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As managers, we tend to be so busy spotting problems and suggesting improvements at the workplace, that it becomes a part of our personality. I was quite taken aback when my wife said to me one day, ‘you point out problems all the time, is it possible for you to sometimes see what’s good?’
That was an ‘Aha!’ moment for me, and made me pause in the midst of my march towards improvement.
I thought about the effect of my style of functioning, and all other managers who are constantly saying, ‘this is not right, this should have been done this way…’ and never talking about what’s going right.
There could be a better way. So I came up with this formula: 3 + 1.
What this formula means is simply that anytime we want to suggest 1 improvement to anyone, we stop ourselves and ask, ‘have I told them 3 things that they are doing right?’
I’ve now set this discipline for myself, only when my ‘account balance’ is 3 – having appreciated 3 things that are going right, can I suggest 1 thing that needs improving.
Adopting Formula 3+1 brought about a change in my way of looking at things, suddenly I’m more attuned to spotting and speaking about the good things that are happening around. I will share some of the amazing changes this simple formula brought about in team members and culture, but while we want colleagues to improve in specific areas, we as managers need to question our own natural instinct – are we just overly critical? In that case, the Formula 3 + 1 can also help us to improve!
When managers are overly critical, their teams are often not empowered. They wait to just execute orders, because they cannot afford to take initiatives, in case they fail.
In fact, managers could try to just focus on the positives, and invite team members to identify the 1 area of improvement! That will help to create an effective team, where the manager is not just an auditor of problems.
This is a little different from the sandwich method of giving feedback, where the negative is sandwiched between 2 positives. I find that a lot of team members today see-through the sandwich technique, they just wait for the criticism to come up. The technique is used in an ‘event’ called feedback, is seen as a process, and lacks authenticity.
I’m asking managers to make a real change in their perception, not just use 3+1 as a technique.
Most of the time, when you have to give the 1 negative, you find the 3 positives are so strong, your whole approach towards your team changes, and they also respond differently.
Helping Teams to Change
An amazing outcome of the formula 3+1 is, once adopted, is that suddenly that 1 thing that didn’t seem right, starts correcting itself. I believe this results from the perception that we create, in colleagues and ourselves, that there are so many, many good things that are happening. It also changes the team’s perception about what kind of manager and leader you are, and actually changes the culture of the team.
Even in a team that’s apparently not performing well, on certain parameters, you can always find something to appreciate. That makes the team much more open to improving on the 1 area that you point out. But if you only harp on what’s wrong, people get demotivated and disengaged.
Let’s look at the people we criticize. We see them only in their professional roles, but each person, in their own personal lives, is going a lot of good, and is dealing with a lot of stuff. They are taking care of personal and family responsibilities, they have unique talents, or maybe creative hobbies. When we, as their managers, find 3 good things that they do, it improves their self-esteem, and they gain the confidence to deal with the 1 thing that’s wrong.
Actually, appreciating leads to a person further improving in that area. If I tell a colleague, ‘you’re a good listener’. Maybe she has been listening only partially, but there’s a chance that she becomes more aware, and becomes a better listener.
Whatever you appreciate appreciates!
Whether you are appreciating or criticizing, ensure that you are genuine and not going overboard, or people will see through your words. Maintain a balance. Formula 3+1 can bring about a change in your team as well as yourself.
By Vivek Yatnalkar