Thursday, 10 March 2011

Fostering Performance

I read a blog on Bossy Pally earlier in the week about constructive criticism, what it is, why it's a good thing, and specifically why it's not a bad thing. This post was spurred by another great blog post by Rhii on the novel approach her guild deals with criticism (incidentally another blog which mentions llamas and has no supporting pictures whatsoever). I've always been one to actively seek constructive criticism in work and sport – I'd far rather the person I'm asking tell me what I'm doing wrong and how to improve on it than highlight the good stuff, I can't improve if I don't know I'm doing it wrong – if I knew I was doing it wrong I'd be doing something about it. This approach often raises eyebrows in the person I'm asking, and they sometimes feel uncomfortable giving constructive criticism. These two blogs got me thinking about how people 'manage performance' in WOW (that sounds so corporate) and how anyone can aid the performance of themselves and others quite easily.

I'm not going to talk massively about constructive criticism, Ophelie has already covered this, but I'll frame it briefly for the purpose of this post. Constructive Criticism is giving feedback on areas that can be improved (which need not be bad, but could be better) in a manner which indicates what the issues are, and a 'framework' to go about improving them. It is most certainly not "you suck" type comments, that comes under the abuse category. Football fans will probably agree that Lionel Messi is, if not one of the best, the best footballers in the world at the moment; is he perfect? No, could he improve? Most definitely – he's not the best header of the ball, there's one area he might work on in training. At this point, this post is in danger of becoming a whitepaper on how corporate performance management does and doesn't work, I'll try and keep away from that little can of worms, really I will, but there's a lot of similarities between (good) corporate practice and good gaming.

I'll ignore self-improvement for the moment and concentrate on helping other people, as much of the lessons apply when you turn the focus on yourself. Firstly, who can you help? The answer is anyone; I've helped people who I met 5 minutes precious in a PUG, through to experienced raiders who know their class inside out. Giving advice and having it taken on board are two different things, it's all about the relationship you have with the individual and the way you frame your advice. You have a relationship, of sorts, with anyone you've ever interacted with, it may be a very superficial relationship as in my PUG example, but it's still a relationship. If the person has reason to respect what you say, they are more likely to take heed of your words. Imagine for a moment that on the first pull you've shouted in party chat "GOGOGO" and OMG "WTF IS GOING ON WITH YOUR DPS" and then whisper the other shadow priest in the party and say "excuse me, but do you realise that the Mind Spike you're using is removing the three DoTs you've just cast from your target? You'd be better off…." The recipient of this advice is likely to completely ignore it or worse, tell you to stick it. If however you started off with a pleasant "hi guys" or similar you've already framed your words in an (admittedly thin) veil of respect. By starting off with "I hope you don't mind me saying…." Or similar you further open the person up to accepting you're not just trying to call them a noob.

In recent months, I've seen numerous examples of heroics that were heading south being turned around because someone has helped out one or more of the party (quite often be being one of those on the receiving end). So it's clear that something can be done in the very short term to improve performance, I've seen equally as many, if not more instances of members simple leaving or vote-kicking without a word as soon as problems are encountered.

Taking this to the raiding and guild environment, where improvement is more likely to be sought, or even demanded, it's a bit easier, but also a lot harder in some respects. On the relationship front, it's a lot easier, you've had a long time to establish trust, but they recipient has also had a lot more time to observe your actions, if they see that you're not practicing what you preach or lack respect for your words, for whatever reason then you've hit problems. You will also be more likely to encounter the suborn types, you know the ones, the pretty decent players who aren't the best, but are better than average who assume they are the finished article, they're not! See my comments about the certain diminutive football player above.

Once you have established a trusting relationship, how do you go about improvement? Firstly look for the low hanging fruit, pick the easiest things which give the biggest boost first. Take saving money on energy bills for instance, if you want to save money on your electricity bill, what do you do? Spend £10,000 on a solar panel for your roof? No, you pay £100 to replace the insulation in your loft; it's cheaper, easier and quicker, and gives a far better payback on the investment. In the same vein, if someone's DPS is 15k and the best achievable is 18k, but they keep dying, it's probably more profitable to look at why they're dying and focussing on positioning rather than DPS rotation (incidentally DPS may reduce in the short term as a result, but total damage output will drastically improve). On the same token, concentrate on one area at a time, try rubbing your tummy in a circular motion and patting your head at the same time, unless you've practiced for hours (saddo) you almost certainly can't do it – peoples brains best deal with things in a serial nature, tackle one thing, 'fix' it, move on to the next.

If you're a raid leader and you need to help someone improve, you need to make sure your message doesn't come out of the blue – if someone's DPS has been substandard for three months, telling them you've been watching them for some time and they have a week to sort it out or be benched is silly, tackle issues openly and early to avoid drama (llamas?). On the same token, it's not just about negatives, focus on positives, which sounds best "you're DPS is good, but I think we can improve it by…." Or "you're not doing enough DPS, you need to improve by…." Notice also the subtle difference between we and you! We are a team and we are working together to jointly improve our performance. As opposed to you aren't good enough and you need to do something about it.

My final point, is don't forget to look in the mirror; lead by example (even if you're not a GM or a raid leader, you can still lead), actively seek feedback, it's almost impossible to spot your own failings without help; if you've ever tried to proof read an assignment at school or college thinking it was perfect, only to have the teacher hand it back scrawled in red ink you'll know what I mean. Don't shy away from people offering advice, be thick skinned and take it, whether you like what you're hearing or not. Above all, nobody is perfect, everyone can improve in some respect or other, so don't think it doesn't apply to you.

And finally, finally, I've mentioned llama's twice, so I'm going to lead by example, practice what I preach and all that, and include a nice picture!

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