Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Learning from Criticism

One of the most important questions for any individual or organization is "Where might the critics - or potential critics - be right?"

The question does not automatically assume that any criticism is valid. Analysis may reveal no basis at all. Some critics seek only to wound, not to heal. Often, motives are elusive.

But the willingness to consider just where the criticism might be correct is crucial if serious improvement is to be made. The smartest organizations don't call on their lawyers and consultants after disaster has arrived; they check with them earlier and ask them to identify soft spots. They do the same with their employees and periodically review policies and procedures in order to catch areas that, although once safe, have become risky.

Is this practice common? Not in my experience. Far too many executives and managers fear such introspection, thinking that identifying a potential problem area is a confession of bad management. Organizations that encourage such fears are following a recipe for future disaster.

Human resources departments are not exempt from this cuisine. They may have found that once a major problem arises, upper management - which has a short attention span on personnel issues - is more interested in its prompt solution than in eventually learning how and why the problem was created.

Blame can be placed somewhere out there, on an individual or an external agency, rather than on the professionals who should have caught the trouble in its infancy. I suspect that the total annual cost of this failure to practice early detection runs into billions of dollars.

And yet this negligence is accepted as the natural course of business. That is both sad and unnecessary.


Anonymous said...

Congratulations! This post was selected as one of the five best business blog posts of the week in my Three Star

Leadership Midweek Review of the Business Blogs.


Wally Bock

Michael Wade said...

Thanks, Wally!

Have a very happy 2009!


Adrilia said...

Great post. It isn't easy for anyone to take in negative criticism. But often, that which makes us uncomfortable can reveal hidden gems. It takes courage. It takes broader vision. Not wanting to hear negative feedback, whether in customer service or the board room has gigantic repercussions. It disconnects us from powerful opportunities. Great leaders and great companies train themselves to be open, vigilant and even grateful for negative criticism. It's a challenge and an opportunity to become better, stronger.

Michael Wade said...


You're correct. The ability to absorb and profit from criticism is a key leadership virtue. Criticism can be a real skills-sharpener.