Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Scatter Gun Correction

Focus on the person who needs correction rather than correcting everyone whether they need it or not. Supervisor Paul Sanderson sent out three corrective emails in a week, to all sixteen employees on his shift.  He sent one to everyone because he saw two employees leaving trash in the break room.  The second was sent because he noticed one employee not following procedures on a task. The third email was sent because Paul found a door unlocked and he didn’t know who did it.

  • Employees who had been performing and behaving correctly felt as though they were being chided unfairly.  They knew who the real culprits were and they  knew Paul knew. They wondered why Paul didn’t just gutsy up and deal with the problem.
  • The employees who had not been doing the right thing assumed they weren’t the only ones cutting corners, since everyone got an email.
  • The employee who left the door unlocked figured he got by with it this time.

Scatter gun correction is nearly always ineffective and creates frustration and hostility.  Even if you hit the target with one or two employees you can alienate others. The biggest concern is that it makes you seem unable to investigate a problem or afraid to deal with it directly.

Take the time to analyze a situation, find out who is involved and what can be done about it, and do effective supervisory work to correct or redirect the appropriate employee and solve the problem. If you think everyone needs to be reminded, at least also speak to the person who specifically was in error this time.  Don’t depend upon him or her getting the hint in your scatter gun correction.

The next time you are considering a scatter gun comment at a staff meeting or briefing, or you’re thinking about a scatter gun corrective email, ask yourself these questions:

  • Do I know a specific person who is making this mistake or doing this thing? If so, talk to that person face to face.
  • Is there a better way to deal with this than in writing? Often a private word with an employee will accomplish much more. It will also allow you to build a more personal relationship.
  • Am I considering the scatter gun email to avoid the discomfort of talking to someone directly?  Being a supervisor can be uncomfortable, but that is your issue–and one that will improve with experience.  Don’t make employees pay the price for your lack of comfort by sending them all a corrective email or giving them a corrective lecture, or even a corrective reminder, about something they haven’t done.

An active supervisor who observes the work environment, the work product and employees, will see things that should be commended and things that need to be corrected. The employee who is doing good work should be thanked personally. The employee who needs to change performance or behavior should be corrected personally.

Don’t scatter your efforts. Focus on the correct person and demonstrate knowledge about what is going on at work, as well as on demonstrating fairness and self-confidence.

March 9th, 2010 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Supervision and Management | 7 comments

Correcting An Employee–There Is A Right Way And A Wrong Way

Correcting an employee the wrong way:

1. Making it seem like a personal attack. “You have such a crummy attitude about everything you do.” “We’re not here to make you happy.” “You’re the only one who can’t get it right.”

2. Mocking or humiliating the employee: Standing by the door with a clock when they walk in. Leaving a sarcastic note taped to their computer where everyone can see it. Talking about it to another employee. Making the employee feel she can never overcome the mistake. 

3. Treating the error or problem as unimportant. “It’s not a big deal to me, and I don’t really care, but I’m supposed to tell people not to do that.” “I’m sorry to have to bug you about that report but we were supposed to have it done already, so could you maybe get it done?”

4. Yelling, cursing, showing extreme anger: “I didn’t ask you if it would be easy for you to do it, I told you to do it! Now get to work and do it or I’ll get someone who can, and you can do your whining in some other job! Do you understand me? DO YOU UNDERSTAND ME????”

5. Not correcting at all: Avoiding talking to the employee about it until things are so bad that very serious action must be taken.

Correcting an employee the wrong way says more about the supervisor or manager than about the employee. No matter how frustrated you are as a manager, you will lose the respect of everyone–even the best employees as well as other managers–when you handle corrections poorly. 

Correcting an employee the right way:

1. Correct in private unless there is a strong reason for other employees to be aware of the situation. Not long ago I wrote an article about times when reprimanding in front of others might be appropriate. You can refresh your memory here . However, those times are rare. Nearly always you should talk to an employee away from others.

