In your work history you may have experienced something like this: One of your coworkers violates a policy or rule, or makes a mistake, and your supervisor calls a meeting and seems to chew out everyone about it. You’re thinking, “Talk to Joe, he’s the one who did it, not me!”
One of the follow-up questions I received about the article on correcting employee performance or behavior (refresh your memory by clicking here), concerned the tactic of talking about problem behavior or performance to an entire group instead of directly to an individual. Some supervisors and managers say this is effective because it ensures everyone is aware of correct behavior. I suspect their primary motivation is that it lets them avoid an uncomfortable conversation with an employee! The best practices of supervision would indicate there are several problems with that approach.
- There is value in holding individual employees responsible and accountable for their actions. If negative behavior or poor performance is not discussed with the individual involved there is no personal accountability. Some individuals might understand that a group message was meant for them, but others might only feel relieved that they avoided being confronted and would not learn from it.
- There is value in the supervisor-employee conversation about problem behavior or performance. It allows both the supervisor and employee to talk and listen–and to understand what happened, why it happened and to clarify what will happen in the future. That cannot be accomplished if the matter is only discussed in a group setting.
- From the viewpoint of formal processes, discussing a process with a group does not fulfill the requirement to notify and warn an employee about what might happen if the negative actions occur again.
- It is almost impossible for a supervisor to avoid using a chiding or reprimanding tone to the group if that is the only time he or she will discuss it with the actual offender. If not, the comments will be only a mild discussion and that might not be effective to convey the seriousness of the issue to the employee who made the error or behaved inappropriately.
- Other employees resent group reprimands when they know the supervisor is really talking about the actions of only one or two people. Most employees view it as a sign if avoidance and weakness by the supervisor–not as a learning opportunity for them.
The best way to approach a situation in which you want to not only correct an individual but also to remind the others, is to do both effectively. Handle the individual situation in the correct way by either correcting at the time if the matter is urgent and/or talking in private if the matter needs a longer discussion. Then, plan verbal or written comments to other employees as strictly a matter of routine training, reminding, updating or clarifying, in a way that will not sound like–or be viewed as–a reprimand.
Even with this training and clarifying, think about whether or not everyone needs it or if only a select few are likely to benefit from the information. It may be a situation that will benefit from a few personal conversations with employees in which you incorporate a variety of topics, from general chit-chat to specific work issues. That way you will be able to maintain an effective supervisory role, develop good working relationships with both individuals and groups, and be able to document that you have taken needed corrective actions as well as provided training. You will be more effective and you will also be more respected.