Getting and Giving Feedback: Anonymous or Accountable?
A recent article in the Wall Street Journal focused on an organizational paradox. While senior executives understand and acknowledge the need for open, honest feedback, some are perplexed by the nature of anonymous comments and complaints being filed by team members. The question they wrestle with is this: Is it ok for employees to launch verbal attacks (sometimes inappropriate and highly offensive) on management and their co-workers under cover of anonymity? On the other hand, will they be as willing to share their opinions if they are required to put their name to it?
One thing is certain. The practice of allowing, even encouraging anonymous comments, questions, feedback, and opinions from employees has as many opponents as it does supporters.
According to the article’s author, Katherine Bindley, some companies that have made it a practice to encourage honest feedback by offering anonymity are now re-thinking this approach. One example is LinkedIn which provided employees the opportunity for anonymous comments for the first time following a town hall meeting amid last summer’s social unrest. CEO Ryan Roslansky was profoundly disappointed with what he called “appalling” comments made by some. The intention of providing a safe space for unfettered comments also made it possible for some to add what he described as “offensive comments without accountability.” The experience has them re-thinking this approach.
Some argue that not offering employees an opportunity to speak their mind anonymously and without fear of being “called out” will shut down an important and needed source of open, honest feedback. While detractors agree with the need to hear the true thoughts, suggestions, and feelings of their team members, they are concerned with comments that can be hurtful, destructive, or worse; comments that may not be made if their source had to disclose their name. What’s a leader to do?
In speaking about this with a number of entrepreneurial business leaders, it’s clear that the challenge is real and profound. While there is an argument to be made on both sides, one thing seems clear. The highest and best performing organizational cultures encourage, require, and expect both honesty and accountability and they enjoy the benefits of both. This type of culture, while rare in organizations is nonetheless aspirational. The road to get there starts where you are now.
The level of trust and accountability required to achieve a high performing culture takes no small amount of commitment and time. Trust is not an all or nothing proposition. It ebbs and flows along a continuum. Once a trust is violated, it can take months and even years of observable behavior just to get back to where it was before it was compromised. As Steven Covey put it “you can’t talk yourself out of a problem you behaved your way into”.
Building a high-performing culture where honesty, accountability, consideration, and respect for each individual are behavioral norms isn’t quick or easy. But it is work worth doing.
To assess the current state of your organization’s culture and develop a plan for measurable improvement, contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Joseph P. Truncale, Ph.D., CAE, is the Founder and Principal of Alexander Joseph Associates, a privately held consultancy specializing in executive business advisory services with clients throughout the graphic communications industry.
Joe spent 30 years with NAPL, including 11 years as President and CEO. He is an adjunct professor at NYU teaching graduate courses in Executive Leadership; Financial Management and Analysis; Finance for Marketing Decisions; and Leadership: The C Suite Perspective. He may be reached at Joe@ajstrategy.com. Phone or text: (201) 394-8160.