Geez! So I Have To Be Sweet Too?

For someone who can just look at a millennial and have them cry, this article caught my attention. I was surprised at the “it doesn’t work” responses though. Well, my grandmother’s shame may have worked on me, but it is counterproductive with my folks.  I don’t agree with the naysayers but I do think it takes more effort by managers.  Read Rachel’s article from the WSJ and decide for yourself.

Accentuate the Positive

Employees are asking managers to ease up on harsh feedback and focus on the positives. WSJ’s Rachel Feintzeig discusses with Sara Murray on the News Hub.

If you don’t have anything nice to say, management has a tip: Try harder.

Fearing they’ll crush employees’ confidence and erode performance, employers are asking managers to ease up on harsh feedback. “Accentuate the positive” has become a new mantra at workplaces like VMware Inc., Wayfair Inc., and the Boston Consulting Group Inc., where bosses now dole out frequent praise, urge employees to celebrate small victories and focus performance reviews around a particular worker’s strengths—instead of dwelling on why he flubbed a client presentation.

The shift may annoy leaders who rose in a tough-love era in business, but executives say hard-edge tactics simply do more harm than good these days.

When employees’ flaws are laid bare, “there’s that mental ‘ugh’ and shrug of, ‘This is who I am,’ ” says Michelle Russell, a partner at BCG.

Bit by bit, the consulting firm has changed the way managers evaluate employee performance. For years, those discussions focused largely on employee missteps and where they needed to improve.

“We would bring them in and beat them down a bit,” says Ms. Russell. After the reviews, she observed some employees left the company as their confidence and performance slipped; others seemed rattled days or weeks later.

Now, managers are expected to extol staffers’ strengths during reviews and check-ins, explaining how the person can use his or her talents to tackle aspects of the job that come less naturally.

Bosses are advised to mention no more than one or two areas that require development, Ms. Russell adds.

Some veteran managers dismissed the new approach as a feel-good initiative, she says. Others found they had to force consultants—so accustomed to homing in on their weaknesses—to listen to what they were doing well, says Ms. Russell.

Liz Gilliam, a project leader with the company, says she always zoned out during the positive parts of performance discussions with managers, but took notes whenever her bosses pointed out her flaws. Ms. Gilliam, 31 years old, found the negatives “disheartening” and “jarring,” but admits she couldn’t help obsessing over them.

Managers now require her to pay attention to the positives—one forbade her to write down her weaknesses unless she jotted down the good things, too, and another made her transcribe her strengths on a white board. “It’s a scary exercise,” she says, but has given her newfound confidence.

Not that firms want to eliminate negative feedback entirely. Tough feedback sometimes motivates people better than praise does, management experts say. Jack Zenger and Joseph Folkman of leadership consultancy Zenger Folkman have found employees crave critiques more than gold stars.

Showing people how they stack up is the “emotionally loudest” type of feedback, according to Sheila Heen, a lecturer at Harvard Law School and co-author of “Thanks for the Feedback.” Most employees feel unappreciated, Ms. Heen says, and criticism tends to overshadow appreciation or coaching, especially among young workers.

Still, companies that ramp up the positivity need to make sure they’re not totally bypassing the evaluation of employees, she says.

Workers want to know where they stand, and they’ll start listening for evaluation in all kinds of conversations if they’re not getting it during a performance review, for example.

It can become an excuse for managers “to avoid the parts of the conversation they didn’t want to have,” Ms. Heen says. Problems can fester and employees will notice when their colleagues aren’t pulling their weight. “That also is demoralizing,” she says.

Maynard Webb, chairman of Yahoo Inc. and author of a 2013 book on work, recalls being yelled at by an executive at IBM in the early 1980s. With such feedback, “you just tried to make sure it didn’t derail you,” he says.

That same executive today would face disciplinary action, guesses Mr. Webb. “People expect to be treated differently,” he says.

