How to Approach the Problem of Anonymous Feedback

Two movie scenes come to mind when I think about anonymous feedback:

  1. From Life Partners, 2014
  2. From Legally Blonde 2, 2003

Excuse my poor examples, but bear with me, it’ll make sense.

In Life Partners, Sasha has just received a bunch of anonymous notes from colleagues. She’s devastated because they’re all negative.

In Legally Blonde, Elle introduces “The Snap Cup” where you’re supposed to come up with compliments for your colleagues and share them anonymously.

Which one of those methods do you think renders better results?

According to science,

People are more productive when they are happy.

They find solutions more easily, enjoy their job more, and overall feel more connected and engaged with their teams and the company in general.

This is a gold mine for managers because it gives you an easy solution to solve your “engagement problem” and also attract more millennials to your teams. When you offer something that makes people happy, they will fight to work for you and bring a lot of energy and enthusiasm to your projects.

So, whenever possible, start off on a positive note.

Just look at buffer. Far from a large enterprise, their record of 1000 candidates per job offer is unheard of in the startup world. If you look at what they offer their employees, you’ll see why the demand is so high.

perksandbenefitsatbuffer

Wouldn’t you be happy with this arrangement? (By the way, this is for Happiness Hero. There are other formulas for the different positions.)

bufferpostcard

Not only do they offer a LOT, but they also provide great customer service because they make sure they make you, the customer, happy. (See image on the left.)

So that’s one way to achieve great results: Strategize for happiness on every level of your business.

And I mean, every level.

When it comes to feedback,

Even though there are different types of people and as such, every one of them requires different kind of feedback, there’s a universal fact that:

Positive reinforcement works better than its negative counterpart.

In the first film I mentioned, Sasha wasn’t motivated to improve her service or even stay with the company. She simply wanted a new job.

In the second film Elle inspired her colleagues to be nicer to one another and to take time to share the small joys in the snap cup as well. (The cup even moved to Congress, but that was more satirical than realistic.)

So when you’re thinking about positive feedback, you have to consider the way it’s presented. As a leader, you can encourage certain types of feedback more than others, or straight out make a rule “no badmouthing”.

I recently talked to a girl who used to work at Achievers, who had daily scrum meetings where they shared happy news about their lives. Usually, at a scrum meeting you share your goals and achievements, but these guys just wanted to wake everyone up and make them engage with one another on a more meaningful level. I was told it made everybody smile.

As for constructive feedback,

It is very much useful and desired. However, when it’s presented in an anonymous context, it forces you to start thinking things like, ‘who could have said that’ and ‘am I in trouble’, etc.

You must always think of the value something brings to people’s lives.

Most companies complain about anonymous feedback and it’s probably because the feedback itself is not presented in the right context. If you think about it, would you rather meet face-to-face with your boss and hear what they have to say about your performance — honestly — along with the criticism and praise, or would you rather get it anonymously?

In the app market a lot of people like anonymous apps because they can speak their minds without being judged publicly, which I think is a cop-out and if more people were brave enough to speak their mind, we would live (and work) in better conditions. If you can’t say something constructive to somebody’s face, you’re giving into your own fear of being confrontational. And most of the time this fear is ungrounded — people often appreciate straightforward feedback.

After all, it’s not personal, it’s business.

I understand about fearing your boss and fearing what your colleagues think about you, but those concerns do not make your life easier or better — they just increase your daily stress. (And let’s remember that the best managers are the ones with a “no bullshit” approach, so if you want to go higher up the ranks, you need to start practicing being direct and honest right now.)

In the name of a stress-free existence,

Let’s be honest in the office and only be anonymous when we have positive things to share. When you share negative feedback anonymously, it’s like you’re admitting that you’re afraid of giving this feedback to the person’s face, and that helps nobody. Fear is the worst driver. (Even worse than the drunk ones.)

So if you insist on anonymous feedback…

If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.

Finally, the most important thing you can do for your team is to foster an environment of encouragement and positive company culture. The rest will follow in the form of grateful employees and personal fulfillment.

Once that happens, your own job satisfaction will increase and the company at large will prosper without any additional incentives.

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Question: What are you doing to foster a positive culture at work?

I’m the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who’ve worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked.

I’m on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.

Introducing New Habits in the Meeting Room

When I was in primary school the principal decided that it would be wise to play the Bulgarian Hymn before classes every single day, so they did. Pretty soon it got so annoying we staged a rebellion and they dropped it.

I realize other schools around the world may be doing it and you might think we were strange to revolt, but it’s hard to rope us in — Bulgarians I mean — if you try, you need to have a pretty fancy rope there, so when you try, we’re so preoccupied with how fancy it is that we forget what it’s there for. You know what I mean?

I have a theory about why this attempt didn’t pan out. Let’s examine the new habit they were trying to introduce to us:

  • it’s always the same, no alterations
  • it’s supposed to inspire us
  • it’s a show of respect

I see various problems with this method. First of all, we’re a bunch of kids, so we really don’t want to be showing respect to anybody instead of happily shuffling in our seats and passing notes. Secondly, after a couple of days it feels like you’re being forced into the same mind-numbing ritual every single day… like being force-fed pancakes every morning of your life.

