American Idol judge Simon Cowell was known for his acidic criticism of the contestants all done in front of millions of viewers. If you’ve ever watched the show you know how bad you felt for the person as he tore them apart…publicly. Have you ever made a mistake? Ever been called on that mistake visibly, publicly for all to see? Sucked didn’t it? It’s humiliating, degrading, frightening in some cases you might be at a new job or in a new career because of the damage done to your ego or reputation. If you’re the leader doing the criticizing you’ll quickly be about as popular and respected as Simon…which is bad for a long career in most companies.
Sorry for that painful trip down bad memory lane, to a place you buried long ago, but that emotion is necessary for our discussion. The further up the leadership food chain we find ourselves, the more self-important some in our ranks feel…and the more license to dispense wounding criticism comes with that self-important attitude.
For the record, I make a lot of mistakes…really, I’m fun to watch just ask my team..and I DO NOT condone management’s right to criticize…ever. Critique, educate, teach, lead, correct, change behaviors…you bet…criticize, sorry not allowed. I also expect my team to critique me…how else will I get better?
Remember that painful place I took you two a couple of sentences ago…if that was painful for you, why should you have the right to create that moment and memory for anyone else? I work under a very simple rule…and I use it with my team and even with my kids: praise in public, critique in private. Oh yeah, there is no such thing as ‘constructive criticism’ either…criticism is DE-structive regardless of the fancy name you give it.
If you value your team, employees, staff, whatever you call them, and oh by the way I can tell in less than a minute the value you place on that group by the way you refer to them…you want them to be the best that they can be. Remember all of these people are your extended marketing department…if you don’t value them…why are you letting them take to the street wearing your uniform? So, assuming you truly do value them, why would you want to tear them down especially in public? Unless you are a drill sergeant you have no right…and even the military spends more time, money and effort building confidence and competence in their team, in boot camp and beyond, than they do during the first few weeks of boot camp which is used solely to get everyone to the same starting point. You have orientation for that.
Treat your team members the way you want to be treated…when they mess up, call them to the office, pull them aside in the apparatus bay and discuss the issue. THEY, as a person, are not the issue. Your critique should never be directed at them personally…you are discussing their action, inaction, attitude, speech or behavior…they are a person of value.
If you new at this or uncomfortable, in the beginning you can use the crutch of triangulating to the policies and procedure manual, other training or memorandums. After you’ve done this a few times you can simply start the discussion with “Hey (name), got a minute? I want to talk you about (issue).”
Here’s my discussion formula for the conversation once you’re in a private setting…
Say something positive to begin the conversation
Identify the issue and the behavior that required the meeting
Offer your comments and critique designed to help them correct and improve
Listen to their thoughts, comments and issues regarding the situation
[Agree to research, with a reply-by date] any items they bring up that need further review
Reinforce the way you want it handled in the future
Conclude the discussion, thank them for their time and shake hands making eye contact (not the creepy kind either)
Move on with your day and document the event just in case
You goal in the meeting is to call their attention to the behavior, reinforce the correct, expected behavior, listen to any concerns that they have…you can’t get them to listen and agree until they’ve been heard and conclude by reaching an agreement on expectations moving forward. I also always end the discussion standing next to them and concluding with a handshake…subliminally reinforcing the agreement we just made.
I’m sure that given the choice you’d prefer to have your mistakes discussed in private…you owe that your your team as well. Of course you should also look to publicly praise good behavior…for tips on that, search the back blog article…Becoming a 30-Second Hero…over time praising good behavior actually drastically changes the culture by organically cutting the amount of critiquing needed to run an awesome organization.
People prefer praise over being critiqued and looking for good is a whole lot more fun as the leader !!