Dec 2, 2019 IN Game Dev Talks

How we killed anonymous feedback at Pixel Federation and why you should too

Do you know the saying? Feedback is a gift. When you get it, thank for it and make the most out of it. But what if you don’t know who is the “giver”? Whom do you thank?
In this post, I want to share with you my experience of being a part of building feedback culture at the Pixel Federation, a game development studio in Slovakia, where we have changed the way of collecting feedback from people who work with us.

At Pixel Federation, we use different channels for taking feedback from our teams and individuals. Besides regular one-on-one sessions with managers, we are holding satisfaction surveys twice a year. People can write how happy they are with the company, their teams, managers, and cooperation with other teams.

From anonymous to non-anonymous

In October 2018, we gave the survey a new facelift. We have changed it to non-anonymous. We initiated the change as one of the steps to support the feedback culture at our company, and I was part of making the transition in the best way possible.
Why anonymous feedback doesn’t work and is ultimately unproductive?

  • Because it is supporting a culture of unsafety and mistrust. One of our core company values is “Speak your mind”. But having an anonymous feedbacking tool was like telling people: “Hey, it is not safe to give feedback transparently in our team, so please use this anonymous channel to give us the information we need from you”.

  • Because of shitstorms and missing context. When we are hidden behind anonymity, we tend to express ourselves more vigorously, lacking constructive feedback. If no one knows who said what, nobody could be punished.

Having anonymous surveys, our managers found a real shitstorm in the answers, and that just made them disappointed and deceived. They didn’t know whom to approach for more information, for further discussion and a lot of that feedback they couldn’t put into any context. The survey value was low as the managers were unable to make constructive changes for the future.
Imagine getting feedback from your colleague: “You need to be more strict”. What would you do with that if you didn’t know who it is from? Whom would you ask followup questions? Questions like “In which situations do I have to be more strict? What does "being strict" mean to you? What do you expect or need from me as your lead?”
This was real feedback from one colleague to his manager. Only after chatting together, he found out, to be more strict, he needs to stick to deadlines for the team, without additional prolongations.

Added-value of non-anonymous feedback:

  • The feedback is more constructive. People think twice before they write and don’t leave a brainless shitstorm. Feedbacks are more constructive, and the recipient gets more out of it.

  • Chance to follow up, understand the context and do better next steps. The goal of the feedback is to make things better. By having followed up discussions with feedback givers, the company gets a better context and can address specific issues with specific people. And this is what everyone in the company does after they get feedback in the survey. They sit together and discuss with teams, peers, managers what they can improve.

  • It’s easier to address accountability. Knowing which teams or crafts have certain issues, it is easier to address them to specific managers and make the managers or craft owners accountable for the improvements. After each round of our survey, the managers plan the next steps.

Thinking about going non-anonymous in your company? Support trust, communicate, educate and reward.
Surely, changing to non-anonymity wasn't just a flip of a switch in the survey tool. We still keep in place several actions for encouraging people to get open feedback.

  • Supporting safety for speaking up. Management and our People team keep communicating that it is safe and welcomed to give feedback. We've already held two surveys and nobody was punished for telling his or her opinion. Our CEO honestly thanked everybody for participation in our all-hands meeting. He invites people to speak up not just in writing, but personally and anytime.

  • Being consistent. It's natural that people are afraid of giving feedback to others. They don't want to damage their relationships or lose their job. So some tend to ask for bringing the anonymity back, from time to time.

But we keep supporting the importance of open and honest feedback from different sides. "Speak your mind" is a part of our company values, recruitment process, and people development. Managers encourage their teams to give feedback both in surveys and in person. I can already see the shift that is happening in people's minds.

  • Helping with how. Giving and receiving feedback is hard work. We help people mastering this skill by organizing small workshops about Radical candor feedback. Radical candor is a simple tool with a key message: “When giving feedback, care personally and challenge directly.” By this time, around half of our employees have already attended.

  • Rewarding speaking up. Just saying a simple "thank you" or a small reward can show people that speaking up is welcomed.
    We gave people some nice books to express gratitude for their honesty. It doesn’t cost much, but it tells a lot. When we launched the survey, we bought 500 small branded chocolates to say "thank you".

  • Showing action. It’s important to show people what was done thanks to their feedback. Otherwise, they lose the motivation to share their opinion next time. We post the planned action steps on our intranet so everyone can see them.

After two rounds of the survey, I’m pretty confident to say that killing the anonymity was a very good move. I invite you to give it a try.

Let’s connect I hope you found this small insight helpful. If you have something to share on this topic, I'm more than happy to hear it. You can reach me via my Linkedin profile.

Martina Gallovicova

People Partner

Put people first and amazing things will happen.