Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Critical Mass

Honest criticism is hard to take, particularly from a relative, a friend, an acquaintance, or a stranger.
--Franklin P. Jones

Does criticism equal disloyalty?
Are critical comments the same as spewing negativity?
Which is better to do—recognize a problem and risk offense by suggesting a solution, or being discreetly stupid by allowing preventable mistakes to continue? This piece is addressed to bosses and employees. Queen bees and Worker bees.

The bee hive that is the work place is a risky environment. It’s tough enough with all the PC-think and having to observe the lines of etiquette that exist in company hierarchies—and they exist, whether you work with 20 people or 200.

Add to this volatile mix the human elements of ego, ambition and that junior high mentality of one-upsmanship, and you’ve created a virtual mine field of emotions and motives. The trick here is to couch your criticism in such a way that the desired outcome—changing what bugs you—is achieved without losing your scalp.
Or getting stung.

How you present alternative ideas is key.
It’s one thing to sound-off on how a new policy is counter-productive to everyone within earshot. Take the time to go a step further—analyze why the policy is flawed, and provide a solution that not only addresses the original issue, but smoothes the ruffled feathers with a better plan.

This is where watching these stupid reality-TV shows can sometimes pay off: watch how the players on Survivor and Big Brother learn how to “play” the other participants in their universe. How much difference is there in winning a level of “immunity” or “veto power” from your peers by knowing how to navigate the cliques—and figuring out how to advance your interests in the office suite by being a smarter employee.

How you accept criticism is critical, especially if you’re a boss or a Queen bee. Even if you started the company from scratch, and are entitled to have it your way, that doesn’t mean you’re flawless. You’re not—and the most successful business owners surround themselves with people who are actually smarter than they are, tapping into the superior brain pool they’ve created. Which means that sometime along the way, you’re going to pull a bone-headed stunt you’re going to get called on. Accept the criticism graciously, and if possible, apply the lesson in a positive way.

Critics have given Criticism a bad name.
A few years ago, a movie production company was caught “inventing” film reviews for its releases. The breathless reviews that gushed about arguably mediocre films eventually raised the curiosity of someone enough to ask for the credentials of a quoted critic--who in fact, did not exist. Suddenly, all the movie ads quoting “movie critics” were suspect.

Often, I find my opinions of a performance or other entertainment venue will vary from the party line spouted by a “critic.” If a movie’s panned by these guys, I’m probably going to enjoy it. The point is, if you’re going to be critical in public—as Jim Rome says, “have a take and don’t suck.”

The smartest people will use criticism as a secret weapon: think of it as a portal into what others are thinking, and how they’re reacting to things. You’re not going to be able to solve all the issues about which workers grumble at the office. You can’t make everyone happy, and you’re not in business to be a welfare agency for the motivationally-challenges. But a little intel from the production line, or your people on the street, can give you an advantage on how to run the business smarter.

Your wife may tell you that tie doesn’t match that shirt. That’s good criticism to take, because she doesn’t want the rest of the world to think she married a fashion-fractured doofus.

One of your employees may remark that a certain policy you’ve implemented is actually counter productive and difficult to enforce. Ask for a reasonable alternative, and realize they may be telling you this because they don’t want the rest of the world to know they work for a dork sometimes, too.

If they didn’t care, they’d have left the hive long ago.

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