Monthly Archives: November 2011

Why criticism needs to be constructive

You would have seen various people lamenting publicly about the state of the government, the poor performance of their favorite sports team, about proposed financial reforms and various other topics where an opinion can be formed. There are an abundance of folks to provide negative feedback or criticism. However, there are very few who provide an alternative means to do this better!

This becomes extremely important in a professional environment due to the three different groups of people that you can deliver criticism to:

1. Criticism delivered to a peer
2. Criticism delivered to a subordinate
3. Criticism delivered to a superior

Before I embark on explaining what I mean by the above categories, I would like to outline right at the outset that the word “criticism” is being used in a very broad perspective and the critique that I am referring to could be in the form of feedback about someone’s behavior/performance, opinions on a new proposal, discussions/comments on someone’s ideas in a strategy meeting etc.

Criticism delivered to a peer

This is probably the least thought about and most instinctive in nature. It is a normal tendency to bounce a new idea or a proposal off a close confidant or a friend who is in the same line of work or understands the business intricacies of your organization. This provides a means of a sanity check for the individual to make sure that he/she is not running after an unrealistic goal. Blatant negativity or outright dismissal in such a situation would definitely hurt the individual’s morale and prevent further such interactions in the future. If the person is of an easily discouraged nature, then more than one such encounter would have killed the individual’s urge to innovate!

Criticism delivered to a subordinate

Now this to most leaders might seem an easy task because the feedback is being delivered to their direct reports or someone reporting into their chain of command. A good leader never falls into the “I am the boss and they are supposed to listen to what I say” trap. Rather a good leader learns to understand what motivates his employees/subordinates and uses the passion that drives them to get them motivated to deliver on business results. Innovation and success of the world’s top companies were the collective effort of a visionary leader and an energized workforce. It requires a leader who listens to his/her workforce and made sure he/she drove them towards the path of success by incorporating all the effective ideas into an effective strategy for success. So if you are curbing free thought in your organization but not recognizing or acknowledging the effort of the individual who is thinking about a long term strategy, then you definitely might regret it at a later time if a market competitor picked up the individual and his/her idea and used it against you. There are various such stories of examples similar to this in history. But if you as a leader saw a nascent idea and recognized the potential of such an idea, encouraged the subordinate to think more clearly, provided constructive feedback by outlining why there were some holes in the idea(s) and what could be done to possibly address them, then you as a leader will be successful in fostering passion  and innovation in your workforce.

Criticism delivered to a superior

This is probably the most difficult part of providing feedback. The most common reason for apprehension for providing feedback to a superior is the fear of backlash. If you as a leader exhibit the openness to encourage feedback about company/team strategies, then you will have taken the first step in encouraging feedback. You as an employee need to make sure that you understand or try to understand the reasoning behind a team/company strategy, then you will find that you are in a better position to give feedback. The most common reaction to a new company/team strategy is negativity and pessimism when the enforcement or execution of such a strategy will throw you out of your comfort zone or ask you to do things differently or learn a new way of doing things even though the current way doing the same thing is still working. Proving feedbacks which fall under this category requires a level for compromise from both sides so that they can understand each other by standing on common ground! In this situation, constructive feedback is very pertinent because the strategy/idea would have come after serious thought, planning and time investment. So if you are disagreeing, be ready to get into a discussion about the pitfalls and the possible remediation measures for the same!

In all the above situations, the primary motive in such situations before giving any sort of such feedback would be to understand what were the motivations behind such a reasoning/need. Remember that “your path is not the only right path and your way is not the only way to get a job done“! Be respectful of someone else’s ideas but do not hesitate to point out the pitfalls and suggest alternative means of addressing the pitfall.

At a restaurant, just saying that the grilled chicken tasted bad only points out that you (out of the 10 people that also ordered the same dish) didn’t like the grilled chicken. But if you said that the grilled chicken didn’t taste good because you felt it was a bit more raw than it was supposed to be, then you managed to provide to constructive feedback. This provides an actionable item for the cook responsible for preparing the grilled chicken next time!

I have worked in an organization where delivering all the above three different types of feedback were encouraged which made it possible for me to learn the intricacies of giving and receiving feedback in an open and respectful manner at a very early stage of my career!

