Sometimes we neglect to survey our employees for one simple reason: we´re afraid (well, that´s a strong word; maybe we´re just a bit nervous) of what we might hear. Ignoring what needs fixing clearly is not the best solution; indeed, it´s not a solution at all. But it is tempting and it´s human nature to conveniently "forget" about those nagging, pesky tyrannies that seem to maintain a steady if not annoying presence.
Why is it so difficult to accept criticism? It feels so darn personal sometimes and that can be hard to take. On the other hand, calling it criticism may be the culprit. You already know how much I like words, but sometimes words get us tangled up. Okay, so you insert "constructive" and you have the politically correct "constructive criticism," which makes it all okay, right? Not always. How about just calling it suggested improvements? There´s something sort of noble about asking people for input so that you can make your program, project, work environment, whatever better.
Many postings ago I wrote about a program I enrolled in here in Northbrook, IL-the Citizens Police Academy-a ten-week program that brings community members-I think there are about 20 of us-and the police together once a week for about two hours. We´ve learned about criminal investigations, how to decide when to use force, the differences between guard dogs and command dogs and a whole lot of things that I never thought too much about in the past like what you´re given to eat if you have the misfortune to visit the lock-up. Anyway, it´s been fascinating and sometimes fun, stunning and occasionally sobering. We´ve had the opportunity to ride along with officers and encouraged to ask all sorts of questions. We´ve learned that there are no such things as a "routine" stop, because, of course, nothing is routine in police work. And, personally, I´ve learned that it´s got to be one of the hardest jobs on earth.
After each presentation-two per night and the program is once a week-we´re asked to complete a survey, an evaluation of the session. I always just take my pen and make a huge loopy circle around the "fives," the highest mark. Sometimes I add a remark or two and usually it asks them to add a dimension to the session, more of something because it´s all so interesting.
Last night, after the sessions ended, the program coordinator asked us to take a separate piece of paper between now and the end of the program and write down how we think the police department should change or add to the contents. I was actually surprised by that. They´re trying hard to build strong connections between the force and the community and they believe that by bringing people in for a ten-week course they are strengthening the bonds between citizens and the people tasked with protecting those citizens. So here are the police asking for input, which I believe could include some criticism. I´m going to take the opportunity to share some of my thoughts. Will they implement them? I don´t know, but I think it´s easier for a police force to garner public opinion in a classroom than it is when they´re patrolling the streets. A lot of people don´t like the police force (duh), but that doesn´t mean that they don´t want to continue the hard work of protecting the community.
Asking for input doesn´t necessarily make you vulnerable to attack. It does leave room for improvement though, but only if you´re really sincere about and truly want to make some changes.