2. Build a good working relationship through your actions. If you need someone to volunteer for a nasty job in the next few minutes, will your supervisory communications enourage it rather than discourage it? That’s one good way to approach each supervisory correction–leave an employee feeling that you are supportive of him and his best efforts, even if you are not satisfied with his work or behavior at that moment.

3. Take your ego and emotions out of it. When I hear of inappropriate remarks by supervisors or managers–or when I have made them myself–I can almost always sense the ego or emotions of the person involved. Anger, hurt feelings, impatience, fearfulness, or a desire to impress other people or to be witty or show one’s superiority–all of those lead to ineffectiveness and inappropriateness.

4. Be specific. Make sure the employee knows specifically what was wrong about his or her behavior or performance and what is needed instead. Ensure the employee knows how to do it right and is committed to doing it that way.

5. Fulfill your supervisory role effectively. Every human will make a mistake now and then. The goal of correction is to reduce or eliminate those times, while building a foundation for cooperation and effectiveness in the future. That goal alone can provide guidance for how to do it the right way.

October 26th, 2008 Posted by | Supervision and Management | 4 comments

When “Criticize In Private” May Not Be The Best Tactic

Part Two of the series that evaluates the wisdom of applying “Praise in public, criticize in private” to supervisory activities.

The first article about this topic compared praising in public and private. This article focuses on at least two vital times when criticizing–in the form of intervening and strongly correcting in front of others (not lengthy reprimanding or harsh or sarcastic correction) is appropriate and may be necessary.

1. When behavior or performance by an employee presents a liability concern that must be corrected immediately, with a strong message for others. Examples of this could be a purposeful safety violation, an incident involving harassment, or some other very inappropriate conduct. It is absolutely necessary to stop the action and it is appropriate and necessary to let everyone present know that the behavior or performance is not acceptable.

There have been many civil actions against organizations that could have been prevented or mitigated by an immediate denouncement of bad behavior. I was reviewing a complaint about harassment and read a reference to a time when something very inappropriate was said in a meeting, but nothing was done about it. The supervisor who heard it but didn’t say anything said, “I talked about it to him later and told him not to do it again. I believe in praising in public and criticizing in private.” That was scant consolation from the complainant’s viewpoint.

2. When other employees are aware of a situation and might assume you approve or do not care, if you say nothing. I saw this in action when a supervisor quickly, concisely, and appropriately corrected an employee about throwing trash on the floor. When the supervisor responded immediately, other employees noticed, seemed to think justice had been done, and life moved on. What message would have been sent by no action? What if the supervisor would have waited to talk to the employee about it in private?

A supervisor must be concerned about both the employee and the organization: A supervisor is responsible for the interests of the organization. Fortunately, that is accomplished best by having good relationships with everyone. However, there are times when what is right and effective overall must take precedence over what is preferred by an employee.

Lieutenant Joe Goff, my commander when I was a new sergeant, once told me, “If a guy is willing to show his fanny in public, I don’t mind kicking it in public.” Let me hasten to add that I do not advocate verbally kicking someones fanny in public or private, and neither did Lt. Goff! His point was that if someone does something he or she knows is not acceptable and does it in front of other employees, a supervisor should be more concerned about the wrong behavior and its affect on everyone, than about upsetting the employee who is corrected in front of others.

“See me in my office.” This ominous statement is a long-standing solution for many supervisors, and it is sometimes useful. Other employees usually understand what that means, as evidenced by the quiet that comes over everyone! However, sometimes this is actually more negative sounding that your subsequent conversation will be. In addition, there is the concern that you will not have made a public statement about the situation, if that is needed.

The thing to remember is this: Just as there are times to praise in private, there are times to correct in public. When you do it, where you do it and how you do it is what makes it effective rather than ineffective or inappropriate. This is certainly the time when the Golden Rule applies! How would you want to be treated?

April 30th, 2008 Posted by | Life and Work | no comments