The Best Employee Problem Solving Tool in Your Managerial Toolbox: Part 1

There are no problem employees; only employee problems for which managers must devise workable solutions. Here is one way to resolve common problems in the workplace.

How a fairly simple to use tool can head off (or at least minimize) the time involved in resolving employee problems.

There are no problem employees only employee problems to which managers must figure out workable solutions. I have never seen a manager solve an employee problem without involving the employee unless the manager is willing to fire the person or the person resigns.

If you read Merit Systems Protection Board decisions, a certain sleep-inducing activity, you’ll ask yourself “How could an employee be so dumb as to do that?” when management prevails or “How could management have been so dumb as not to do that?” when the decision is reversed and the employee returns to work.

It often comes down to a bad start in working on a problem with the employee. I’ve never met anyone who started a new job by saying “Let’s see how badly can I fail at this!.” As a result, I often wonder how someone got to be such a big problem that a supervisor wants to fire them without some intermediary steps.

The key is in recognizing what we can and can’t deal with.

You will hear the buzz throughout the Agency when someone is caught at or canned for theft, drug use, taking a bribe, sexually assaulting someone or the like. These are not supervisory problems. Of course they are problems, just not the supervisor’s except to report or provide evidence about.

Trust me, literal hordes of IGs, Internal Affairs types, lawyers, criminal investigators and the like will be thrilled to take possession of these problems away from a supervisor.

The real problems supervisors face are no less troublesome for being mundane. Every supervisor, manager or executive has wrestled with more than one of these:

• Lack of Productivity
• Lack of Planning
• Lack of Focus
• Failure to Follow Procedures
• Lack of Accountability
• Sloppy Writing
• Inadequate Research or Justification/Support
• “Attitude” Problems
• Discourtesy
• Difficulty Taking Direction
• Too Much Phone Time
• Late Assignments
• Attendance Difficulties
• Computer/Internet Abuse

So what is this great tool that addresses the kind of problems that give us ulcers rather than titillation – a simple written “Guidance and Direction Memo”. Well maybe it’s not so simple, but every supervisor has the authority to give an employee direction and to tell employees the rules. With a little work, you can put a number of high power problem solving tools in your manager’s toolbox.

Everyone agrees that a supervisor’s first steps in addressing an employee problem include communicating expectations, providing direction, perhaps retraining but almost always closer supervision.

I have heard it said that a verbal admonition isn’t worth the paper it’s printed on. I think you’ll find that a well crafted written communication can clearly identify the problem, put a person on notice that you’re paying attention and get the employee’s attention.

Follow the link to a simple guidance and direction memo addressing telephone use.

In the next parts of this article, we’ll address the key components of guidance and direction memos, how to tailor one for your issues and why this tool is so valuable.

About the Author

Bob Gilson is a consultant with a specialty in working with and training Federal agencies to resolve employee problems at all levels. A retired agency labor and employee relations director, Bob has authored or co-authored a number of books dealing with Federal issues and also conducts training seminars.