Evaluations:  Is there a place for Anonymous Assessment?

Let me get something off my chest – something that needs to be said sooner than later if we are going to have a series of reflections on performance evaluations.   Is there anything at all of value in anonymous criticisms and feed-back?  Anything?   Most of us have probably experienced them:  a supervisor or the person who is responsible for the performance review sends out a request for feed-back with questions, etc., and then the letters come in and they are collated and the responses are then shared with you – as, hopefully, “constructive critique”.   But can it be constructive when the criticisms are anonymous?  

It strikes me as an example of where a person can make comments where they themselves are not accountable for and responsible the knock on implications of those remarks.   They can so easily be one-time shots at another person where there is no need to take account of how accurate, appropriate or truly helpful this comment might actually be.   I have been on the receiving end:  and, literally, left speechless . . . .no way to comment on the perception which may well merit a response but I do not know “who said this?” and “who has this opinion of me” . . . and so while the comment might perhaps be helpful, when it is so negative or so one-sided or not truly understanding the situation . .  there is no forum or opportunity to respond. 

Why not own up to your comments when you are invited to be part of an assessment of someone?  That way you are thoughtful, considerate and committed to the relationship.    If you have a criticism of another person, own it:   perhaps you say that the person is not willing to hear the critique.  In that case they would not hear it either way – either anonymous or otherwise.  But more to the point, when we are upfront in our assessment, it softens the critique; it locates it in a particular working relationship; it makes it more likely that the critique or negative assessment will actually be heard as a point of learning and growth.   I am, frankly, too suspicious of those who flatter you to your face but then have scathing criticisms of you behind your back.   I am too aware of how easy it is to complain about others and wish they did things the way you think they need to be done.  Further, these kinds of anonymous evaluations are rarely if ever properly located – in two respects:  did this person take account of all the dynamics involved – both the working relationships a the limits of their role and, further, the agreed upon terms of evaluation. 

On the first, all critique needs to take account of the context.   Sometimes, we might critique someone when in actual fact they are not so effective because they are not getting good support or supervision.  The problem that a pastor is having may be due entirely to an ineffective board; the ineffectiveness of a teacher may be in large measure that she is not getting the support she needs from a Dean or a Principal.   Second, what is the criteria by which we are doing an assessment?  We make the critique anonymously, but do we know whether and how this person should be evaluated.  In a recent anonymous critique I receive, I read a line of criticism and simply said to myself:  that is not my job.  But the problem with the anonymity is that no one is going to back to that person to tell them this.  For them, the criticism is given anonymously and no one ever tells them that their critique may not have been appropriate given a whole range of factors that they might need to take into account. 

My conclusion:   the most effective evaluations are open and transparent.   Anonymous evaluations might be helpful but so easily can do more harm than good.

Author

Gordon T. Smith

Gordon T. Smith is the president of Ambrose University located in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Ambrose is an institution owned by the Church of the Nazarene and the Christian and Missionary Alliance in Canada. It includes a whole range of undergraduate programs, including education, business, music, behavioural sciences an biology, as well as history, English and psychology. Ambrose also includes an undergraduate school of ministry formation. And, last but not least, there is Ambrose Seminary, a fully accredited graduate level institution of theological formation. Gordon has been the president since August of 2012.

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