The Business-Technology Weave

Nov 2 2010   12:27PM GMT

The Criticizing of Excellence: How to dispense and handle criticism – Pt. I

David Scott David Scott Profile: David Scott


The absent are never without fault, nor the present without excuse.


Benjamin Franklin



The only way to avoid criticism is to do nothing, say nothing, be nothing.





Why The Criticizing of Excellence?  Because that phrase snaps all criticism into an important perspective:  Once it’s understood that criticism is going to come, regardless of circumstances, we can recognize that fact, accept it, and effectively deal with it.  In a challenging arena like the Business-Technology Weave, we know that criticism must be driven toward constructive criticism.  As it is, for most of us, dealing with criticism is not the best part of our day – whether dispensing it or receiving it.  Poorly managed criticism, and critics, can impair business. 


If not carefully managed, criticism can set up a sort of negative ping-pong exchange of recriminations, attendant “scoresheets,” and possible “get even” scenarios.  Preventing this sort of atmosphere is far easier than repairing an environment that has been allowed to drift.  You don’t want personalities clashing.  We must not allow problems between people to be woven into your organization’s fabric. 


Many an organization suffers through the “silo-ing” of departments and the resultant impairment of communication and efficient business.  At the same time, various people are silo’d vis-a-vis certain other people – and all manner of cumbersome alternate methods of getting the job done start to impact efficiency.  Working through a minefield of political liabilities is what mucks up many good faith endeavors.  But that’s largely because most people haven’t learned what criticism really is meant to be, and how it is to be used (both in its delivery and in its receipt).  When we understand the nature of criticism, we learn to value criticism.  In learning how to value and use criticism, we need to recognize constructive (or justified, valid) criticism – and destructive (or unjustified, invalid) criticism – and we need to act on criticism to effect the appropriate outcomes. 


In Defense of Criticism:  Let’s establish a little background:  In a field as challenging, dynamic, and high profile as IT, there is much that presents a ripe target for criticism.  At the same time, the pressures faced by Business, and their demand for quality support and services, generally means that Business has a fully stocked quiver of critical arrows.  Yet, healthy criticism is necessary to the Business-Technology Weave. Critical evaluation and communication will be ongoing.  This, paired with the challenge in creating, interpreting, and implementing a Business-driven IT strategy, makes it extremely important that we understand criticism and how to wield it.  If you’re not making effective use of criticism, then you not only lose out on the positive lever to be had in progressive business, but you allow the deployment of a negative, depressive lever.  Particularly in circumstances where we suffer divides, and have not yet achieved a proper Business-Technology Weave, there is that tendency to mount criticism from a less than fully informed perspective.  When we combine that with a natural tendency to bristle at criticism, and mix in the resultant impairments, we find that we have a “perfect storm” formula for significantly diminished returns.


In those circumstances, we build resentments – we damage relationships between people, departments, and even organizations.  We create avoidance to people and issues, we slow progress, we hamper business.  Repair is costly.  So, we have to take special care with criticism and its disposition in all circumstances.  When we do, we find that proper criticism and proper reaction to it helps to expose important issues and aids in the resolution of problems.  Criticism must always satisfy the “does this move business forward?” question.  Therefore, criticism must have a positive motivator, helpfulness in spirit, and a benefit to be had in the form of suggestion and outcome.  Again, valid criticism has value – business value.


Once we know this, we realize that we need to manage criticism under a dizzying variety of circumstances.  It must be managed at all levels of the organization; criticism between individuals, as well as between and within departments.  Criticism must be managed between organizations that have relationships: it is dispensed between discreet organizations involved in shared missions and outcomes, for example.  Here there is a special risk:  poorly managed criticism can severely damage effective cooperation between “allied” organizations, particularly when it is motivated by protectionism and jealousy. 


Criticism is delivered to vendors, and even, in carefully crafted communication, from vendor to organization.  On a more local level, there is a critical need in keeping individuals on balance.  Those technical people directly supporting business on a daily basis are in a particular zone:  They face business staff who need to accomplish business, often under pressure, and these support people can face a larger proportion of criticism than the average staff.  The supported business people in direct contact with their support half are also in a target environment. 


The good news is that criticism, large and small, is essentially handled the same way.  If we’re able to take a dispassionate, objective look at the full range of criticism – from whiny, empty, counterproductive carping – to the valid critiques, suggestions, sound advice, and requirements – then we’ll be much more adept at recognizing and handling criticism.  We can vet criticism: defusing negativity and leveraging the positive to yield better outcomes. 


Next:  Maintaining a balance in the face of criticism.


NP:  “Brown Eyes Why Are You So Blue?” by The Golden Gate Orchestra – on original Edison disc (and player).

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