Although it is always important to evaluate oneself and to define one’s own progress, taking insight from individuals in the periphery (i.e. an outsider’s perspective) is also necessary. Self-evaluation has its limitations, the subject (the self) is too close to the object being observed, and perspective is limited to certain aspects of the object. In other words, it is not enough to cover all the bases, and to ensure that all points of improvement have been touched upon and have been addressed with the right means of moving forward.
In essence, this is what the concept of feedback aims to do. Although not popular with everyone—as there are some individuals or entities that find it hard to receive feedback in any form or manner—one cannot deny that it has its benefits. In its most basic of forms, feedback can be as simple as informing a friend that they need to focus more as you’ve observed them struggling with procrastination, and then providing advice on how to move forward from this. Of course, feedback isn’t just about what is lacking or needs improving, but also for things that are being done well and that needs to be retained. With this in mind, feedback at the professional or business level works the same way but on a much larger scale.
As an entity with many more stakeholders, a business can make use of feedback—apart from their metric scores from analytical market studies and finance reports—to ensure that their operation is growing in the right direction and that their activities benefit all of the people that are involved in it. In the age of the Internet, getting feedback from the most important group of people (e.g. customers and employees) has become a much easier task. Companies can make forums, email surveys (to both employees and customers), create social media accounts, and even put comment boxes or contact details on their websites to ensure that they can tap a host of individuals opinions.
What happens often, though, is that most feedback avenues allow for anonymity—a feature which has its pros and cons. The ability to provide feedback anonymously, and all the freedom that comes with it, has had a profound effect on the process, some of which can help in the improvement of the company, and some that have proven to be counter-productive. The Internet, even with the presence of protocols that allow the identification of people, thrives on the idea of anonymity and freedom of speech and thought—a space a business must subject itself to if it wants to stay in the game.
Indeed, anonymous feedback is a double-edged sword, and here are some of its advantages and disadvantages:
1. Criticism is more objective
Knowing that people are aware of exactly who you are and can call you out for something you said can affect the way someone answers a survey or states their opinion. This leads to a more biased and rehearsed opinion which in turn does not benefit the business in general because they will not have any genuine input to the company. This will lead to the company developing a false sense of progress that could potentially cause its demise.
When people giving feedback are assured that what they say will not be traced back to them, nor be held against them, they’re more likely to make comments and suggestions that can scathe, yet help the company in the long run. This often results in the most valuable and honest opinions, critical comments for points of improvements; many times, it is only through anonymous feedback that direct attention is given to the more problematic aspects of the business (e.g. corruption in the managerial section revealed through employee feedback).
2. Everyone has a chance to be heard
Removing the identity of the person from the equation removes any form of bias that can be applied to their opinion. Sometimes the opinions of a particular group of people are put down or overlooked due to a defining factor of their background. Anonymous feedback removes this from the equation, and allows people to freely express their opinions about a particular product, service or activity that a business offers. This can provide a more diverse perspective of the business’s strong points and pitfalls, and can help them tailor their products and services to cater to wider and more varied group of people.
3. It creates a more engaging relationship
Like it or not, people always have something to say about anything and everything. Giving them space to do this encourages engagement between customers and employees, as well as ensure a steady flow of constructive criticism for the business. Something as simple as knowing that there is someone out there that will receive their feedback and take it into consideration can give many peace of mind, as well.
4. It is more instantaneous
Anonymous feedback is always geared to be quick, easy (to access and give) and hassle-free. The reason why many people opt to do this is because of this fact. Responses can be in real-time, when a customer has some kind of issue with the product or the service, or when an employee has a complaint against something the company or individuals in it are doing. The lack of bureaucracy makes it more appealing to people.
1. The danger of irrelevant or useless feedback
This is the other side of the blade with regards to having the freedom of writing anything. People can say anything they want, even if it is outside of what is relevant to the business or have no sense of constructive criticism. As mentioned earlier, the business leaves itself vulnerable to any form of comment from all kinds of individuals, and this also means those who are just out to defame or to malign the business. It can also leave them open to people popularly known as “Trolls”, individuals who intentionally create chaos in comments sections or other forms of feedback centres out of pleasure.
2. Too much feedback to keep up with
With anonymous feedback being so easy to access and easy to give out, the chances of too much feedback is a possibility. This means that not every comment or email can be entertained, and that possibly helpful comments might be overlooked.
3. It can create a one-way communication culture with the company and its stakeholders
Again, the danger with getting a lot of feedback from everyone is that it becomes difficult to respond to every single one of them. While many would like recognition of the feedback they submitted, for many, the most acknowledgement that they receive is seeing their comments or suggestions visibly affecting the business’ operations. Considering the sheer amount of feedback received, companies often do not have the time or resources to publicly show its gratitude beyond doing their best to improve through their stakeholders’ comments.
4. A reduced interaction with its stakeholders
Although it may provide its stakeholders a space to expel any grievances, or make any praises they have, anonymous feedback can often be like throwing verbal rocks onto a monolith. Although an individual expresses their opinion to the business, they have no complete assurance that the points that they raise will be heard at all, and they merely have to bank on the idea that their feedback will be entertained at some point. Because of this, businesses run the risk of generating an image of being cold and unresponsive.
Anonymous feedback is far from being a perfect system, and like many other forms of evaluation, it has its advantages and disadvantages. Whether the good outweighs the bad or vice-versa, no one can deny that it is a valid way of gaining information about a business’s profitability and progress. There is power in anonymity, and in turn this empowers stakeholders to provide businesses the truth, call them out for their thoughts, or to give them the sassiest review on something irrelevant. The Internet is a place of free speech and thought, and it does not fail to deliver this.