This blog is about criticism, both public and private, and its effects on people. It is prompted by some unusual but repeated public criticism of his players by Jose Mourinho, which seems to be a style he believes is both appropriate and effective.
Let’s examine this.
I should start by saying, again, that I’m a United fan, so I’ve been watching this closely. I’ve long admired Mourinho before he came to United last summer and it’s been interesting to see his approach to man management.
In his short tenure as United manager, he has used public criticism and also ostracism to attempt to motivate and manage certain players.
First Schweinsteiger was ostracised and made to train with the reserves, but not allowed to leave the club. Later, when he had been readmitted to the fold and then allowed to leave, Mourinho expressed regret at the way he had treated Schweinsteiger, but that didn’t stop him doing it in the first place. Now, if this was a “real” workplace, this would be deemed bullying, and possibly leading to constructive dismissal when the player left.
Of course, football isn’t real, but let’s go on.
Then Mkhitaryan suffered some of the same treatment but fairly soon after got back in the team and began to play very well indeed. Mourinho took credit for this, saying it took him some time to help Mkhitaryan to learn how to play in this country. In a real workplace, this may also be bullying and possibly racial discrimination too, but of course football exists in its own bubble.
Then lately both Rashford and Martial have come under fire for their goal scoring records. Rashford has responded with some of his best performances of the season and a few goals, but Martial is still under fire and Mourinho says he listens too much to his agent (union rep perhaps?) and not enough to him. This could be considered good performance management but for the public nature of it, and as such it may be considered bullying too.
Finally, recently Shaw has been heavily criticised for his commitment and performance, again in public. But Shaw has also responded with some better performances and has been “rewarded” with public praise.
I could go on.
Others, he has largely ignored in public, as he feels they give him what he wants and “get him”.
I think treatment like this is more common than we realise in organisations. I’ve come across examples in my HR career, and have had friends and family tell me stories that would have made my hair stand on end, if I had any. But the difference is that this is usually in private.
The public nature of the Mourinho criticism has made me wonder though.
It obviously gets some results, as some players have demonstrated.
So does the end justify the means?
Is public criticism acceptable if the recipient takes it on board and responds with increased performance levels?
I’m not so sure.
I have come across semi-public criticism of employees in the past myself and have always been shocked at this. In some cases it has been, like with Mourinho, one of the most senior people in the organisation being critical of an individual in front of others (if not quite as public as Mourinho), but in none of the cases I’ve personally witnessed has the individual managed to turn things around and publicly respond with better performances. In all cases the criticism has been too much and they’ve parted company with the organisation.
And that’s sad. Not because they didn’t respond in that way, but because there was really no way they could. Real people don’t exist in the professional football bubble. When we are criticised, particularly when unjustified and especially in a public way, we react badly in most cases.
In most cases, we can’t deal with it. Criticism, when doled out from a very senior person in a semi public manner, removes most of the motivators from Herzbergs model and reduces the positive effects of any hygiene factors too. It’s a massive demotivator, and more so when the individual feels it’s unjustified and also, because of the respective positions in the organisation, feels they can’t respond.
So why does Mourinho feel he can get away with it, and often does? Is it because of the results it seems to get?
I’m at a loss to explain it.
But the criticism must hurt those who receive it. Whenever I’m criticised, be it in my personal or professional life (and believe it or not, I am not infallible) I will always hurt inside, but the way I can tell if the criticism has any merit is the depth of emotions it triggers in me. If I have a strong emotional reaction and keep thinking about it, it usually means there was something to the criticism and I can usually use that as fuel to change something. Is that what Shaw, Rashford and others have felt and done? But if the criticism is unjustified or inaccurate, I deal with it in different ways and have a different reaction to it, sometimes involving trying to show the person delivering it why and how they are wrong, which can often backfire on me.
I told you I’m not infallible.
I’m only human, after all, as the song goes.
And so is everyone else, so if criticism must be given out, and there are sometimes really good reasons why it should, managers should make sure they do so one on one, not in public, base it on the facts so that it is accurate and not subjective, and also be aware of how individuals may respond differently to such comments. Regardless, criticism has a major impact on employee engagement for that individual employee, and therefore must be taken seriously by organisations.
As for Mourinho and his man management tactics, they seem to be working. He’s likely to get away with it. And sadly, most managers doing things like this will also get away with it.
It’s up to us in HR to make sure managers know it’s not acceptable to treat people in this way, and to provide guidance on how to treat people as human beings.
Till next time.
PS all quotes now in for our building work and mortgage information obtained too. Approaching decision time about whether to go ahead with it…