Fresh Thinking


Innovation Principle #10: Utilize Anonymity

February 18, 2019

Anonymity Can Bring Courage

Group settings are not the most comfortable space for people to share their untested ideas. They are perhaps the most vulnerable place to take a risk and share a off the wall idea or unique perspective. But even presenting a bold idea in an email, or in an identifiable survey, can feel too exposed for some team members.

Without a truly anonymous forum for ideas and feedback, you may never get the chance to hear the brilliant idea your team member has kept to herself, especially if they lean more on the introverted scale. Here are some ways anonymity removes the barriers to contribution:

  • People tend to feel vulnerable when sharing their thoughts. Stepping up to make a contribution that may be dismissed or ridiculed is a daunting prospect. Anonymity lets employees express their ideas more fully without fear of embarrassment.
  • Someone may not be sure their idea is any good, and they don’t want to be personally linked to it just yet. Anonymity can be a tool for people to gather input on their ideas and get the positive feedback that gives them the confidence to speak about an idea publicly.
  • Identifiable settings discourage people from throwing out ideas that are not fully formed, but that hold a lot of potential. With an added veil of anonymity, you can capture a lot more ideas at whatever stage they’re in.
  • People may fear that their idea would step on someone’s toes or be seen as criticism of the company. Anonymity allows you to elicit the more controversial ideas that people have been holding onto that could provide an opportunity to address a key problem.

For these reasons and more, anonymity encourages participation from a wider array of people who might otherwise pass on contributing. It also allows leaders or managers to interact without adding pressure to support ideas from the top.

Create Pathways for Effective, Anonymous Feedback and Response

It is important to establish an effective forum for anonymous contribution. We’ve already mentioned that suggestion boxes, while well intentioned, often amount to sending ideas into the ether without consideration. Any tool developed for the purpose of collecting anonymous data must be regularly monitored and have clear-cut processes for actionable review. Consider the following:

  • Respond to all employee suggestions. Even though it’s anonymous, a manager can still respond and let the employee know someone has considered their idea. Ask follow-up questions to clarify the employee’s point of view, if needed.
  • Bring interesting themes to people’s attention. If you notice a lot of people making similar comments, it’s worth bringing to the team’s attention in order to create a feeling of solidarity and validation around the idea.
  • Start conversations around interesting suggestions. One person’s anonymous suggestion can become a group conversation, where you brainstorm potential solutions or iterations on the idea.

Ideas and Questions Stand on their Own

With anonymous contribution, ideas can stand on their own. They can be shared more liberally without the pressure of judgment from superiors or worry of offending peers. The more ideas or interesting questions you can collect, the more potential routes you have for innovation.

Founder and CEO of Fresh Consulting, student of all things creative, innovative, and fresh, professional snowboard instructor trainer, father.

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