Monday, November 26, 2012

Constructive Criticism Is An Oxymoron We Should Do Away With

In an article I wrote last year,  Why "Constructive Feedback" Doesn't Improve Employee Performance, I said "constructive feedback, which is usually critical, rarely helps anyone, and certainly rarely improves employee performance on the job." A number of management experts have recently engaged in renewed dialogue about the dysfunctionality of performance reviews, and a new idea on how to replace it using a positive "crowdsourcing," process has produced an interesting alternative.

In his article in the Harvard Business Review, Tony Schwartz, President and chief executive of the Energy Project, and author of Be Excellent At Anything, says when we hear the phrase, "would you mind if I give you some feedback?" what that means to most of us is "would you mind if I gave you some negative feedback?" wrapped in the guise of constructive criticism.

There are some fundamental problems with negative criticism, regardless of whether we clothe it politely as "constructive." First, Schwartz contends, criticism "challenges our sense of value. Criticism implies judgment and we all recoil from feeling judged." Indeed, psychologists such as Daniel Goleman, contend that threats to self-esteem and self-worth in the form of criticism can feel like threats to our survival.

Nowhere does so-called constructive criticism appear more frequently than in performance reviews of employees. The prevailing theory is that constructive criticism will improve the employee's performance, and that the employee will positively welcome it. Nothing is further from the truth.

The traditional performance appraisal, as practiced in the majority of organizations today, is fundamentally flawed and incongruent with our values-based, vision-driven and collaborative work environments.

Robert Sutton, a Stanford University professor, says that performance evaluations do more harm than good. A 1998 study by Development Dimensions Inc., found that employers expressed overwhelming dissatisfaction with performance reviews. The consulting firm, People IQ, in a 2005 survey, found 87% of employees and managers felt performance reviews were neither useful nor effective. In an article published in The Psychological Bulletin, psychologists A. Kluger and A. Denisi report completion of a meta-analysis of 607 studies of performance evaluations and concluded that at least 30% of the performance reviews ended up in decreased employee performance.

Charles Jacobs, author of Management Rewired: Why Feedback Doesn't Work and Other Supervisory Lessons from Brain Science, says the brain is wired to resist what is commonly termed as constructive feedback, but is usually negative criticism. Brain science has shown when people encounter information that is in conflict with their self-image their tendency is to change the information, rather than change themselves. So when managers give critical performance appraisal feedback to employees the motivation to change is improbable.

Samuel Culbert, a professor at the UCLA Anderson School of Management, and author of Get Rid of Performance Review: How Companies Can Stop Intimidating, Start Managing and Focus on What Really Matters, argues that performance reviews are "destructive and fraudulent." He says "it's time to finally put the performance review out of its misery … this corporate sham is one of the most insidious, most damaging and yet most ubiquitous of corporate activities." He also argues that such reviews "instill feelings of being dominated. They send employees the message that the boss's opinion of their performance is the key ingredient of pay, assignment, and career progress." The use of performance reviews, he says, is about "power and subordination," and causes employee defensiveness and stress. What should replace the performance review? Culbert suggests it should be a "performance preview," a process that holds the manager and members of the manager's team equally responsible for results.

Literature abounds with systems and strategies for giving constructive criticism. Perhaps the silliest of these suggests that the person giving the constructive feedback should "sandwich it" between positive statements. Again, this ignores the brain's programmed preference to respond to negative information.

Rachel Emma Silverman and Leslie Kwoh, in two articles in The Wall Street Journal, cite evidence from the Corporate Executive Board that some companies are replacing formal performance reviews with "performance previews," in which the boss or manager engages in a dialogue with an employee about how a specific task or project will be completed before action is taken. This places onus on the employee to specify the how and what action will be taken, but also places onus on the boss to discuss what supportive actions are necessary, creating a two-sided, reciprocally accountable performance system. The boss's job then, is to guide, coach, tutor and assist the employee rather than judge, evaluate and find fault.

As well, some companies are using online technology to regularly collect "crowd sourced" feedback. This allows employees to give immediate feedback to any other employee or boss while work is progressing. Erick Mosley, in the Harvard Business Review Blog Network, writes "a group of independently deciding individuals is more likely to make better decisions and more accurate observations than those of an individual. Crowdsourcing, by leveraging social recognition data, is a better way for managers to collect, evaluate and share information on employee performance."

Unlike 360-degree performance evaluations, which are end-point or annual processes, crowdsourcing is real-time feedback. Also, rather than constructive crowdsourcing evaluations that duplicate performance evaluations that look for faults or critical feedback, a crowdsourcing system can be used as a motivational tool, by providing positive feedback. "When the crowdsourcing concept is applied in this way," Mosley says, "co-workers and peers can identify and reward desired behaviors and cultural attributes through unsolicited recognition, as they happen… This stream of recognition, which often appears in internal social news feeds, provides timely, measurable insights into your talent top influencers and performers."

