People are still talking about Amazon's work environment. Apparently, a lot of talking goes on inside Amazon as well, and that can cause some people to cry. While crying happens, it shouldn't be a regular occurrence in any business outside funeral homes.
So, do we say, "Don't let people give feedback to peers? Save all feedback for once a year sit-down meetings with the boss." Or, perhaps, my least favorite, "Don't tell anyone directly about what you think-talk behind their backs and eventually the message will get to your target." Because that's what you're really asking for if you want to discourage feedback because it hurts feelings.
Consider this, from Arnaud Grunwald, CEO of Hyphen, a company which specializes in helping companies set up anonymous feedback systems. He says:
More and more companies understand that the future of feedback is employee-driven, anonymous, mobile-first and real-time. And that done well, anonymous feedback is much superior than when it is tethered to a profile. Which executive, team lead or VP of HR would not rather know things now than see them on Glassdoor when it's too late? Our customers love to let employees do the talking on their mobile phones: they can then identify any "unknown unknowns" in real-time, make quick decisions and communicate back to their employees in very little time. They apply the same rigor as the one they apply to customer issues.
Wise leadership wants to know what people are thinking. They can choose to ignore things, of course, but then that's a conscious decision, not willful blindness. (And willful blindness is a real problem with leadership. Consider these wise words: “You know, the very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common: they don't alter their views to fit the facts; they alter the facts to fit their views.” The Doctor (from Doctor Who) said it, but it doesn't mean it's not true.)
As Grunbaum said, feedback is incredibly valuable, but it can also be a complete disaster if not done properly. Here are some things you can do to make your feedback-either anonymously given or face to face feedback-work and cut down on the bad feelings and crying.
Be specific. If you tell someone, "Your presentation was lousy," that's not at all helpful, it's just mean. Instead, tell the person precisely what the problem was. For instance: "You mumbled during your presentation and I had a hard time hearing" or "I had trouble following the logic between the lower sales and the implementation of this program. Could you send out follow up information?" or "You fidget a lot when you present. I thought you might want to know!"
With each of these, the person knows what she can work on. A "your presentation was lousy" message gives no help at all and should be discouraged.
Be helpful. While peers can't generally do this anonymously, managers certainly should and managers should be able to help out. If an employee receives feedback criticizing his presentation, he should be able to go to his manager and say, "I received this feedback. Can you help me?" If a business isn't interested in offering training and mentoring, then kill your feedback system. Don't ask if you aren't going to do anything with it.
Encourage positive feedback. If you implement an anonymous feedback system, make sure you encourage people to be positive too. Ask people to be specific in their positive feedback as well. A "Hey, great presentation!" certainly makes someone feel great, but a "Hey, loved the way you used those video clips to drive your points home," is even better. Now the person knows why the presentation was awesome.
Remind people that anonymity isn't absolute. You're just as liable for a sexual harassment claim if it comes through your anonymous feedback system as you are if the person made the remark to the victim's face. Additionally, if an employee receives feedback about his presentation, there are limited numbers of people who were at that presentation. Figuring out who said it is not going to be difficult. Remind people that if you wouldn't say it to your peer's face, don't say it at all. It's true that an anonymous message to the CEO will likely remain anonymous, but peer to peer ones will not.
Abusers need to be dealt with. Along with the reminder that anonymity isn't absolute, remind people that if they use it incorrectly-to embarrass or harass people-for example, that person will be dealt with. Your system should flag people who make repeated anonymous reports, especially to the same person. You may wish to give people a maximum number of messages they can send within a week's time.
This should not be a tool used by managers. If a manager wants to send nice pick me up anonymous feedback to her staff, great. If she wants to use this as a way to manage, she's not a good manager. One of the biggest responsibilities of a manager is to provide meaningful feedback to her direct reports. Managers should give feedback personally and provide both support for improvement and clear information about how poor performance affects the person's standing.
Don't discourage a peer feedback system. It can be a valuable tool for improvement, but do it the right way. Otherwise, it becomes an electronic bullying tool.