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looking backwards – Part 4 – the value of credit and criticism

May 10, 2011

This is the 4th in my looking backwards series examining what corporations have forgotten in the last 50 years. It is based on a document from 1968 entitled GUIDING PRINCIPLES AND OBJECTIVES IN EMPLOYEE RELATIONS. The earlier piece which started exploring the subject of individual recognition can be read here.

They say that you have to give in order to receive and the next two points cover the areas of giving credit and criticism this way:

Credit and Criticism

My first instinct is to say there is not much more I can say in regards to applying these in the corporate world. They just make sense.

Give prompt and generous credit when credit is due. Period. Give private, tempered guidance or criticism. Simple.

Generous and in a manner that will help the individual … is where I think people come unstuck.

Take a moment to think about a person you work with or someone who reports to you. Do you know what they value most?

Family? Money? Increased influence? Increased responsibility? Leisure time? A good single origin coffee? Respect of their peers? What do I value?

If you can’t answer that question then you can be as prompt as you like but there is a good chance you will never hit the mark as far as being generous goes. To be clear, I don’t think my 1968 Corporation meant that generous equals huge amounts of time and/or money.

My dictionary defines generous as:

showing a readiness to give more of something than is strictly necessary or expected.

And there is your opportunity. You can recognise someone for the contribution they have made by giving them a movie voucher at the monthly team meeting. That is the sort of thing they might expect. Giving an end of year hamper is a nice way to recognise good performance. Until it becomes expected. The challenge there for a leader is, I think, to do the unexpected.

Understand what people value most and give them that in order to deliver real value to your organisation.

If I value money highly, then sure give me a bonus. The respect of my peers – give me praise for my specific contribution to the team’s success. Leisure time – give me the afternoon off. Family – tell me to come in around 11 am tomorrow so that I can drop the kids at school with my partner and go for coffee or help with the grocery shopping.

Giving me extra work to do sounds more like a punishment than a reward – unless you understand that what I value most is increased responsibility and the opportunity to prove to you what I am really capable of. Or as Dan Pink suggests maybe you pay me to do something I love doing that is not work related.

The value that the Corporation receives from giving me what I value is immense.

On the criticism side I think the approach should be the same. Take the time to understand what works best for me. Anyone who has managed to stay married will tell you there is a right way and a wrong way to go about facilitating behaviour change.

Looking for opportunities to “catch them doing it right” means that you can reinforce the behaviours you want.  Checking in to make sure you share a common understanding of what is expected. An informal discussion over coffee, a formal review of progress against the current set of KPIs or an After Action Review to figure out what worked and what did not. A performance management program facilitated by someone in HR…

The focus must be on understanding what is going to work best for the individual concerned so that you can give the guidance or criticism in a manner that best helps the individual to learn from their mistakes.

Understand what people value most and use that knowledge to deliver value when you give both credit and criticism. You will be showing a readiness to give more of something than is strictly necessary or expected. You will be surprised by what you receive.


This is the 4th in my occasional series looking backwards to find a way forward series examining what corporations have forgotten in the last 50 years. The first piece in the series can be read here.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Megan permalink
    May 10, 2011 8:45 pm

    I love this model. Back to basics. I think, however, that it assumes a number of things. Things that are not always realised. It assumes that the manager is capable of delivering, understanding and connecting with their employees. It assumes that employees feel the freedom within the organisation to speak freely to their superiors and peers about issues that matter to them.

    I guess that’s the point of the model… but still… it assumes some basic human and social qualities that are not always apparent. Just as some economic theory assumes that 1. every person is a “rational” thinker and 2. they will make decisions based on getting something beneficial, the 1968 model also assumes things that will only be present in a “perfect” society.

    I will always keep these principles in my consciousness – But I’m not sure if I will see it come to fruition.

    • May 10, 2011 9:13 pm

      Megan I would go a step further I think. The approach requires the manager to have those skills that you identify.

      I was not a part of the corporate world in 1968 so I don’t know whether they are assuming things that will only be present in a perfect society or if that sort of environment was, if not the norm, a common occurrence back then.

      I think that being open to the existence of differences between then and now and asking why they might be there is where the value is in this document. Questions like ‘is it really that different?” and “what might have changed or be the same?” create a space for an awareness that things could be different. Whether we see it come to fruition is perhaps a conversation for another day.

      • Megan permalink
        May 10, 2011 10:27 pm

        Agreed and agreed. Some things will change, and some things will remain the same. My reflection on this is really about how it applies now. Whether this is a lesson learnt by a particularly observant individual (or group) which was documented to preserve the ideals of the time, or whether it was a vision of utopia, it is almost irrelevant when trying to apply it in the contemporary workplace – especially if the assumptions are faulty.

        I’ll admit, I am feeling a little bewildered by the fact that after approaching my superiors (today!!), I do not feel “better” or “inspired” or “valued” after that interaction. It was a personal triumph for me to follow through with my new motto of “to hell with the hierarchy!” but really, I fulfilled that bit. Not my managers. I’m not convinced that my interactions will contribute to the greater good, as it was intended. Perhaps that is a mis-placed expectation.

        Perhaps I have more invested in the 1968 model that I am willing to admit. hmm. I’ll sleep on it – and see if I feel differently tomorrow.


  1. looking a bit backwards – Part 5 – means not ends | finding my own Way

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