How to Reconcile Anonymous Feedback with Transparent Leadership


Transparency—providing open, honest information and feedback—forms a foundation for trust in the workplace, but it doesn’t happen on its own. There must be deliberate action to promote transparency. The American Psychological Association (APA) sponsored a survey that found one in three employees believe their employer is not always honest and truthful with them.
“It’s clear that an organizational culture that promotes and supports openness, honesty, transparency, and trust is key to a healthy, high-performing workplace,” said David W. Ballard, head of the APA’s Center for Organizational Excellence.

Transparency starts with company leaders, who must provide a safe environment for employees to share feedback, and then demonstrate a willingness to discuss and act on that feedback. Anonymity allows employees to tell the full truth of their work experiences so that leaders can focus on the follow-up. Here are three ways you can increase leadership transparency with anonymous feedback:

Give Feedback to Every Employee 

An employee survey with anonymous 360-degree feedback gives more information to employees about their effectiveness in the workplace. The feedback is even more impactful when it’s truly 360 degrees and includes input from all managers, peers, and subordinates, even those in other departments.

Contrary to what some might think, 360-degree feedback can be delivered anonymously to achieve greater transparency. In fact, just by giving employees feedback that helps them understand how they interact with others, you’re providing a more transparent view of their relationships with managers, peers, and subordinates. With anonymous feedback, employees and managers can focus more on the feedback itself rather than the specific individuals who provided it.

Share Results with Employees

Anonymous feedback supports transparency when survey results are shared with the entire workforce. Research by Towers Watson found that only 60 percent of employees think leaders will act on survey findings. A culture of transparency emerges when employees see the results of their feedback and that their concerns are being addressed.

Leaders can share survey results in a town hall meeting, on the company intranet, or in smaller forums such as team meetings, where employees can discuss and ask questions about the findings. Some helpful tips for sharing survey results with employees include:

  • Give advance notice of the results: Tell employees up front that once they give feedback, they will be able to see the results.
  • Share results promptly: Don’t let too much time pass between when the feedback is given and when the results are shared, as the feedback can lose relevance over time.
  • Resist the urge to edit feedback: Share complete feedback without censoring it or omitting controversial sections.

Give Employees More Visibility 

Without anonymous feedback, company leaders don’t have full visibility into different employees’ production at work beyond what they see on a performance review. Anonymous 360-degree feedback collected from a range of raters helps identify employee standouts like “silent superstars” who receive high feedback scores from coworkers, but lower feedback scores from managers. Anonymous feedback also helps identify:

  • Leaders who are struggling to effectively manage their team, evidenced by lower-than-average feedback scores from direct and indirect reports
  • Managers who excel in leading others and are ready to manage a larger team
  • Individuals who are flight risks and need recognition from senior leaders beyond their immediate manager

With greater knowledge of who your employee standouts are, you have more opportunities to recognize, develop, and coach them toward greater performance. 

Transparent leadership inspires and empowers employees because they know that their feedback won’t be ignored or discounted. When you allow employees to share their experiences anonymously, you’re creating a culture in which employees have more chances to learn, develop, and grow within the organization.


Article Categories: Constructive Feedback
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