...and while his story (rumors have it, he was actually a woman) is developing, here’s the slightly less heroic short story behind anony.me: Anonymous feedback is a valuable tool for managers, companies and communities to improve. Employee feedback tools are often complex and expensive. So are traditional consulting companies running anonymous company surveys. All it really takes for managers and companies to improve is asking for feedback and having a trusted means to keep responses anonymous so people can be honest.
Coming from an Internet media think tank, and due to my own need in the past, some years back I wanted to invent the easiest way for any larger crowd of people to give you as a leader honest feedback on a question that matters to both of you, so you can uncover issues and hidden value instantly. (And I was pondering over a few innovative tweaks in anonymous feedback on top.) That’s how anony.me was born. With experience gained from running anony.me, and observing served and unserved needs in the market, we are re-launching anony.me now as an even more streamlined tool for large-scale anonymous upward feedback, nothing short of the most effortless anonymous upward feedback tool on the planet.
Read on for the looong story, or skip ahead to the conclusion.
Discovery of anonymity as a future Internet trend
While still at INSEAD in 2007, I systematically analyzed social trends on the Internet. The big thesis of the time by the likes of Facebook was that every person would be a public entity on the Internet very soon. Any expression of opinion or, in fact, any expression in general would always have our real-world profile attached for the whole world to see.
I thought this thesis was wrong, because to me there was a lot of value attached to sharing personal information and opinions selectively and within just a select group of people. The online dating industry continues to be a prime example of this, as are anonymous groups for various health issues and anonymous hotlines in the real world. In the corporate world, consulting companies offering anonymous employee feedback services had a long history already. So, overall I thought that services allowing people to connect and communicate with various degrees of anonymity would be the major counter trend on the Internet in the future.
That’s why, fast forward to 2010, I launched anony.me.
An experiment at Internet think tank blue media labs
When I launched anony.me as an anonymous feedback service with excellent partner Tamarind Technologies I thought of it as a general side experiment in my work to advise international clients on practical Internet innovation (and pursue other new ventures on the side). This is not to say there wasn’t one application I was particularly passionate about: manager feedback, also called upward feedback.
I have had my share of work experience in mid-size to very large companies and talked to lots of other people about work culture and communication around issues and improvement opportunities. Especially in the technology field that I come from, I have met so many interesting and just nice colleagues who shared my passion of IT. Yet never have I learned about a larger company that didn’t have some serious, hidden issues that caused quite a bit of discontent, or that didn’t have excellent ideas floating around that never came to light. And all, because the people concerned didn’t dare to bring those up to management, possibly having to bypass line management. So, for these and other situations, anony.me was meant to let people ask for anonymous feedback without having to set up some anonymous web form by themselves or buy a complicated, expensive HR solution.
Since it’s original launch, I haven’t actively promoted anony.me. I have, however, silently learned about its potential as a feedback tool for leaders. And I have watched other emerging feedback tools on the market fill some of the gaps in the feedback ecosystem for both employees and customers. The (potentially quite large) niche, anony.me is meant for, however, has never been filled. And this, although the trend towards anonymous services as I foresaw it (and annoyed some of my INSEAD colleagues with in plenty of discussions since 2007) is -- only -- now finally in full swing.
That’s why I decided to relaunch anony.me as a professional feedback tool with a more sharpened focus in 2014.
The grown-up anony.me as a professional feedback tool
anony.me has always been original in that
- It allowed you as a manager or, in fact, any kind of community or opinion leader, to let many people give you anonymous feedback on one topic at a time.
- Neither you nor the anonymous respondents had to sign up for a service to do so, yet there was the same basic verification of people’s identity that most of the Internet relies on: a sensible email address.
- Beyond plain answers, you’d get some, initially basic, feedback evaluation built in.
- You were able to reply to feedback individually, if you wanted, without breaking anonymity.
Just the potential to reply to feedback proves quite effective not only to gain further insights, but also to prevent negative, one-way feedback as the typical online suggestion box attracts. Furthermore, using unconstrained text as feedback model, such as anony.me does, gives way more opportunities to gain insights than simple yes-no-questions. I’ll shed some more light on these aspects (and anonymity in general) over time on the anony.me blog.
One area I always meant to put more attention on is the evaluation part. anony.me’s unconstrained text feedback lets you quickly uncover issues and hidden value better than with most other feedback tools on the market. Yet clearly, a standard survey with yes-no-questions is easier to evaluate and quantify: Ten people said yes, four said no, and six didn’t have an opinion; and in two month, you reach an extra yes. Yippee! However, freely formulated responses can also be analyzed much more deeply than they are today. For social media this is called sentiment analysis and already widely employed. From textual employee feedback, it’s actually not too hard either to identify a general consensus, the respondents’ mood, and suggestions that stand out -- not too hard at least if text analysis is part of your PhD thesis. Lucky me here.
And then there is one aspect of anonymous feedback for managers that I always wanted to innovate on. A professional feedback tool, anony.me still comes from a think tank after all:
Openness as a tool to improve workplaces everywhere in the future?
When I thought about anonymous feedback in the workplace, I noticed this: Feedback relates to issues or hidden value that most likely more than a single manager face. By its nature, anonymous feedback is meant to reveal nothing about the identity of people involved. So, just plain anonymous feedback text or a summary thereof could actually be shared amongst leaders without violating anyone’s privacy or necessarily exposing company secrets. Wouldn’t it be useful to you to learn about feedback other managers received on the question you are just posing to your employees or community? Does it require an expensive consulting company to learn about comparable feedback? Why not create a platform that shares common questions and the feedback received for them, and helps you and me and all the other managers in the world to learn from each other? So, let's see, if we can come up with a model to implement such sharing. In any case, it would be all up to you to participate. If not, your feedback will stay as private, safe, and discrete as your personal information already are.
So, how can we help you today?
Are you a company manager or owner with 50+ employees, or are you a community leader with many people looking up to you? Do you want to improve? Then maybe just start like Square's Jack Dorsey, who asks all hands at his startup for anonymous feedback once a year. That's 800 feedback messages to evaluate. You on the other hand can just ask your professional community for anonymous feedback and let us handle process and evaluation. Just saying.
To get a quick overview of how anony.me can work for you, and when it is the right tool check out the about section. If you are still undecided about your feedback needs or wonder, whether anonymous feedback is the right tool for you, feel free to check out the upcoming anony.me blog. In particular, did you read somewhere else about the supposed evils of anonymous feedback? Then have a look at my (also upcoming) summary of the positive effects of anonymous feedback, and when anonymous feedback is the right tool and when it is not.
Finally, if you have comments or like to meet up and discuss anything in person with me, I would love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Creator of anony.me
Founder of blue media labs