The importance of anonymity for getting uninhibited employee feedback

Internal Comms

Mark Beilby
by Mark Beilby
The importance of anonymity for getting uninhibited employee feedback

On August 8 2017, Google CEO Sundar Pichai abruptly cancelled the company’s much-anticipated all hands Town Hall meeting, convened to discuss the gender controversy that has engulfed the company and in turn created the worst kind of publicity from a reputational perspective. This decision was taken because some Google employees expressed concern over online harassment they had begun to receive after their questions and names had been published outside the company on a variety of what are predominantly right wing websites.

Pichai was set to address all Google’s 60,000 employees in an interactive meeting concerning the recent toxic blog post by now former employee James Damore. In his notorious blog, the software engineer claimed that women might not be as good as men at tech because of biological reasons, like “neuroticism.” In other words, they could not handle stress and high pressure.

WIRED reported that Google employees had submitted more than 520 questions in advance for the planned session, some critical of Damore's reasoning and conclusions, but other paticipants evidently expressed concern that he had been fired for simply speaking his mind. More than 5,000 Google employees had then used an internal tool to rank the questions they most wanted Pichai to answer.

As Tech Crunch noted, Pichai wrote to all employees just 45 minutes before the planned start of the meeting, “We had hoped to have a frank, open discussion today as we always do to bring us together and move forward. But our questions appeared externally this afternoon, and on some websites Googlers are now being named personally. Googlers are writing in, concerned about their safety and worried they may be ‘outed’ publicly for asking a question in the Town Hall.” The Town Hall had to be abandoned because the organisers could not convince the participants that their feedback and questions would be kept anonymous. 

The guarantee of anonymity is a fundamental  tenet of meetings that seek to solicit genuine, unembellished opinion to drive informed decision making; especially where difficult and controversial issues are concerned. This has always influenced us at Vevox and led us to prioritise optional anonymity as a key feature of our Group Discussion technology. 

The aim is to give everyone a voice, to encourage all participants to share their thoughts. Vevox also offers the opportunity to hear what other people think through its polling and Q&A functionality and helps to keep the conversation honest and unbiased, whilst respecting potentially conflicting views or opinions with the option of anonymity. Participants can leave questions or comments on the Vevox discussion board and keep their identity private with Vevox’s anonymous mode. They can, moreover, ‘vote-up’ comments or questions from other participants with a ‘Like’ feature.
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