Another significant Neverware memory is going over the company survey results. It was considered pretty important by most people that the submissions remain anonymous. A lot of the time that seemed fine, but sometimes it made very hard to make useful changes.
Anonymity can be pretty hard to achieve in the first place in small communities (Neverware was only 25 to 30 people when I was in a position to help evaluate the company survey). There’s the classic issue of speaking up about your boss when you’re one of only two people reporting to them, or complaining about something that everyone knows only affects you.
Still, I think it can be a great way to help surface issues that people would otherwise be uncomfortable bringing up. Not everyone might be comfortable attaching their name when they say “I don’t think I’m getting paid enough”, there’s a bit of a social risk (and in some companies – not Neverware – an employment risk) involved in speaking up about compensation. But when a bunch of people speak up about it anonymously, it can indicate to management that this needs to be addressed.
The problem with anonymity comes in when the few commenters (or only commenter) on a topic are insufficiently clear on what the issue is. This might not be their fault or yours, it might just be that you don’t have the context to understand what they’re frustrated by. If you knew who it was you could go to them and ask for clarity, but anonymity makes it so that if you can’t understand the feedback your hands are basically tied.
Sometimes you can bring the issue to the community/organization and say “we’re not sure what to do about this, any suggestions?” Sometimes the original commenter will be able to speak up, with or without outing themselves, and provide some additional context. Sometimes that isn’t possible.
As a manager who cares about the people you work with, it can be very hard to get feedback, to know that someone is unhappy, and not be able to act on it due to a lack of information. It can make removing anonymity seem very appealing.
Still, anonymity is an important tool for surfacing feedback, it’s just not always beneficial.