Electronic Design

Which Would You Prefer First, The Good News Or The Bad News?

Although Ogg, the Cro-Magnon design engineer, possessed vast experience in engineering, he had received little training in management. Ogg had extensive experience conducting performance evaluations on ax handles and rocks, but he had no experience with doing them on people. Unlike some engineers, he suspected that different rules would apply when evaluating people.

Ogg asked two of his managers at the Bison Valley Ax Works for advice. Grnk, the vice president of manufacturing, re-sponded, "Always give them the bad news first. That way, the good news seems even sweeter." But Snbl, the vice president of human resources, contradicted Grnk and said, "Always give them the good news first. This puts them in a good frame of mind to tell them the bad news."

Both of these approaches are quite characteristic of stone-age management. But when I was a Navy officer, we had a very different philosophy. We believed that the person receiving the evaluation shouldn't receive any news. We felt that when the best managers reviewed the performance of their subordinates, they would yawn and say, "Yeah, I already knew that."

The theory behind this practice is that if your subordinates are surprised to learn about a job well-done, then you missed the opportunity to provide immediate feedback when they did something correctly. Equally, when subordinates are surprised to learn they completed a poor job, it reflects that you, the manager, failed to supply immediate feedback about what disappointed you.

There are two good reasons why immediate feedback is desirable. One is backed by psychologists' knowledge that immediate feedback has more influence than delayed feedback. Our brains associate cause and effect more strongly if they occur in time proximity. In other words, we learn faster by immediate feedback.

The second reason is because immediate feedback permits the other party to change its behavior earlier. The more quickly we provide feedback, the faster someone can change his or her performance. The fewer times that a person has practiced an undesirable behavior, the more easily that person can eliminate it.

Of course, evaluating performance effectively requires more than just giving feedback quickly. Here are a few tips:

  • Jointly develop concrete, measurable objectives with the person under evaluation at the beginning of the period. Specific, concrete objectives reduce misunderstandings.
  • Deliberately allow time for informally reviewing an individual's performance long before the completion of the evaluation period.
  • Carefully distinguish be-tween your disapproval of a person's performance and your feelings for that individual. People more willingly tolerate criticism when you simultaneously show respect for their skills, intentions, and integrity.
  • Since time immemorial, it has been a military adage to criticize in private and praise in public. People's resentment toward public humiliation can far exceed any value obtained by embarrassing them. In contrast, public praise both rewards the individual in the spotlight, and communicates to all those behaviors that the organization values.

If you find yourself surprising people at their annual performance evaluations, you might want to examine your own management approach rather than blaming them for not expecting the result.

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