Archive for December, 2010

The Power of (Constructive) Criticism

          I’ve done a considerable amount of writing in the past, and one thing I learned early on was the practice of submitting my article to others for critique. Humbling at times and often uncomfortable, my writing skills became  better over time as a result.  I believe there is a powerful principle here that is applicable to the entrepreneur, and for the following reasons.

           But first I should clarify what I mean.  The American Heritage Dictionary defines criticism as “the act of making judgments or evaluations,” and critique as “a critical review.” Thus when I speak of the power of constructive criticism I refer to a process whereby an assessment is made by the entrepreneur – or, by others – of any one segment or the whole of an organization, which, if acted upon, results in its betterment.

            I believe this can and should happen on one or more levels.

          The first I would identify is self-criticism, and there are at least three venues for this. 

            The most basic is where the business owner evaluates the enterprise, identifies areas needing attention, and takes corresponding actions to correct or improve them.  As most entrepreneurs are naturally inclined to do this anyway, this is an ongoing and continual process, albeit a mostly unplanned one.

            Closely associated is the input available from company personnel.  A valuable HR tool I’ve used over time is the Same Page© format of employee evaluations.  In this format not only does the company evaluate the employee’s performance, the employee evaluates the company’s performance.  Admittedly, criticism obtained here is not always constructive, but it is valuable from the standpoint of obtaining an employee’s perspective of the operation. Plus, what it says to your team is that their input is important and their ideas welcome. 

            The final venue for self-criticism is a more formal one, that of the SWOT analysis.  Here, the management team or select individuals take a close look at the company and identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats.  This process can also be discomfiting  at times, but the information garnered provides an invaluable tool for goal setting and planning.

            The second and most important level of constructive criticism should be sought outside the organization; namely, from the customer or an independent consulant or group. I’ll address the latter first. 

            Perhaps the best counsel I received early in my business career was to form an advisory board for my company – which I did, maintaining it for over 20 years.  Meeting quarterly, this group – comprised of successful business people – reviewed my financial statements, pending major decisions, and future plans, all with an impartial perspective and unafraid to point out deficiencies.  In recent years it was a CEO group I belonged to that gave me what I needed to move forward in the new economy.

            None of the above compares however with the input the customer provides.  While I can’t say I love complaints, I can say the ones I have received and responded to have served to make T. L. Hart a better company.  It isn’t all about complaints, though; it is finding out what the customer likes and dislikes about what you do for them.  This input must be solicited, whether by way of a personal phone call, an online survey, or a client-satisfaction response card.  There are also companies that can provide this kind of service for you. 

            As far as I know, no individual or company  has fully arrived and cannot improve in some way.  Inviting and applying constructive criticism goes along way toward achieving this end.

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