Startups · Entrepreneur

Is criticizing your employees a moral obligation?

Manoj Sahoo Lean Six Sigma Black Belt Project Manager at Freelancing (Self Employed)

September 21st, 2016

As the founder of a company where you are leading the efforts to push things forward, should you criticize your employees when they screw up on something?

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Tom Cunniff Founder at Cunniff Consulting, B2B Brand Consultancy

September 21st, 2016

Criticize, no. Coach, yes.

Dan Meier

September 21st, 2016

Manoj, I think you're missing the point. This shouldn't be about criticizing bad behavior. Rather, it should be about improving learning, building trust, and maintaining momentum. Something bad happened, so understand why it happened, fix it, learn from it, learn how NOT to repeat it, and move on. Building a punitive environment only demoralizes people and creates an environment that's unsafe to innovate.

Saravjit Singh Independent Consultant and Trainer

September 21st, 2016

Constructive criticism - yes, but this after you have built up your employees Emotional Intelligence.
However, we find that 90% of failures are process related and only 10% attributable to people. So, start off by first finding out whether the process went wrong and where. 
But why criticize in any case? Take failures as learning and stepping stones to success. Move on, don't sit on failures.

Joe Albano, PhD Using the business of entrepreneurialism to turn ideas into products and products into sustainable businesses.

September 21st, 2016

There is much to learn from this classic anecdote about Tom Watson, Jr. - the second president of IBM:

According to it, Tom Watson had called a VP to his office to discuss a failed development project that lost IBM in the range of $10 million. Expecting to be fired, the VP presented his letter of resignation. Tom Watson Jr. just shook his head: "You are certainly not leaving after we just gave you a $10 million education."

Scott McGregor Advisor, co-founder, consultant and part time executive to Tech Start-ups. Based in Silicon Valley.

September 21st, 2016

No.  You should not criticize your employees in a start-up.  (What you want to do is coach your employees!)  

In a start-up people are always doing something new (maybe because your product, service, business model or whatever has never existed anywhere in the world before so NO ONE knows how to do things for it; or maybe just because you are giving people a chance to do something they have never done before).   As a result, you can be certain they will make mistakes.    

And you want them to make mistakes.  Because the alternative is not merely no mistakes, it is complete paralysis. The away to avoid mistakes is to do absolutely nothing!   Start-ups need risk takers, and risk takers need to know this is a safe place to make mistakes.  So whenever you see a mistake, you want to actually reassure them that mistakes are human,  this one is not fatal, and so you can both go on to future successes. 

However,   you don’t want to be silent when things go wrong, otherwise mistakes keep repeating!  That’s where the coaching comes in.

Instead, you want to look for the "teachable moment" when both you and the other party can mutually and safely recognize - "ah, that was a mistake!" And then jointly do a post mortem and brainstorm:  "Here’s what we should do to avoid repeating that mistake!"

Michael Lipson Executive Coach & Strategic Consultant

September 26th, 2016

Suggestion - get curious first.  I mean really open minded curious - why did WE fail?  Even more valuable to get curious together w/the employee (which requires mutual trust: see CORE below - may backfire out trust & respect) - and eval what would have worked better, and what's it take to get there.

Use CORE to build trust and positive collaboration:
Cooperation - we're in this together
Ownership - we each own some part of the actions and result
Respect - we are each humans deserving and capable of giving respect
Empathy - we stand in each others shoes to understand what it;s like from their perspective.

Gabor Nagy Founder / Chief architect at Skyline Robotics

September 21st, 2016

I agree with Tom. It's all in the attitude and presentation. Keep the focus on what you are trying to achieve, rather than getting personal.
Resolving issues like that is not just a "moral" obligation. It's crucial, if it affects the success of the company and the livelihood of other employees.
I had to tell someone who worked for me that it's not cool to say you've done a task you haven't, thinking that you'll finish it later, because the people you work for will be counting on that task already being complete... I'd much rather have bad news than sugarcoating and risking finding out something is not done one day before a major deadline.
I explained it in those terms, calmly and professionally and the person was still embarrassed and defensive, but he understood and this has not happened afterwards.

Gary Gitelson VP of Engineering at mPerpetuo, Inc.

September 21st, 2016

   I definitely agree with Tom.  You can't just let it go, because you need to create accountability.  But criticizing failure prevents risk taking, makes the team scared to commit, and creates a paralyzing culture.  You need to analyze why it failed, and work with the person to produce better results in the future.  But criticizing is not a productive leadership strategy in general.  As was also suggested, responsibility for failure is often just as much with the person who created the goal as with the person who failed.  If the goal was not realistic and measurable, then failure was preordained.  Be careful about coming down hard on someone who was trying to do the impossible and came up short.

John Corry Software Engineer, Tools at Yik Yak, Inc.

September 21st, 2016

Alan, which recruitment process eliminates screw ups/mistakes? Or do you mean, "review your recruitment process" to consider how you're going to convince/persuade people to come work at a place where they'll find themselves under attack from leadership when they "screw up"?

John Corry Software Engineer, Tools at Yik Yak, Inc.

September 21st, 2016

"Criticism" will do much more harm than good to your entire organization. I know personally I would never want to serve under a leader who doesn't understand this. We all make mistakes, being berated for them is a surefire way to make work unsafe, unhappy and just not worth it anymore. Your team is constantly being solicited to go join other teams, the good ones will not stay to be attacked and criticized every time the founder thinks they should have done something differently. "Moral obligation"?...I am laughing.