Criticism can be debilitating but in a Learning Organisation it needs to flourish if we are to avoid risking mediocre outcomes due to the fear of, or resistance to, it.
Criticism is defined as: "The practice of judging the merits and faults of something (or somebody) in an intelligible (or articulate) way"; which in itself does not denote that it is negative. However, the word has gained a reputation as a negative means of communication and is often something that is avoided by the receiver and abused by the giver.
However, to ensure that we can achieve excellence, both individually and collectively, we must make criticism an integral part of the dialogue of the organisation but, to do so, we need to learn how to give and receive it well.
The word Criticism probably won't even be used by the team but, in it's purest and most positive form, this is what will be happening and the Team will embrace this 'Gift' as a key driver of their performance. What will have happened is that everyone will have learned to be both the giver and receiver of criticism and, when giving, will be prepared not only to tell the other person why what they're are doing (or more accurately how the process is performing) is not good enough but will be prepared to help in solving the problem.
What will also happen is that the team members will gain a much higher appreciation of the work done by their colleagues and will also praise and learn from each other as part of the process.
In Lean Thinking terms, this is living Kata and the process of small coaching sessions against process performance is Kamishibai and are both oft overlooked elements of a Lean Management System but are essentially the 'glue' that holds it together and helps in the development of People: Which is what a Learning Organisation is all about and what the most successful organisations have achieved.
Whilst writing this article I came across one that I read by Dan Rockwell (the "Leadership Freak") providing some great advice on how to give Criticism like a Pro. I would definitely recommend reading it at this link.
In the Oxford English Dictionary, the definition of Mediocrity is given as:
"1. The state of being mediocre 2. A person of mediocre ability"
Given this definition, I'm pretty certain that Mediocrity is not something that any Organisation or Individual would ever admit to behaving like or aspiring to. Nevertheless, it is one of the biggest barriers to delivering the change in an Organisation.
Consider Kotter's 8 Steps Change Management Model (for more information on the model, Craig Smith recently wrote about it in an Article) and one of the biggest issues is that the first step, Creating a Sense of Urgency, is often difficult unless an organisation is truly in crisis. For most Organisations, whilst Senior Leaders, Investors and a majority of the Employees might accept that the performance is not at the desired level to ultimately prosper, they don't feel enough of a 'Burning Platform' to actually commit to the change that they need to make themselves.
The Mediocrity Barrier often results in the Organisation's failure of Step 7: Don't Let Up; as the Quick Wins attained (Step 6) create a false sense of achievement and result in the declaration of victory too soon, meaning that the Management attention and the Guiding Coalition (Step 2) that have helped to foster the success to date disintegrate and focus is moved onto other 'day-to-day' activities. This leaves the Change Managers in a lonely position and results in the degradation of the results over time.
Figure 2: Inconsistent vs. consistent Change Activity
A powerful technique for assessing whether the Change Leadership is in place is the VCRSP test, which is an initialism for Vision, Commitment, Resources, Skills and Plan, and is an excellent way to establish whether the right conditions are in place, both at the beginning of the Transformation but also throughout the process. Where evidence presents itself that one or more of the VCRSP test are not in place, the Leadership must take action or risk the (almost certain) deterioration of its effectiveness.
To explain more with respect to VCRSP:
Vision: The Leadership must have identified the 'Burning Platform' for change and fully established the 'Why?' for communication to the Organisation, with a clear articulation of where the organisation is going to, both in terms of Business Performance but also what it means for the Employees and other Stakeholders. The vision must be Customer Centric and People Focussed and engage the employees in a motivating 'Vision of the future'.
Commitment: The Senior Leadership must be fully committed to the change and be willing to accept that they will have to change as well as the rest of the employees. The Change starts with them and will then cascade through the organisation as priorities and expectations are aligned across the business. The behaviours that got them where they are today are not those that will get them where they want the organisation to go to and so they need to be Role Models in the change. This means being both a Visible Leader and ensuring that Communication is clear, consistent and often.
Resources: To make the Transformation effective, resources will need to be made available to facilitate, guide and coach throughout the process, whilst the engagement of all employees must be managed effectively. Again, clear communication around the vision and what employees should expect is crucial and the avoidance of lay-offs is critical, otherwise the message sent is simply that the transformation is a cleverly disguised headcount reduction activity.
However, it must be realised that employee turnover may be affected in times of change and therefore efforts must be doubled in terms of succession planning for key positions and the development of multi-skilling. As the Transformation of the Business becomes more mature, it is natural that some of the key drivers of change will be recruited by other organisations and this must also be managed and accepted that this is a collateral part of success, rather than failure.
Figure 3: A traditional approach to Business Transformation
Skills: The Transformation and Change Managers will of course need to be adequately skilled to undertake the task and this is an oft neglected area, with high performing employees being assumed to be able to undertake the task with their current competences. This is a big mistake and a mix of experienced Transformation Leaders, combined with high performance individuals who are afforded the right training and coaching is essential. Allied to this, the competences required for all employees in the Transformed Organisation must be identified and developed throughout the process.
Plan: To make it all work a solid plan must be in place that contains all of the attributes of the Transformation. The plan will not be a static document and will never survive the 'first shot of battle' and so it is essential that robust Project Management is applied throughout the Transformation and the Leadership must be agile as it adapts to 'speed bumps' along the way whilst maintaining the 'true north' of the Vision.
Through the disciplined execution of the Change Management Process, combined with a regular and honest assessment of its status with respect to the VCRSP test, true Change Leadership can be practiced and the Organisational Transformation navigated through the Mediocrity Barrier and toward True Excellence.
"I aim to promote the global sharing of best practices in the application of Lean Thinking."