Comments are like crack. Reading comments feels like unwrapping a stream of little gifts. Managers like them because they add color and meaning to the snapshot of quantitative numbers they get from surveys. Traditional engagement surveys depend on them. Where numbers can be mysterious and opaque, comments promise nuance and context. Each one holds the promise of insight, but more often than not, underneath the gift wrap is another pair of itchy socks.
When we were designing Kiwi Dials, comments were an obvious feature, and we put a lot of thought into how they should work, but we shipped other features first. Along the way, we noticed something surprising. Not having comments had some interesting benefits. Users tended to vote faster and more frequently, which meant that the quality of the data was higher and more sensitive to changing conditions.
Not having comments also meant that the chances of compromising someone's identity were much lower, which is typically a giant concern for survey respondents. This meant that team members were more likely to offer a genuine assessment of how they felt about the engagement measures, knowing that there was no risk of retribution.
Seeing Kiwi Dials in use confirmed for us that, unlike traditional surveys, Kiwi Dials works best when it serves teams first. Members, not just managers, see their team's overall sentiment immediately. Adding comments into the mix would introduce complications. Would the whole team see all the comments? Would they be moderated, and if so, who would do it? Would an invitation to make comments make voting seem more onerous? Would we allow responses?
Following each path turned up more complications and risks, and we often found ourselves struggling to recall what the point of having comments was. We started to wonder whether the whole pattern of adding insight through comments was just an artifact related to the limitations that come with any periodic survey, an old habit that we hadn't considered kicking.
Staying true to our belief that serving teams was the most important goal, we concluded that authentic, safe conversations within the team was what we should optimize for. Providing anonymous, detailed data would serve as a solid starting point for a conversation about how to raise the team's performance without running the risk of labeling anyone "a complainer" or otherwise marginalizing their ideas.
So, for now, comments are off the backlog. It seems strange that such a dear convention might not actually contribute to a great team experience, but I'm more skeptical now than ever.
Events, now that's another story. I'll write about that next time.
If you're using Kiwi Dials, what do you think? Do you miss the ability to comment? Add your comment below.