A lot of how-to business books have high praise for, well, praise. But is there a place in your company, and mine, for some brutal—and very public—criticism?
Fair warning, you won’t find this technique in namby-pamby guides like The One Minute Manager, which recommends: “Help people reach their full potential…catch them doing something right.” I’m not saying to give up on praise. And I’m definitely not recommending you try this at home. My wife and teenage daughters might have certain negative feedback for me. And that’s not public enough for this approach.
Some CEOs are sure that criticism is an under-appreciated educational tool. So are you robbing your employees of an opportunity to reach greater productivity by favoring the softer, more polite touch when it comes to feedback on a job not so well done?
What I learned from Allscripts CEO Glen Tullman is that public feedback is necessary and sometimes vital. Consider this specific tactic he shared with me: “When somebody does something wrong, you correct him or her individually and then one person learns that lesson. Or you can send an email to the whole company and the whole company learns that lesson.”
The advantage for both manager and employee, says Glen, is that “to survive in that environment, you have to develop a soft shell but a very hard core. You have to be able to take those hits…If you make it through, you’re unbelievably strong.”
Glen and his older brother Howard Tullman, both champion entrepreneurs interviewed in How They Did It: Billion Dollar Insights from the Heart of America, had a leg up with blunt feedback from an early age. They both acknowledge growing up in a hyper-competitive house. As Glen said, “My mother always promoted high standards and was honest when you didn’t achieve them.”
I was brought up with the wuss style, praise in public and criticize in private, but I think Glen has a point. Better for all employees to learn from one mistake, he told me, rather than to wait for it to be repeated.
Worried about what your employees will think? Will it create an environment of fear? If the corporate culture embraces learning and truth seeking, then you get collective improvement. Another useful by-product of that approach, according to Glen, is skin thickening, if you will, that bodes well for future communication and survival in the competitive environment that lurks outside your company doors. Finally, the act of taking criticism and the expectation that you need to bounce back creates a resilient body of employees who can change course on a dime.
This idea has been adopted by other managers as well, most notably superstar CEO Andrew Grove. Intel uses an aggressive approach with a formal name: constructive confrontation. No holding back, whether you’re the CEO or a new rookie engineer. The approach was designed to motivate people to solve problems through highly assertive exchanges.
Would you—could you—do this as a manager? It’s definitely food for thought. Public criticism, if delivered in the spirit of creating greater good for all, may be a management tool that’s underused.
Glen Tullman shared his thoughts on management and entrepreneurship at the New York Entrepreneurial Bash on Oct. 3. Visit www.entrepbash.com for more information.
**Robert Jordan is a Forbes.com contributor. View the original posting of this article on Forbes.com.