Anonymous Feedback Surveys – Are they truly effective?


In all the companies that I have worked for so far (one Management Consulting firm, two IT Service Provider firms and one Bank, all multinational companies with operations spanning all 5 continents), I have participated in Employee Satisfaction Surveys annually. And I have not just been a participant in these surveys, I have also led teams which participated in these surveys and have acted upon the findings of such surveys.

One question which bugged me about all these surveys was the fact that they were completely anonymous and this to a great extent, in my opinion took a lot of ‘context’ away from the survey itself. While broad inferences can be drawn from the data of such surveys (example, 85% of our employees feel confident in the Senior Leadership of the company), my question remains who are the remaining 15% of the employee population who are not as confident, what can be done about convincing them about the efficiency of the Senior Leadership. I just used this one question as an example, and am sure readers will get the drift of what I am saying.

In fact, one huge issue I have with anonymous surveys is more around the 45% of respondents, 35% of respondents type of questions. If 45% of my team (ie, people who named me as their supervisor in the survey) are unhappy with my performance, do I rest in peace knowing that around half of my team feels Ok with my performance or do I try and figure out how to keep the other half ready. Even if I choose to work on improving my performance, which half do I approach to find out what exactly their concerns are in terms of improving my performance.

While I understand the inherent need for anonymity in such 360 degree feedback surveys (fear of negative consequences, fear of unnecessary tensions between supervisors and subordinates), the same anonymity also renders such surveys useless when it comes to planning focused action-points to be taken.

Read this HBR Blog [Link to post] which talks about what anonymous feedback will (and more importantly won’t) tell us.

The author talks about how the lack of basic trust between supervisors and subordinates is what forces such feedback to be anonymous and that in my opinion is probably a bigger issue than anything else in the feedback survey questionnaire. If there is no trust in this relationship, then in my opinion, the building blocks of any organization are quite shaky and this needs to be addressed first before anything else. While I understand that not all supervisors are confident enough of their abilities to overcome shortcomings, and that not all subordinates are confident enough about themselves to criticize their supervisor’s working style and decisions, the fact remains that if an organization truly wants to be transparent in all its internal dealings, the only way forward would be to remove this ‘anonymity’ condition in feedback surveys.

At the bare minimum, they should at least have additional ‘non-anonymous’ surveys to solicit feedback about the true problematic areas for the company. This is probably the only way to direct focused action on the problem areas and address them decisively.

I would really love to hear out your thoughts and comments on this particular topic.

Image courtesy : Google images search for ‘dilbert feedback cartoon’

4 thoughts on “Anonymous Feedback Surveys – Are they truly effective?

  1. feedback is a continuous variable, not discrete, hence 1on1 serve to be a better guide of feedback. “Really” listening to people when they talk to you can also provide verbal and non-verbal cues for most managers. This helps the mgr interact better every time, removing surprises in anonymous or non-anonymous feedback

    • @Krishnan, completely agree with you when you say that feedback is continuous (although not necessarily a variable in the truest sense of the term 😀 ). You make an awesome point that really listening to people when they talk provides both verbal and non verbal cues (not just for managers, but also for the subordinates as well). In fact, I personally believe that all anonymous feedback should be removed, provided the company can truly build a culture of openness where people are not scared to present their viewpoints on any and every thing.

  2. Anonymous feedback is a necessary evil to bring out what cant be brought about under other circumstances and like you mentioned, it captures a broader spectrum rather than individualized feedback, for which the best way is an honest 1 on 1 🙂

    • @Aby, that’s a good point that you make regarding getting feedback from a broader spectrum. Having said that, don’t you think a more open, transparent and broad minded outlook is required in India regarding this whole concept of feedback?

Let me know what you think about this post...

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s