You get bored. You want out. End of story.

Finally, the fact that it’s always the same suggests that the system works. When something works, you repeat it, over and over.

Okay… but do modern meetings work? I’ll let you answer that one.

If something does not work, don’t try to repeat it over and over, or else you’ll have a revolt at your hands.

Judging by the first two problems, I’ll conclude that the system was broken before it was introduced, thus rendering it completely useless.

In fact, I’ve seen many employees complain about daily scrum meetings for the following reason: instead of increasing productivity and morale, they’re viewed as “just another distraction”. Truth is, some people will see them as such and others won’t — it also depends on character. Ultimately you want to see which companies make it work and which couldn’t, so you can manage an informed opinion before you apply them yourself.

Which leads us back to the question… what is it exactly that makes new habits stick? Is it repetition? Judging by the story I gave you, repetition won’t fix something that’s broken. Is it authority? If the CEO says “we’ll have three-hour meetings every day from now till the end of days”, will people adhere to his command? Probably, but out of fear of losing their jobs. They won’t be looking forward to these meetings, that’s for sure.

So what is it?

In his TED talk about motivation, Dan Pink clearly states that intrinsic motivation works better than external stimuli. Bonuses are not enough when you dread the task or when it’s too hard to complete. This is why there are so many entrepreneurs nowadays — because by being their own bosses, they get to do the things they love. 

Tech giants like Google and Atlassian know that autonomy’s important, so they have created things like “do whatever you want” days and “ShipIt days”. They KNOW their employees, their values, and they respect their needs by meeting them, not just acknowledging them.

It shouldn’t be about someone telling you to do something. The idea should come from you, not from “them”.

Them being managers, CEO’s, and basically anyone in charge.

After I though about this for a while, I remembered Simon Sinek saying:

They don’t show up for us, they show up for themselves.

That’s it! People pick up new habits when they want to pick them up. It’s so obvious and yet so overlooked. Granted, you do your job and everything that’s required of you, but when you don’t like it, productivity saps.

So how can you introduce new habits that people will want to pick up?

Ask them. By learning to ask powerful questions, you are connecting to your team in a powerful way. You’re engaging them.

So ask them what they think would fix the “constant interruptions” problem (in some offices they use headphones). Ask them — individually — how they handle the flood of emails in their inbox (maybe it’s “inbox zero” or a template system). Ask them what hours they’re most productive in (which depends on whether they’re early birds or night owls) and whether they would like the option to take work home or leave it at the office (Volkswagen employees are not allowed to access email after work hours). Ask them whether they would like to try walking meetings. Ask them how the ideal meeting should go.

Percolate has the following rules:

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Your team should easily come up with an even better one if you care enough to ask them and listen to their answers. You don’t have to be the disengaged, arrogant boss, micromanaging everyone. You can be the humble leader your team needs to evolve. You can be better than those before you. Let this be your competitive advantage, not trying to copy someone famous.

I will let you mull this over, but consider the alternative —judging by every meeting you’ve ever had, meetings continue to be unproductive and boring. Nothing changes, nobody does anything about it, you waste money, time, and stress over results while employee engagement declines.

To overcome the same old problems, you must introduce new solutions.

And when you figure it out, tell us! We’d love to hear about it. 🙂

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P.S. And keep your meetings organized with the Meeting Canvas. Hah-yah!

I’m the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who’ve worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked.

I’m on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.

3 Overlooked “Soft” Skills in Leaders — Steve Jobs Had None of Those

For a decade now I’ve been arguing with my father what intelligence means. He (a member of Mensa, believe it or not) argues that IQ surely determines how smart you are, and I (forever the fan of Forrest Gump) will argue that emotional intelligence is sometimes more important than IQ.

In the context of business, I’ve been proven right by surveys (“employers value emotional intelligence over IQ”) and research (employees/executives with higher EQ perform better than others), which makes total sense, especially for managers. When you have to meet and manage people on a daily basis, you need some sort of understanding of people.

The only time a leader doesn’t need to be emotionally intelligent is when he/she’s working with robots.

Then there’s the whole debate about “hard” versus “soft” skills, which is the same thing, really, and it’s completely pointless since an effective leader needs to have both. Let’s take Steve Jobs for example.

Jobs was— and forever will be — known as a great innovator. Some may even go as far as calling him a genius. However:

A genius does not a great leader make, necessarily.

Was he a good leader? A lot of people will say no, simply because:

  1. He didn’t have high emotional intelligence.
  2. He didn’t have some vital soft skills.

I mean, the guy yelled and threw tantrums at work. Around him, employees had to walk on egg-shells and every time someone took the initiative to speak, he would publicly humiliate them. No wonder most of the staff of Apple left prematurely! He was more of a dictator than a leader.

