The '2-1-2-1' Rule of Criticizing Your Employees

January 10, 2021

Yes, you can motivate people through criticism. Maybe up to date you have done criticism on your people when you became angry on their performance, or even just casually done it. But you can make criticism a very useful tool that does not demotivate people. Instead, the criticism, if well planned and executed, can make difference in their performance in a positive way. For this, you need to follow the '2-1-2-1' rule while you do it.

Most people don’t understand the fine line. Yes, there is an invisible line while criticizing your subordinates. Often the new Managers and even some seniors do not understand the line and cross it at the same time. This results in worsening the game.

Remember, as a Manager, your goal is not to make a projection of the faults in your employees. You have a target set by the higher management, or the board of Directors, or you yourself. Your job is to honestly reach that goal through the efforts of a team that is reporting to you. Criticizing an employee should revolve around this purpose.

Don’t criticize people only to keep them scared about you. It is a miserable and ridiculous tactic applied by even some of the senior management peoples. Criticism is one of the factors which plays a vital role in motivating people. The first rule is, don't criticize someone, instead, criticize their work only. You can avoid things taken by your people personally by this. There is a fine line which you should always keep in mind while talking to your people.

Unfair and negative criticism of one’s work or someone as an individual demotivates them. When you criticize do it in such a way that the person gets benefitted from this. You can simply follow the ‘2-1-2-1 rule’.

You cannot avoid criticizing people while operating as a Manager or Business owner. Unless you provide feedback to people working under you they will not understand what good or bad they have done. But, it is often seen that the criticizing Managers become unpopular among employees and people don’t really accept them as a leader. You can change this if you follow this simple rule.

The 2-1-2-1 rule of criticism

Before criticizing people put your feet into their shoes. Understand what they actually did wrong, and what are the possible reasons. Spend no more than 2 minutes in this groundwork.

When you are done, talk to the person. Brief him what you didn’t like, spend only 1 minute in this.

Next, ask them what would they improve to correct their mistake. Let them think and reply. Don’t spend more than 2 minutes on this exercise. It would be better to provide them with a piece of paper and ask them to write on that if you want.

The next step is, add your own suggestions. Being the boss you must have a clear idea of the whole thing, and thus you should correct them for any pitfalls in the action plan they wanted to do in the previous 2 minutes. This step should not take more than 1 minute.

So, this is 2-1-2-1 rules, in a nutshell, total 6 minutes towards positive criticism.

The Golden rules for a positive, motivating criticism:

1. You must be sure about the doer of the fault and should have your strong reasons ready before starting the punches.

2. Be specific and let it be clear to the person in front of you that why he is getting criticized during the conversation. It would be good to point to the exact damage he has done.

3. Keep in mind that long criticism or reprimands do not yield better results. Play the ‘2-1-2-1 rule’ for optimum use of time and better results.

4. Put stress on the faults they have done on this occasion only. Don’t make it a general reprimand session about how he failed to achieve his monthly sales target one year back.

5. Focus on the fault made by the person, not them as a person. It is good to use phrases related to ‘your work’ than ‘you’. Your subordinate should clearly understand that his specific wrong work is getting analyzed, and not himself as a human being, or, his work in general. Targeting his works in general or him as a person may lower their self-esteem and self-confidence which will bar him from doing improvement in the near future.

6. Have a strong voice enough clear to make him listen but screaming will not make much difference. Better to maintain your cool during the session as losing it may compel you to utter unwanted words – this will only worsen the whole thing.

7. No abuses, please. Remember that your arguments should be hard than the words you use.

8. No racist comments like “All you guys from bla-bla state are like this”. Remember that any comment citing race, religion, caste, and even education of your subordinate also creates your negative impression of you as a boss (Some of them can even let you in trouble). It will only lessen the productivity of workers by demoralizing them.

9. At the end of the reprimand, make it clear what is the result you expect from and employee and possible corrective measures in the event where he has committed some fault.

10. Do not make a repetition of criticism for the same event. Instead, have follow-up sessions with them to multiply the effect of reprimand. In those follow-up sessions have a discussion with them in a normal manner and ask for developments in the specific issues. If found any development, praise the employee.

The Conclusion

Don’t ever spell sentences like “Company will not stop for anyone” or “Achievement of the target will not be held if somebody leaves”. Everybody knows that the company would not really stop if a particular employee leaves or does not work well. All we want to say that public depiction of these phrases will not do any good for you, rather it will demoralize the really good employees.

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