Continuous feedback is an essential element of organizations seeking to create a high-performance culture. If you’re investing in your employees’ success, it only makes sense to let them know where they’re succeeding as well as the areas where they need to grow. But what’s the best environment for encouraging feedback?
On the one hand, it may be tempting to create systems for sharing feedback anonymously. Conventional wisdom says that when you give anonymous feedback, you can be more candid and honest. You can share your thoughts without fear of hurting someone’s feelings or getting involved in office politics—or so the thinking goes.
However, if your goal for creating a culture of feedback is to encourage more meaningful development conversations, we’ve seen that removing anonymity and clearly attributing feedback to a specific person makes a greater impact. We’ve seen this firsthand with one of our customers—Enjoy shifted from anonymous to named feedback and quickly saw feedback engagement increase significantly, a testament to the benefits of attributed feedback. It turned out that employees were much more excited about giving or receiving feedback when it was tied to specific context and relationships.
We know it can be a bit tough for some people to feel comfortable giving attributed feedback, so we always suggest you start with positive feedback to ease into it. This creates a trusting foundation for more constructive feedback down the line.
Here are five reasons why we believe attributed feedback is the best approach:
1. It provides context
When feedback is anonymous, it’s easy to brush it off, assuming that the person who wrote it doesn’t really know you or is referring to a one-off situation rather than your regular behavior. However, when someone knows who the feedback is coming from, they can more easily understand the context surrounding the feedback.
While there are a number of different ways to give feedback (get an overview of our recommendations in the eBook “How to Deliver High-Quality Feedback That Drives Performance”), one common thread throughout all approaches is that they rely on context. By grounding the recipient in a concrete moment or behavior, you boost the likelihood that they’ll be able to act upon your feedback. And this is much easier to accomplish when the feedback is coming from a coworker with a face and a name!
2. It leads to more specificity
When feedback is anonymous, anonymity takes precedence over usefulness: The people giving it may worry that if they’re too specific, it will be easy for the recipient to guess who the feedback is coming from. This leads to feedback that’s vague and lacking relevant details. As we mentioned earlier, it’s easier for people to dismiss this type of feedback since it doesn’t seem to reflect their actual behavior or feel relevant.
On the other hand, when feedback is given openly, it is much easier to provide specific examples. Feedback givers can refer to particular projects, meetings, or events, which helps recipients internalize the feedback and apply it to their future work.
3. It promotes better communication
One of the main reasons for giving feedback anonymously is that it avoids potentially difficult conversations. But this is exactly the reason why it’s beneficial to attribute feedback to a specific person—it encourages both givers and recipients to challenge themselves to have these conversations and become better at communicating as a result.
It makes sense that talking about strengths makes people feel better and boosts engagement, but giving constructive feedback is a skill that takes practice and courage. By encouraging employees to share and accept both types of feedback, you’re giving them communication and interpersonal skills that will be valuable throughout their careers. Ultimately, this will help employees develop empathy for one another and sustain a trusting feedback relationship.
By making feedback conversations a regular occurence, you not only give employees the ability to improve their communication skills, but you also show that feedback shouldn’t be scary or intimidating. In the Harvard Business Review article “Can Your Employees Really Speak Freely?”, James R. Detert and Ethan R. Burris write, “If you ask for input frequently and hold the conversations face-to-face, idea sharing will feel less ominous and more natural.”
4. It leads to increased retention and stronger performance
While it may seem that recognition and feedback can be given anonymously to have the same effects, there are also a number of studies that have shown that removing anonymity from the process leads to increased retention and stronger performance. Given many of the points we’ve discussed so far, this makes sense—named feedback provides more context and specificity and leads to better communication, so it only follows that it would lead to employees feeling more motivated about their jobs and likely to stay.
5. It sends the message that feedback is encouraged
When feedback is anonymized, you undermine the benefits of giving feedback and underscore the risk of speaking up. By associating feedback with a specific person, you’re demonstrating that there’s no risk involved in giving feedback, and you encourage a culture of feedback to thrive.
If you’re interested in genuinely creating a culture of feedback and encouraging your employees to perform to the best of their abilities, anonymous feedback is unlikely to help you achieve those goals. Create an environment where employees share feedback openly, and it won’t take long to enjoy many of the benefits we’ve described here.
Looking for more concrete tips on improving your approach to feedback? Download our eBook, “How to Build a Culture of Continuous Feedback & Development.”