Constructive criticism from managers can take the wind out of employees ideas and can undermine your organization’s innovation efforts, warns Carol Franczek. Here is a four-step process that supports more productive conversations, and creates space to both support ideas and raise issues that need to be addressed about them.

Language is powerful.  We are inspired, encouraged, and enlightened by it.  We can also be discouraged, disillusioned or dispirited all by our interaction with others.

In business, too, our conversations energize or deflate our employees. Too often our immediate reaction to an idea is to find fault with it. No doubt part of this stems from the American culture that supports critical thought as higher order intelligence. So too, in the workplace, managers wanting to feel that they are adding value often heap on the “constructive criticism” as a  way of contributing. Unfortunately it often leaves employees angry and frustrated.

There is another way.  In our innovation training programs, we teach a simple process called POINT.  Point is a four step process for supporting productive conversations.  It creates space to both support the idea as well as to raise issues that need to be addressed.  When used, it generates excitement and commitment.  The following details the process as well as an example of how it might work.

The approach

The employee or group starts by explaining the idea.  He or she takes up to 15 minutes to provide the idea as well as some background information.

Then the person or group who is providing feedback follows the POINT steps.

Pluses: First the person or group speak to what they like about the idea.  Someone keeps track on an easel or a pad of paper of all the plusses.  There is absolutely no judgment of the plusses, just a listing of all the things that one likes about the idea.

Opportunities: When the plusses are completed, talk should turn to what the future benefits might be if this idea could come to fruition.  Again someone should keep track of all the ideas and outcomes that could be possible if this idea is executed.

Issues:  Here’s where those who have been dying to provide the critical thinking come in.  Only after these entire plus and opportunity comments have been raised, should issues be raised.  And they must be raised with particular language.  The issue or criticism has to be framed using the sentence that begins with either How might we…..  or How to……  The reason for this is that it enables the participants to engage in solutions–Opening up the conversation to again what is possible.

New Thinking: After the issues have been raised as questions, then the individual or group has a conversation on how to address the issues.  This again is a free flowing idea exchange going from issue to issue until the group feels that they have an opportunity to build a plan.

An example

Here’s an example of how it might work:

An R&D group has developed a new technology that can hold drinking water and is made entirely of paper. The company currently has no manufacturing capability to produce it.  It is packed sideways in tubes of 6 and will not stand on end.  Your group has been charged with evaluating the idea.

Plusses:  For example…

It’s green technology, the environmentalists will love it
It’s really unique
It eliminates our dependence on oil
It uses a renewable energy
We have a brand name that could be used for it
The water can be packed more easily
It’s less expensive than plastic
It can be patented
It can be licensed
It is on trend with leading adopters

Opportunities: For example…

This could launch a new significant business platform for our company
It could be premium priced so our profit margins could be bigger than what we have now
We could print great graphics on the paper
We could hold other liquids besides water
We could license the technology to other companies

Issues: For example…

How might we be sure that consumers will readily adopt this new packaging?
How might we understand how big this business might be?
How might we understand what safety testing must be done?
How might we partner with a leading water distribution company?
How might we understand the investment required to deliver this to market?
How might we engage leading green activists to support our product?
How might we get the product to stand up on the shelf for maximum impact?

New Thinking: Two examples based on the issues raised.

How might we be sure that consumers will readily adopt this new packaging?

  • Focus Groups
  • Product placement in homes
  • On-line concept testing among key targets

How might we understand the investment required to deliver this to market?

  • Evaluate current close in manufacturing lines
  • Market analysis
  • Customer/consumer analysis
  • Competitive analysis
  • Budget development across all functional areas.
  • Make versus own equipment
  • License versus manufacture ourselves

As the group works through the problems, they may discover new ideas or they may come across a hurdle that precludes the organization from moving forward.  Not all ideas are necessarily appropriate given an organization’s issues, but this approach does allow for more ideas to get a thorough evaluation and for companies to focus on what is good about an idea before finding its flaws..

Why this approach works

The underlying principles behind why this approach works are: (1) it provides the idea creator or creators with an audience that is actively listening and building on the idea both on what is good about it today and what the potential will be in the future.  (2) It halts our initial “negativity” reflex and actively encourages the positive; (3) the issues are raised in a way that invites solutions versus on criticism that closes down discussion and (4) it encourages collaboration and commitment on how to work through the possibility of the idea which even if the idea is not accepted leaves the participants a more fully engaged feeling.

Carol E. Franczek is founder of The Innovation Practice, an innovation training and consulting firm based in Chicago. For more information about this technique and a free POINT card, please contact Carol +847 786-4243 or via e-mail at