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The use of non-anonymous feedback assessment tools has long been a source of controversy.  There is discomfort in some organizational cultures when using these tools.  We believe there is much to gain when people know who is giving them feedback.  In talking about this I’d like to use SMS’ behavior-based assessment tool called the Influence Style Questionnaire (ISQ) as an example. 

The ISQ asks participants to gather feedback from others, preferably from a variety of people including direct reports, peers, and managers…even spouses.  The tool focuses on frequency information only, not effectiveness judgments.  This is important! It does NOT ask how effective a person is at influencing, whether positive or negative.

To those who resist non-anonymous tools, the overall feeling is that people will not be truthful or direct if the person they are giving feedback to knows who is providing the feedback, especially in the case of a direct report giving feedback to their manager.

So what is our answer?  Simple. The influence styles measured for frequency in the ISQ are neutral; therefore the ISQ itself is neutral.  The participant manages the interpretation of their situational context data and results: the nature of influence objectives, degree of past effectiveness, the quality of the relationship, and the meaning of his or her own responses.  There is no right answer; each person’s situation is unique. The ISQ provides a database for focusing on critical messages. 

That being said, we all know that different individuals represent different influence situations. This is also true for the same individuals at different times. As we move from one work situation to another our influence objectives change, and the way we influence to reach those objectives changes as well. Influence is behavior—skills we employ in order to get things done. This requires flexibility as each person and situation requires an individualistic approach.

Sometimes our flexibility becomes blocked. We may not have acknowledged or learned alternative styles of influencing. We are not as effective at using some styles as others. Recognizing barriers to influence flexibility may lead us to seek training in influence skills to improve our productivity and effectiveness.  Some times these barriers have much to do with the relationships we have with other people.  We may influence direct reports differently than the way we influence our boss. The people best able to provide us with data about our effectiveness when we influence are those we try to influence…right?

It is important to understand that when colleagues have skewed their responses, participants are often able to recognize and interpret such behavior as messages. They can then make informed decisions about how to modify their influence behavior with these colleagues. It is also important to understand our impact on all types of relationships. The true test of influence effectiveness is when the participant successfully gets the results they want and the relationship is healthy. The ISQ supports them in building a plan for fixing any broken relationship.

If the influence behaviors feedback is anonymous, some people may see trends and act on them in a non-effective manner.  For example, two of the influence behaviors associated with the Asserting Style are Using Incentives and Pressures, and many people have a low frequency of use of Incentives and Pressures. Therefore the participant would learn that they’re rarely using Incentives and Pressures…does that mean that they should start using these behaviors more with everyone?  Of course not! If not everyone, then whom should they use them with? Again, the effectiveness of this whole interpretive process depends on knowing who is providing a participant with feedback, which is critical when it comes to managing the relationship. After all, healthy relationships are what make a healthy organization.