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


  1. Worse yet is when we all go through retraining for something only one person is doing wrong, just so the person doing it wrong won’t feel singled out. It’s such a ridiculous waste of time for 9 people when only one person needs the retraining.

    Comment by Mike | March 11, 2010

  2. I have sat in staff meetings and listened to one reminder after another given to all of us, while all of us knew exactly who our boss was talking to. In the meantime, the person our boss was talking to was doodling on a note pad and continued to do exactly as he wished. I’ve decided most managers get a spinectomy upon promotion. It’s easier to talk to twenty people than to look one in the eye and be truthful I guess.

    Comment by Howard95 | March 11, 2010

  3. Tina, I think you found the reason for a lot of the scatter gun approach in your last line when you said supervisors (sergeants) need to demonstrate knowledge about what is going on at work and they have to show fairness and self-confidence. Those are all missing for a lot of sergeants, but it’s not all their fault because sometimes they get put into the role without knowing what to do or how to do it.

    Comment by J.J. | March 11, 2010

  4. Tina says: Thanks for your comments, as always!

    Several people have written to say that they occasionally write or talk to the group instead of one individual, with the idea that if one person thought it was OK to do something an incorrect way, others might as well. I can understand that, but still think the specific individuals involved should be reminded personally. That way you know for sure at least one problem has been resolved immediately.

    Keep in mind, I’m not referring to berating someone. I am referring to reminding them about a policy, procedure or process in a civil and helpful manner, and ensuring, through the interaction, that they understand and will correct the situation.

    Almost every time I write about correcting the behavior or performance of an employee, it is interpreted by a few as advocating “chewing out” someone or reprimanding them severely. I’m going to write about that soon!

    Comment by TLR | March 12, 2010

  5. I think each situation and person would be different.

    Comment by G.B. | March 12, 2010

  6. Tina says: Thanks for the comment G.B., I hope you’ll visit often and comment often too!

    You’re right that every situation needs to be considered on its own. There aren’t any absolutes when it comes to people! There are “best practices” though, and it often seems that when we don’t follow those we are less effective than we want to be. One of the best practices is to talk directly to employees about problems rather than hinting or talking to everyone.

    Another advantage of talking to people directly is that it allows a supervisor or manager to understand the reasoning of the employee. That can say a lot about an employee’s attitudes as well as about his or her behavior or performance.

    Comment by TLR | March 13, 2010

  7. Happy Spring Forward Day! I wish it was Spring!!!

    Mike wrote about the “retraining”, just because one or two people aren’t doing something the right way. I know it bothers a lot of people, but I don’t think it’s that big a thing overall. I figure maybe I’ll learn something new. I’m just glad I’m not the one causing everybody to get retrained!!

    Comment by denisek | March 14, 2010

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