The importance of anonymity in 360 reviews

The importance of anonymity in 360 reviews

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The key to a good 360 review is ensuring anonymity of feedback, and making sure that all staff know the answers they give will be treated in confidence.
If you are using an online appraisal system, you need to ensure that it has robust and flexible permissions settings, and that you configure those settings to give access to the right people in the company.

Why so secretive? 

There are companies who believe anonymity of feedback implies a lack of openness in the workplace, and would rather promote face-to-face honesty in keeping with their company culture. 

However, for most companies, and especially for larger organisations, it is not practical to rely solely on face to face communication for feedback on performance. Even for smaller teams, it is unlikely that everyone will be comfortable giving open and truly honest feedback about their co-workers in this manner.
It can also be the case that managers and HR mistakenly think they have a culture of openness but in fact employees disagree.

How to make your workforce comfortable

1. At the very start of the appraisal process you should build an environment that encourages communication and honesty. 

2. Let employees know early on that review feedback will be confidential and all reviewers will remain anonymous. This will put participants at ease from the beginning. 

3. Reinforce the idea that the whole process is a positive one. It is not something difficult, time consuming or scary. It gives employees the chance to voice concerns and ideas – and know that they are really being listened to.

How to retain anonymity

1. Choose the right number of respondents to ask for feedback. Generally users are required to choose at least 3. This removes the ability to work out which feedback came from which respondent.

2. Use mostly closed-ended questions. Open-ended questions require specific responses that can sometimes infer who was writing the feedback. Carefully worded questions can help avoid this. You may also find it useful to include the option to provide free text answers.

3. Make sure those chosen to give feedback are colleagues who work with an individual regularly will be open and honest in their responses.  It helps ensure both you and the reviewer are comfortable, at ease and that the review is fair.

Are there any exceptions to the rule?

Feedback from line managers is a common exception. As line managers need to explain development requirements and other feedback to individual employees, it might make sense to make their feedback known to the employee. However, this depends on the organisation. You may wish to include managerial feedback with other employee feedback, anonymously. Think about what works best for your organisation.

Some businesses also find it useful to include feedback from clients and suppliers. This feedback, in combination with feedback from peers can provide a clearer picture of performance. It may not be feasible in these cases to ensure that feedback remains anonymous. 

There are a few other circumstances that may warrant breaching confidentiality.

For instance, issues may arise from a review that need to be resolved face-to-face. In this case anonymity might need to be broken. 

This is a decision that must be made with care. For most, review anonymity is paramount to the success of a review; without it you are left with employees who distrust the process meaning review feedback will not give an accurate picture of performance. 

Generally speaking, keeping 360 reviews anonymous means that the feedback you get is honest, useful, and can highlight areas for improvement that may never come to light otherwise. Using that feedback means you are able to address skills gaps and improve performance throughout your organisation based on evidence rather than guesswork.

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