The Best Employee Problem Solving Tool in the Box (Part 3)

Writing and delivering a memo to an employee can be useful. This article outlines what a guidance and direction memo should include.

Tailoring memos to specific issues and incorporating the critical components

In Parts 1 and 2, we looked at what guidance and direction memos are and why they are useful. In this part we’ll look at the critical components and tailoring memos to issues.

Guidance and direction memos should have:

  • An introduction. The beginning of the memo should include a statement spelling out what prompted the memo, why you are issuing the memo, and your overall expectation about the employee’s behavioral change.
  • Very specific directions to the employee. The main body of the memo addresses what must be done and how to get it done. This is the essence of the memo. Here is a sample Work Planning Memo. In this memo, a fair amount of effort went into identifying directions that would focus the employee on the work, make setting goals a priority and require the employee, NOT the manager, to track progress.
  • Clarity about the employee’s responsibility. The memo should offer the employee the opportunity to ask questions. The memo should also make clear that you expect them to begin following your directions immediately.
  • Tailoring a guidance and direction memo to the specific needs or problems of the individual requires a focus on results and on the challenges the person is facing.
  • Remember that most people want to do a good job. A good memo, while it may initially upset a person, is designed to promote success. Focus on the work and the work product necessary not on the employee’s past failings.
  • Keep the memo focused on specific problem solving. Don’t pack the memo with lots of issues, history or consequences. This is not intended as counseling, a warning discipline, or a performance improvement letter. Each of those have a purpose and is appropriate to certain situations but are not as useful in the first try of problem solving as a good guidance memo.
  • Take a look at the documents that support your assignments. An employee’s position description, if current, and performance plan even if they don’t address the current issue, will help you formulate an approach consistent with the level of the job and its overall expectations.
  • Run what you plan to do by your boss and a trusted advisor. The first time you use a guidance and direction memo, get some help. Your supervisor will often share your concerns and may even have had your job before you did. By trusted advisor, I mean someone in Human Resources or other support function that helps supervisors and managers resolve employee problems. Show them these articles if it helps.
  • Discuss the memo face to face. Ask the employee if there are any questions. If the person makes a good suggestion about implementing the memo, incorporate the idea if worthwhile to do so.
  • Resolve to follow through and follow up. Don’t issue a guidance and direction memo unless you are ready to work through the issues and work with the person to improve. Some employees will have difficulties with the issuance of the memo itself, others with staying focused on the directions given. In the Part 4 (the last part) of this article, we’ll look at dealing with some of the possible consequences and outcomes of providing employees a guidance and direction memo.

By the way, employees aren’t the only ones who need guidance. Look at a memo addressing concerns with a supervisor and how such a tailored memo can start the problem solving process. (See this sample Progress Review Concerns Memo)

By the way, the views I express here are mine alone. Also, make sure you discuss your concerns and coordinate any action with an employee relations advisor from your HR office.

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.