>Constructive Truth Hurts, But Helps

>It is pretty hard to give and to get honest feedback.

It is often acknowledged that performance reviews are one of the most difficult task for managers to perform. Managers don’t like to “get into it” with the employees, and employees often can’t deal with a straightforward evaluation from their supervisors. Plenty of sugarcoating seems to go on to make the process more digestible for all.

Similarly, people tend not to say what they “really think” in many situations at work. Either, they feel that saying what they mean would be “politically incorrect” or would be frowned upon, ignored, or may even get them in trouble. So people generally “toe the line” and “try not to rock the boat,” because the “nail that stands up, gets hammered down hard.”

An article in the Wall Street Journal, 5 October 2009, reports a similar pattern of behavior with ratings on the Internet. “One of the Web’s little secrets is that when consumers write online reviews, they tend to be positive ratings: The average grade for things online is about 4.3 stars out of five.” On Youtube, the average review for videos is even higher at 4.6.

Ed Keller, the chief executive of Bazaarvoice, says that on average he finds that 65% of the word-of-mouth reviews are positive and only 8% are negative. Likewise, Andy Chen, the chief executive of Power Reviews, says “It’s like gambling. Most people remember the times they win and don’t realize that in aggregate they’ve lost money.”

Some people say that ratings are inflated because negative reviews are deleted, negative reviewers are given flak for their “brutal honesty,” or the reviews are tainted with overly positive self-aggrandizing reviews done on themselves.

With product reviews or performance reviews, “it’s kind of meaningless if every one is great.”

I remember when I was in the private sector, as managers we had to do a “forced rankings” of our employees regardless of their performance rating, in an effort to “get to truth” across the organization.

Generally speaking, performance systems have been lambasted for years for not recognizing and rewarding high performers or for dealing with performance problems.

Whether it products, people, or workplace issues, if we are not honest in measuring and reporting on what’s working and what’s not—fairly and constructively—then we will continue to delude ourselves and each other and hurt future performance. We cannot improve the status quo, if we don’t face up to real problems. We cannot take concrete, constructive action to learn and grow and apply innovate solutions, if we don’t know or can’t acknowledge our fundamental weaknesses.

“Being nice” with reviews may avert a confrontation in the short-term, but it causes more problems in the long-term.

Being honest, empathetic, and offering constructive suggestions for improvement with a genuine desire to see the person succeed or product/service improve—and not because the manager is “going after” someone—can be a thousand times more helpful than giving the nod, wink, and look-away to another opportunity for learning, growth, and personal and professional success.

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