Self Deprecation, Buddh and Fast Cars

The last week of October saw the Indian media and DSC_0196about 10% of the country’s population excited about one of the biggest sporting spectacle that the country had to witness. The beginning of the week was marred with media coverage on whether the country needs the sport. Well even though I still remain a die-hard fan of cricket, there is nothing wrong to promote sports which show good prospect and a future. An article from Shobha De on the very same topic outlined why choosing India as a destination made good economic sense to the F1 boss. In India, we love to lament about the fact that we have a sizeable percentage of the population below the poverty line and such endeavors is gross negligence by the organizers and parties involved of the country’s economic situation. But when it comes to doing something about it… well, let’s just say they don’t do much! I am sure the “hike in petrol prices” was done keeping the impoverished Indian’s best interests in mind!! 

The reason I say 10% (which is definitely not a accurate number and I am using it as a figure of speech) because the country’s top sport still remains as “cricket“. Formula 1 is followed in this country with a passion among the enthusiasts but there is a majority (even the ones who were present at the circuit on Race Day) who don’t understand the sport. The simplistic belief is that the fastest car and the one finishing the race ahead of everyone wins. To an extent that is definitely correct but when the drivers and constructor’s championship, qualifying, practice, drive-throughs etc. are added to the mix… It probably becomes an overdose for the layman!

I have been a big fan of Formula for nearly a decade now and couldn’t obviously pass up the opportunity to witness this spectacle. And boy… it was totally worth it!

Probably the biggest glitch during the three days was the stray dog having a field day during the practice session on Friday and receiving more media attention for the next 5 minutes than any other hotshot at the circuit. It is really a cause for concern having an animal on track where cars reach speeds in excess of 300kmph and a big hazard to the driver’s safety! When so much effort had gone into laying out the massive circuit, probably a bit of more pain could have been taken to ensure that stray animals weren’t doing a track inspection. They have safety cars for that! Smile However, stray animals on track at the Greater Nodia cicuit is not the world’s first. Bruno Senna had retired from the GP2 sprint race at Istanbul Park in 2008 after hitting a stray dog and damaging the front suspension. However, it was surprising to note that many of my fellow countrymen decided to pass a judgmental opinion that the race was doomed… there would other glitches during qualifying and race day and yada yada yada… The social networks especially Twitter were brimming with a bunch of these smart-alec and self-deprecating tweets. Some of them were in good humor which did give me a good laugh but you could very easily distinguish the downright pessimists/cynics from the rest!

Personally I regretted not having bought a parking pass. An oversight which my friend gladly reminded me WP_000275on every opportunity he got on the two days that we were at the track. As you can see from the picture above, that there was a loooonnngg queue! This was the place where folks like me who didn’t bother to get a parking pass (I honestly didn’t know I would regret it so much) had to park their cars which was probably a good 15kms (9 miles) from the stand that I was sitting at and involved two bus hops!! It took us 4 hours to get to the circuit and 4 hours to get back!! A journey time that almost gets me to London from Bangalore. The arrangements to control traffic could definitely have been better just as the forecast had been made that there would be a large influx of vehicles at the venue. It was rumored that over 100,000 tickets were sold for Race Day and after seeing the number of people thronging the bus stands to get to the parking area post-race, I didn’t want to disagree. Any mega event in this country comes with a mass of people (owing to the country’s population) and what arrangements are sufficient in most countries to control a crowd would be grossly inadequate in India. And this is just not due to the numbers but some of it can be attributed to the mob mentality of the crowd here. Take the Delhi Metallica concert fiasco as an example! Given the fact that no major crowd related incident occurred in the three days, you definitely want to congratulate the authorities involved and the hard work put in by them.

It was surreal to see Schumacher race around the track (even though it wasn’t a Ferrari) or even a Ferrari car zooming past the stand that I was in. I could just go on. I now have one item less on my bucket list!! I made a mental note ten minutes into the race that I would get a camcorder next time I am attending a F1 race as still photography just doesn’t cut it! The cars are too darn fast and photography is not my strong suit, which means that the pictures taken of the these speed demons by me are not getting me any prizes.

I was glad that I travelled over 2000kms (1250 miles) to DSC_0205watch the first inaugural Grand Prix at the Buddh International Circuit. Post race, all racers did have good things to say about the track barring the dust which was there. There were earnest attempts made by the officials to minimize the effect of the dust but in an area where you can throw a stone and hit a construction site, keeping the track dust-free is probably more difficult than keeping the dog out! Smile

There will be more races in the future at the Buddh International Circuit but there will never be another F1 inaugural race! And for my ultra-pessimistic countrymen… Yes, we live in a bureaucratic environment rift with nepotism, corruption and drudgery in daily life but when we put our minds to make something happen in this environment, it does happen!! The first Indian Grand Prix is such an example! 

After the CWG debacle, this was probably an example of how things can get done in this country!

Race Day @ Buddh International Circuit