Lots of businesses remain devoted to toughness. At Netflix Inc., chief executive Reed Hastings ’s famed manifesto on the company culture likens the firm to a pro sports team, not a Little League squad, noting that “adequate performance gets a generous severance package.”

The rising popularity of tools like Gallup’s StrengthsFinder, which is designed to measure a person’s talents in any of 34 areas, suggests how many more companies are taking a positive tack. About 600,000 people used the tool each year from 2001 through 2012, says Leticia McCadden, a spokeswoman for Gallup.

Since 2012, the number of users has jumped to 1.6 million a year. As of last year, StrengthsFinder was used by 467 members of the Fortune 500.

Facebook, one of the best-known users of StrengthsFinder, has crafted a new management style attuned to the needs of 20- and 30-somethings that comprise most of its staff.

E-commerce company Wayfair teaches its managers how to make feedback “palatable,” according to learning and development specialist Ashley Libitz, so that the company’s hundreds of young workers, “not only understand they’re doing a great job but exactly what it is they’re doing great.”

PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP, which hired nearly 9,000 employees and interns from universities last year, asks managers to hold “career outlook” discussions about employees’ futures at the firm, rather than reviews centered on where they dropped the ball over the past year.

The firm also urges staff to send e-cards praising peers or subordinates, and allocates money for managers to dole out to further reward wins, according to Tim Ryan, a vice chairman at the company.

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ILLUSTRATION: LEIGH GULDIG

Caitlin Marcoux, a senior associate at the company, says she still gets told when she messed up. But she appreciates the extra dose of appreciation, which she says has helped to build her confidence. Without it, “I’ll be a harsher critic on myself,” she says.

Palo Alto, Calif., software company VMware Inc., is pushing managers to embrace Marshall Goldsmith ’s “feedforward” concept, which asks employees to suggest ideas for their own improvement in the future, rather than review past performance.

No judging, rating or critiquing is allowed, says Victoria Sevilla, who develops training for employees there.

“It doesn’t depress [employees] into thinking, ‘one more thing to develop, one more thing that’s wrong,’ ” she says.

Jill Trotter, a staffing partner at the company, says the recent jolt of positivity has helped her “blossom” in her second career. Last year, her manager implemented a practice called “good news,” where team members inform each other of little wins. On a recent conference call, he called out a successful presentation Ms. Trotter had given and implored her to discuss exactly what went well and how the group can leverage those lessons going forward. When there’s something she needs to improve, her manager will use a phrase like, “This is another way that’s been successful.”

“The messaging is crystal clear, but it’s not like, ‘You did this wrong, I’m disappointed, you’re not doing this right,’” she says. “It’s a lot easier to swallow.”

She says she always knows when there’s something she needs to work on but acknowledges that under a less-skilled manager, employees might not know where they stand.

VMware has borrowed techniques from marriage counselors, such as increasing the ratio of positive to negative comments in the workplace and encouraging employees to celebrate their wins.

“You’re really trying to get them in the moment where they’re reliving the joy they felt,” says Jessica Amortegui, a former VMware talent development executive.

Engineers, in particular, have a hard time transitioning to the managerial ranks, says Ms. Amortegui, because they tend to apply the critical mind-sets that enabled them to solve complex coding problems to their employees.

Ms. Amortegui has advised a few, “you’re not there to fix and find their [workers’] bugs.”

Yahoo’s Mr. Webb cautions that overly positive managers run the risk of ignoring problems festering in their workplace, making for a crisis down the line.

Overall, though, the evolution isn’t a bad thing—people perform better when they’re encouraged and inspired, he says. With softer tactics showing up everywhere from classrooms to football fields, it may be the direction things are headed anyway, he says.

“I don’t think it’s just management practices that are getting soft.”

By

RACHEL FEINTZEIG

Feb. 10, 2015 7:18 p.m. ET

Write to Rachel Feintzeig at rachel.feintzeig@wsj.com