When my time is done, don’t mourn my death . . . Celebrate my life. . .

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As the mood for the appraisal season sets in, one can witness the surroundings suddenly getting sober and sad, it’s almost as if we are about to witness few funerals around us for sure. It’s hard to fathom why after slogging a complete year with a series of wins & several doses of appreciations, we are still not in a mood to celebrate but getting ready to mourn…

Feedback sessions have become a mechanism to share bad news rather than a moment to pause to celebrate. More often than not, it is the feedback by managers which makes us believe we haven’t done enough or we are somewhere in the center of bell curve with lava boiling around us. So the question arises why feedback conversations are not surrounded around celebrating our life (successes in the last one year) but revolve around mourning (what I didn’t do well, or what others have done so well and I haven’t been able to do).

Gone are the days where one could motivate the team members by hurting their pride or making them believe they haven’t achieved their purpose and there is a long way to go. These tactics works only on a few, in this era of abundance. These tactics may work once in a while when the project deadline is near or we are in a war situation – mourning and hurting pride can’t be an annual ritual for all the employees across the organization

So why do we fall into this trap of mourning the death and not celebrating the life which we have lived?

Well, here are some answers:

  • Employees get defensive when they are told they not good enough
    The best way to avoid a detailed discussion and prove your point is to keep the conversations aggressive wherein the manager shuts down the employee and makes him defensive by blurting out all the negative feedback (mourn) and walking away.
  • Bad news means shorter conversations
    We don’t like mourning, we give our condolences and walk away, while in celebrations we always believe, there is that last drink for the road and we can always have one more before we call off the day. When managers have to celebrate the year long successes of their employees they have to prepare for long discussions which they might not be comfortable with.
  • Hurting your pride boosts my ego as a supervisor (Your team members are children and not competition)
    Many managers still believe that team members can best be managed by cohesion and fear. They believe that sharing good moments will lead to a situation wherein the employees tend to misuse that goodness and end up not delivering or adhering to their diktat or terms. It’s time we start treating our team members like children and adopt ways to get the best out of them and more critically pass a message that it is their interest first and we as managers are not competing with them.
  • This is the way I was given feedback so I will pass on the same
    Many managers in offline discussions agree that they dislike the idea of mourning as well but don’t want to get out of it because they are not ready to unlearn. They believe that they will pass on the legacy they had experienced as they think it is easy to replicate or even worse they believe that they are successful because of that and by passing on the “legacy” they will make their team members successful too.
  • Appreciation leads to higher expectations, so mellow it down as bell curve is around the corner
    The biggest challenge for many managers is that if they celebrate, they believe that the expectations of the team members will rise and managing the same, when the bell curve hits all of them, will become difficult. In anticipation of something like that managers think it’s worthwhile to taper down the celebrations to the extent of making it a mourning.

It is important for HR and Line Managers to appreciate the need to have a change in our mind-set. We cannot continue the legacy of mourning as a theme for feedback anymore. It’s time we learn to celebrate the success however small or insignificant it is. We need to teach and coach our employees to build on their strengths that led to their success. We have all experienced in our lives that it takes a long time to build confidence and overcome our fears but it takes just few minutes to get dejected and slip back.

Some important initiatives which we can start in our organizations to change this mood are:

  • Move away from the guilt that if someone is celebrating then it is at the cost of someone else. We are not in a war where someone can win provided someone loses
  • Explain how the bell curve works to one and all
  • Announce the bell curve before the appraisal process starts
  • Coach and train managers on how to have healthy conversations and celebrations
  • Build in mechanisms where feedback and conversations are not the means to justify the ratings only

There comes a time for each generation where it is at a cross roads, this is the time for us, do we choose to continue the path of mourning or do we choose a path of celebrations where we value each person’s contributions and thank them for being a part of our wonderful journey.


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