detail back at the beginning of 2015, and in essence my point at that time was:

If I have ideas about how we might work differently and you really want my opinion, then you need to know who I am so we can act together. In these circumstances, anonymity is completely disempowering. What your enforced anonymity says to me is that you don’t really want to work coactively with me and with others; you are just using the opportunity to survey our feelings and attitudes as a means of satisfying yourself.

Throughout my work – two things people frequently ask for in their working relationships are openness, and honesty. Look around and you will find these two qualities among many sets of company values too. Often – when I dig deeper, people tell me that in reality – they feel a need to be anonymous in order to be honest. There’s not a lack of feedback issue here, this is about a lack of trust. Anonymity should be an option, not the norm, not enforced.

At last week’s PPMA seminar, one of the conversations which arose in the Reflect and Connect session Meg Peppin and I facilitated was around how HR can loosen off control, in pursuit of more adult, human relationships. The feeling was that currently, we manage and control to mitigate the rogue element, the spanner in the works, when it would be more satisfying, if we could trust more, control less, and accept that anomalies will occur (just like they do already) and work with them as they arise. Challenging? Sure. Worth pursuing? I think so, to do otherwise simply risks reinforcing the perception of HR as the employer’s police/enforcement, and here we are back to Orwell again.

One last observation – this discussion percolated on Twitter, a place where trolling is rife. What facilitates that trolling? What makes it easy, effortless? Anonymity.

When I challenge the view that enforced anonymity is a good thing, and ask for any data or research to support this assertion – I don’t receive any. It may be out there, and I cannot find it. Please help if you can, I’d love to understand more about why we cling so tightly to this belief.

Update

Trish McFarlane got in touch to share this article written by Ben Eubanks on why confidential is better than anonymous.

 

 

I Need You To Know Who I Am

In a previous life working for Megacorp Inc., I shared some responsibility for surveying staff on how they felt about working there. In common with most employee surveys, we forced anonymity on our people. Apparently this was done so that staff could speak up, and feedback honestly and openly, without fear of retribution.

original artwork by Doug Shaw

Artwork by yours truly – with apologies to Rene Magritte

What this enforced anonymity indicated to me is that the business has a deeper problem, a lack of trust. I took a look at some of the data from the previous five years surveys, which showed me there was growing, strong disagreement to statements such as:

  • It is safe to speak up
  • Change is managed well here
  • Megacorp Inc. keeps things simple

Conversely – the number of people strongly agreeing with these statements had flatlined over the same period of time.

I’m no expert, but I’m seeing things here that make me think maybe enforced anonymity isn’t the key to unlocking open honest feedback.

I showed my findings to the divisional Managing Director who agreed to meet with me and talk about what I was seeing. He never showed up for the meeting, then cancelled a rearranged meeting before telling me I should take the information to HR. ‘People stuff – that’s their job’. In this case, I think you can add a total lack of interest to the lack of trust I mentioned earlier.

This data shows me there are people at work who do not feel they can speak up for fear of retribution, and I have experienced that myself too. However I’m no fan of anonymity, and I believe this fear is something we need to help people through. Forcing anonymity on people is not helping. In it’s own way – this simple act reinforces the kind of behavior we are saying that we don’t want.

When I worked on the survey team, I always asked if we could make anonymity optional, so that those who choose to stand by their comments can do so. My request was always refused, though never with a satisfactory explanation.

When I completed the survey myself, I used to frig the system by adding my name in every open comment box I could, knowing that colleagues would go in behind the scenes and redact my name, and the name of anyone else trying to be heard. My reason for doing this was not purely mischievous, more importantly it was driven by a desire to be engaged in making our work better.

If I have ideas about how we might work differently and you really want my opinion, then you need to know who I am so we can act together. In these circumstances, anonymity is completely disempowering. What your enforced anonymity says to me is that you don’t really want to work coactively with me and with others; you are just using the opportunity to survey our feelings and attitudes as a means of satisfying yourself.

I often spent time on the road, visiting colleagues in offices all over the country. When I asked how they felt about the surveying process, two things regularly came up:

We don’t trust that the survey is anonymous

Nothing changes as a result of what we say

Pretty much says it all, huh.

The next time you are tasked with surveying the attitude of your staff, or asked to complete the survey, consider this: I need you to know who I am; otherwise, what’s the point?

Note: A version of this post first appeared on HRExaminer in January 2015.