When Review Becomes Dangerous

Learning without thought is labor lost; thought without learning is perilous.
Confucius

More than once on the Thrive Blog you have read about the importance of review and reflection. Becoming a learning organization is critical to success in today’s dynamic business climate, and nothing is more important to learning than review and reflection. Organizational knowledge comes from the constant cycle of defining expectations and measuring results. The review of how results compare to objectives, and the discussion of what happened, is where organizations can compile a wealth of information.

Though this learning cycle is critical to success, there is a huge danger zone that leaders must be very cautious of. Reflection and review, when not tied directly to learning, will quickly become criticism. When there is a team goal of creating better performance no matter what it takes, review happens in a way that is positive and effective. Team members walk away from meetings with energy to do better and accomplish more. There is a sense that things are going well, but an excitement about what could be accomplished if things are done even better. When review is done with a team that has lost that ideal, it becomes personal and demotivating. Team members will often begin to take criticism as personal attacks. Teams will begin to dread performance review, and ultimately they will become negative and complacent towards learning. This is a dangerous place where continued pressure to review and reflect on results will not create learning opportunities but simply decrease motivation and increase frustration.

Because of this danger, it is critically important leaders keep reflection tied to learning and measurable results. Leaders should continually communicate to staff that reflection and review is about learning and getting better as a team. Managers must be very careful to review what can be measured and what was communicated as expectation. It does little good to do a performance review on events, issues, and products that where not concretely spelled out with attainable and measurable objectives. When we conduct performance reviews on issues without measurable and specified objectives, we are simply criticizing. Nothing can be more important for learning that performance reviews, and nothing can be more demotivating than simple criticism.

The key to quality performance review is clear goals and objectives.

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