If you’re the kind of leader who’s committed to improving company culture, you probably fancy yourself as progressive, approachable, and easy to talk to. You’ve probably even told your employees about your open-door policy. But how many of your employees actually walked through that “open door” this week? This month? This quarter?
It’s hard to be completely candid with someone if that person has the ability to fire you or make your life miserable. And given how booked many managers’ schedules are, employees may find it difficult to even schedule some time to speak — even if that manager is completely open to the conversation.
In our experience, anonymous surveys help protect employees so they can speak their true thoughts without needing to play politics or save face. This type of feedback digs beneath the surface and offers the deep insight that employers truly want to hear. And, as 360-degree feedback consultants Leanne Atwater and David Waldman note, anonymous surveys offer managers the opportunity for “increased self-awareness and improved individual performance.”
One key thing to remember with anonymous surveys is to focus on what, not who. Some managers might get a survey back, surprised by a few low scores on a particular question or alarmingly negative feedback. Anybody would want to identify the "bad apple," and a manager might be tempted to investigate, if not outright ask, which employees gave negative responses.
Don’t fall into that temptation! If you want to develop trust amongst the team, an anonymous survey conveys that you respect employees’ privacy and value their input, even on sensitive or unpopular topics. Breaking the promise of anonymity by seeking out the bearer of negative news destroys trust and sends the culture backward.
TINYpulse clients tell it best. Monica Wilke of Rider Insurance Company says her team’s regular surveys "provide a lot of useful information as to how employees are feeling. Since employees can respond anonymously, we're getting very honest feedback. Also, the surveys give us a chance to clear up some misconceptions that employees have about various procedures in the company."
Story: Our client, the COO of a nonprofit, was new to his organization. When he first started, he interviewed each employee in person and asked for their candid assessment of the organization. As a whole, the responses were fairly positive.
However, after baseline TINYpulse survey responses came in, he was floored! It was obvious employees had tempered their original in-person feedback. He quickly saw only tepid levels of employee happiness. And, with subsequent TINYpulse surveys, he realized a good deal of employees felt undervalued as well. It became obvious that only with anonymity did colleagues feel the freedom they needed to be completely honest.
Though jarring, our client included these findings in the next team-building meeting. He opened the topic for discussion, which allowed employees to not only voice their concerns but also proactively provide suggestions to improve the situation. By quickly taking action on some of those suggestions our client was able to show that he valued employee feedback and was committed to improving the work environment step by step.