I recently counseled a client through a difficult human resources issue. Like most human issues, it was not cut and dry. I spent weeks evaluating, assessing and analyzing expectations, responsibilities, processes and performances. What I discovered is that while there were very clear issues, the exact cause of them was unclear. Hearts were in the right place, but there was still an insurmountable disconnect.
To help me get to the root of the issue – to uncover the exact point of disconnect – I tried to break down the process of constructive criticism reception and resolution. Here’s what I came up with.
Sincere listening and open-minded reception of concerns.
Sincere desire to understand expectations related to those areas (e.g. “What do I need to do differently?”) and resolve any disagreement or ambiguity.
Initiative to seek tools and counsel that help equip the individual for making changes related to areas of concern.
Raised consciousness and heightened sensitivities when operating in areas of concern.
Humility and ownership of mis-steps along the way (e.g. sincere apologies, “I’m working on this and appreciate your help and patience”).
Solicitation of and gratitude for counsel and feedback throughout the process.
Although resolution of the concern areas may never become second-nature to the individual, he or she demonstrates an awareness of blind spots and a reflexive adjustment that helps compensate in a healthy and positive way.
After outlining this process, I was able to pinpoint exactly where the breakdown was occurring. The employee in question was receiving the constructive criticism positively; that was not disputed. But the train derailed quickly after that. The employee showed little to no initiative in seeking tools or counsel to help equip her to make the changes expected and required for her to be successful. Her colleagues expected her to operate in the territory of Steps 4 and 5, but she never progressed past Step 2 in the above process. The result was a tense and emotionally-charged workplace.
Sometimes in order to identify the cause of a problem, we must first put the problem in the greater context of a process. Pinpointing exactly where the breakdown is occurring in that process allows for a surgical solution. Surgical solutions are more efficient and effective (and tend to result in less pain and bloodshed).
I have long said that initiative is not something you can teach another person. People either have initiative, or they don’t. Those who demonstrate initiative typically make exemplary employees; those who don’t tend to be a drain on an organization. Discerning initiative should be a top priority when interviewing prospective job candidates.