Constructive criticism is an oxymoron: All criticism is inherently destructive and negative, however we may attempt to window dress it, or "sandwich it" between positive statements. Anything constructive is associated with growth, which requires a person to be open, not in a defensive state of mind.

Corporate leaders now have an opportunity to abandon a system that is not only dysfunctional but doesn't recognize the latest in neuroscience research and take advantage of new social media technology.

Ray Williams is President of Ray Williams Associates, a company based in Vancouver providing leadership training and executive coaching services.

Thanks to Ray Williams / Business Financial Post / National Post / Postmedia Network Inc.

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Sunday, November 25, 2012

Bounce Back From A Bad Hire: 10 Tips

Once you realize you've made a bad hire, don't get mired in regret. Instead, focus on what to do next.

You get burned by a couple of bad hires and you can become trigger shy.  But, as with every mistake you make in building your business, view bad hires as great learning experiences so you can recruit more effectively in the future.

Here are some tips to help make your next hire successful.

1. Consider Your Source

Take a look at where your new talent typically comes from, how you are recruiting, and what works.  I mentioned in a previous article how I find Millennial talent through the Millenials already on my team.  It took much time, trial and error, and observation of the Millennial workforce to determine this was right.

What is the background of your most successful employees? Where did they go to school, who did they work for before, and what other similarities exist?  As an example, I have learned that industrial design students from specific schools are the best fit for our project based work.

2. Rank What Matters Most

You build a long list of qualifications that an employee must meet when you put together a job posting or description, but have you taken the time to prioritize what's most important to you and your company?  Not every skill or qualification is of equal value and you should build a structured approach to complete your evaluation that takes these differences into account.

When I say rank order, I literally mean you should rank order each candidate's qualifications on a sheet of paper and make sure you don't skimp on the "must haves" in order to fill an empty seat.

3. Assign Candidates a Problem to Work on

Once you know a candidate has the chops--you've read his resume or reviewed his portfolio--what's important next is how he processes information and communicates with others.  I recommend you give him a hypothetical problem to work through to get insight into how he will approach a task once on board.

Depending on the position, consider giving candidates this problem as "homework" to bring along to the interview.  It will be useful because you'll understand the context of the problem he faces. By contrast, the examples in his portfolio are his best work, have probably been closely reviewed by others, and may not even be his own effort (if he's less than honest).

4. Find Out How Candidates Behaved Before

There are many interview tools that help you evaluate an individual's thinking style, behaviors, attitudes, or approaches to work and life--from past scenarios.  Much emphasis is placed on picking the "right" tool. What's more important is that you pick a tool and evaluate your current team before you can effectively evaluate any potential new members.  By looking at your current team's evaluation results, you can identify patterns of what you want to find in new team members to replicate or fill gaps.

5. Enlist Your Staff

I find entrepreneurs and small business owners will hand over most aspects of their business but hiring staff is one they just can't seem to give up.  As you move out of the day-to-day operations, inevitably others end up managing staff that you originally hired.  If you are not letting them hire their own staff, you should start doing so immediately. As your frontline staff evolves and improves the work, they'll be in a better position to find the right next hire.

6. Hire Slowly, Fire Quickly

You're always better off needing more employees than having the wrong ones.  Make sure you understand the local laws that govern when and how you can fire people, and don't delay.  If you doubt an individual, you have answered your own question.  Trust your instincts and make the change right away.

7. Consider Temp-to-Perm

Instead of jumping in to hire a candidate full time, consider bringing her on as a contractor or hourly employee.  This gives you both the chance to try each other out.

8. Try to Talk Him Out of the Job

I use this technique when I feel a candidate views my company through rose-colored glasses.  I tell him everything bad about the company--all the reasons why the job might not be a good fit, or the role won't be perfect.  Make the candidate sell you on why those things won't be a problem, and be sure he understands what he's getting into.

I find this particularly useful when it comes to business travel.  I love to travel for business or pleasure, but not everybody does, and depending on the work you are assigned at my company you could end up on the road 75% of the time.  Since I've had a few hires surprised (and upset) about how much they were required to travel, I make sure that point is front and center when they talk to new candidates.

9. Incent Them to Go

Zappos is the most famous for doing this.  The company offers newbies a $2,000 bonus to quit very early in their tenure.  From what I have read and heard from Tony Hsieh, Zappos' founder, only 2% to 3% take the deal, but it's a great way to test a new person's loyalty, and offer an escape hatch if the job really isn't right.

10. Do Post Mortems

Spend time with your team determining why a hire didn't work out.  Use this information to revisit your hiring practices or selection criteria and make sure there is a way to successfully put in place positive changes.

Thanks to Eric V. Holtzclaw / Inc. / Mansueto Ventures LLC.