Rule # 5: Correcting a subordinate’s work product can either be demeaning or educational based on style and number of occurrences.

Rule number 5 is closely related to rule number 4 both having to do with empowering employees. While rule 4 has to with decision-making, rule 5 deals with written work products. All large organizations are document driven (they may be paperless but they still have electronic documents) which have a number of purposes, most importantly documentation of the decision process. Documents flow up the chain of command often being reviewed by three to five levels before being finalized. Before the wide spread use of computers, the cost in retyping documents was at least a partial disincentive to making “nit picking” changes, but in today’s world, all bets are off.

My experience in both the Federal Government and in private industry is that the vast majorities of changes made to documents are based on personal preference and add little to the quality of the document. All to often document wording is changed to satisfy one level of review only to be reversed at the next level. Worse still are instances where reviewers change wording and inadvertently change the tone or content so it does not reflect the intentions of the originator. Some reviewers change every document crossing their desk because they feel their extensive vocabulary improves the document when in fact it merely obfuscates the originator’s point. Lastly, there are reviewers who will want changes to a document but can not clearly articulate what bothers them or how they want the changes to appear (“It’s like beauty, I’ll know it when I see it”).

Managers/reviewers need to recognize that their best employees take ownership of their work products and thus changes are construed as a criticism of the quality of their work.

While most employees (especially when they are new to their position), will recognize that every organization has certain preferences in style and tone and they need to adopt these “unwritten rules”. However, the seemingly endless corrections, which characterize far to many organizations, merely alienate employees and impacts productivity. My rule as a manager when reviewing documents was “if it is professional, clear, and makes the right point; sign (approve it)”. While this meant I signed some documents while gritting my teeth (after all I’m human and could always pick better synonyms) it certainly made for a better team effort. I would encourage managers to talk to subordinates if they spot correctable traits (e.g. over use of the same word, redundant thoughts, incorrect tenses..etc.). Lastly, mangers need to recognize developing employees is vastly different and far more rewording then merely correcting their work.

What do you think? How do you want your boss to revise your work? How do you revise your staff’s work?

Photo Published Courtesy of Creative Commons License by Flickr user “Crystl”

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Emma Dozier

As a member of a four-person content (and a 12-person Web team), we’re always sending ideas around to everyone else for feedback and edits. Maybe a change needs to be had on the side of the writer as well as your good points about the editors. When you are the first writer, you need to know that a good editor can (usually) only improve your work. Sometimes it hurts a bit to see red ink everywhere (or a ton of bullet points in a reply-all email), but the revision process always has room for improvement. (Perhaps I come with the bias of being a student as few as four months ago, so I’ve been used to teachers having the upper hand my entire life!)

For my team, occasionally I feel awkward adding my two cents in to a peer’s work, but then I remember that they asked for my feedback. I also try to talk about the writing with them in person, to put a smile behind the critiques.

John Donaldson

We routinely edit the content of our magazine before it goes to printing. What bothers me most is for the originator not taking the time to ensure that articles are pertinent to the theme of the magazine and the organization, that they flow and have good transitions and that spelling and punctuation has been double checked. If there are too many problems with an article, it goes back to the originator to fix. I don’t feel that it’s my job to re-write the article and correct all the problems with it.

I don’t have a problem with someone editing my work if there are problems with it, but I don’t appreciate someone who feels that if he/she doesn’t mark it up they will be thought of as not doing their job. This is a waste of time and almost always getting changed back to what I had written.

Carol Davison

I’m fine if there are performance gaps or value is added. When they remove information because we didn’t use it last time, change it to back to passive voice after I’ve explained it isn’t correct to use it, or add statements like “don’t hesitate to call” I question why they have their position.