A good leader would be the opposite really, so I’ve taken the liberty to collect 3 somewhat overlooked — because they are “soft” — skills in order to get to the bottom of the question of great leadership:

  1. Empathy
  2. Communication
  3. Humility

There was a time when Psychology was a bogus science and management was straight-forward. However, as the times bring change and we find ourselves in a less straightforward world, I’ve taken to believe that some things “make sense” and other things “make progress”. Whether these soft skills make sense to you or not, they’ve certainly made progress in both scientific and business contexts. So let’s discuss them individually.

Let’s talk about Empathy.

Empathy is the cornerstone of emotional intelligence.

Empathy is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes for a day. It helps us connect and communicate in ways that bind us to our fellow workers. Without it, we are all islands in the same ocean.

Simon Sinek, author of Leaders Eat Last and Start With Why, says:

The lesson I’m learning is that I’m useless by myself. My success hinges entirely on the people I work with — the people who enlist themselves to join me in my vision. And it’s my responsibility to see that they’re working at their best capacity.

See that? It’s the leader’s responsibility to make sure the employees are working at their best capacity, meaning they are at their most productive. I don’t know about you, but the only times I’ve been productive at work were when I wasn’t being driven crazy by a passive-aggressive boss from hell.

The manager-employee relationship is so vital to both sides’ performance that it should never be overlooked. You can’t expect for employees to be engaged without actually being engaged first by their manager, and you can’t expect the manager to make progress without knowing where the team’s at.

It’s a team effort — as cheesy as it sounds — but the leader sets the pace. The manager is the one who sets the tone of his/her relationship with team members, and if a member is slacking, then just talk to them.

But make sure you’ve set the right tone first. I agree with Angel Cabrera, President of George Mason University, when he says:

At its very heart, a business is the beauty of bringing together people and things to make the community better off — these are the businesses we admire. Empathy is the one tool that makes it all happen.

Let’s talk about Communication.

If you’re empathetic, chances are you’re a decent communicator. Notice I say decent, not great. Truth is, even an empathetic person can be bad at communicating… if they don’t listen carefully.

Communication goes both ways. Now, you may be excellent at putting your point across and even motivating your team to get the job done. But have you asked your team for feedback? Are they likely to come up and give it to you? Those are very important questions to think about.

Once you get your team talking, that’s when you get them engaged.

According to employee engagement expert David McLeod, engaged staff deliver 50% higher customer loyalty, 50% higher sales, and 27% higher profits — all figures any company owner would find attractive.

Furthermore a happy, engaged employee is more likely to stick with you when, for example, the competition offers them a job. Ka-bing!

Maybe there’s something to learn from Holacracy here that could benefit project managers.

Holacracy is a very modern idea of a business without management roles. More specifically, Holacracy distributes leadership into each role, so each employee can hold different roles at different stages of the project. Ultimately, the goal is transparency — a buzz word of late, especially in entrepreneurial circles.

While the idea itself could have some holes, when it comes to communication, it solves what the traditional corporate structure cannot — the problem of communication between the different levels. It could be quite empowering for employees to be regarded as important as the VP, for example, and encouraged — by a meeting facilitator — to voice their opinions and “tensions”. In that meeting, your main priority won’t be to speak according to your job title, but to advance the project.

I don’t know about you, but I’d be trying it out before discarding the idea. Times are moving fast and new challenges are presenting to employers that we never imagined possible. To paraphrase Darwin, adapt or die.

Let’s talk about Humility.

Probably the most overlooked quality in business, and in life.

Humility is a quality few people have. It’s in the emotional intelligence toolset, but unlike empathy, it targets the self, the ego. Most people — especially bosses — have enormous egos. They wouldn’t shut up about it. And they put people off with their arrogance and selfishness.

It takes enormous strength to put your own ego aside and admit that you make mistakes. Let someone else talk. Let others list your accomplishments and shrug compliments off. It’s not about you, after all.

For you, it’s about the common good.

A humble leader not only understands and listens. A humble leader brings out the best of other people.

It’s natural that when you put yourself aside, you’re able to really see others. To see what they’re good at, to tell them that, and to inspire them to take action. You’re naturally good at leading and people are happy to follow.

And hey, it’s not just mumbo-jumbo. A recent Catalyst study shows that humility is one of four critical qualities of a good leader. Not to mention that scholars from the University of Washington Foster School of Business discovered that humble people make the most effective leaders!

As the researchers put it:

Our study suggests that a ‘quieter’ leadership approach — listening, being transparent, aware of your limitations and appreciating co-workers strengths and contributions, is an effective way to engage employees.

Not only were the employees of such people more engaged, but they were also more committed to their leader’s vision. I mean, when your boss actively listens to your ideas and encourages you to share them, wouldn’t you be more committed and receptive to their ideas?

Of course you would.

So you can try this approach or… you know, idolize Steve Jobs and be a jerk at the office, but bear in mind that the bottom lines and the attitudes of your employees will be a perfect reflection of your leadership style.

In conclusion,

We, at amazemeet, certainly hope that you can see these “soft” skills as they truly are — a competitive advantage and an enlightened way to be.

I’m the founder of Amazemeet and like most people who’ve worked in professional organisations for the last 20 years, I’ve spent a lot of that time in meetings. And they mostly sucked.

I’m on a mission to help people and organisations do meetings better.