The Best Employee Problem Solving Tool in the Box (part 4)

Here are the possible consequences when providing an employee with a guidance and direction memo.

This (the last part in the series) deals with some of the possible consequences and outcomes of providing employees a guidance and direction memo.

Some potential consequences:

The employee improves at the skill, ability or behavior addressed in the memo.

This is the best result we could hope for. Problem solved, let’s move on. At some point, meet with the person, thank them for their cooperation and praise their good work.

The employee muddles on complying generally but reluctantly with the memo.

In this scenario, you may want to consider a tighter memo reflecting a more directive approach first then look at either disciplinary or performance options if the stronger memo doesn’t work.

The person refuses to comply with the requirements of the memo, files grievances or other complaints, goes to the union and generally raises hell.

While you’ll need some technical help with this scenario, remember that a legal order from an appropriate authority that does not place the person in imminent danger to their health and safety not considered by the position must be followed. Failure to do so will often subject the employee to serious disciplinary action. An employee who repeatedly fails to follow a manager’s instructions is headed for the door. When orders are clear, within the person’s capacity and overall scope of the job, employees who fail or refuse to comply have few or no defenses to disciplinary charges.

A well thought out and written guidance and direction memo stands on its own merits. It is evidence of the manager’s attempts to apprise an employee of one or more problems; indicates the supervisor’s willingness to help with a resolution and demonstrates that the Agency is serious about getting the job done. If things get legalistic, a good guidance and direction memo is evidence that management afforded the employee due process by establishing that a rule existed, the employee was on clear notice of its existence and was offered an opportunity to ask questions and work on a solution before stronger action was contemplated.

I got my start with guidance and direction memos while advising management in a case involving problems a military officer was having with an SES subordinate. The SES’er implied but never stated that he considered himself a better manager than the Officer for whom he worked.

We started the resolution process with a series of guidance and direction memos that the SES’er either ignored or complied with in a limited way. Later, after following the procedures required, the issue went to a hearing on a performance based removal action against the individual. It was an original jurisdiction case heard by the Chief ALJ of Merit Systems Protection Board.

The judge, after reading the record, asked the SES’er why he had not complied with what were legitimate, clear and unmistakable performance requirements. The executive replied that officers came and went but he was there for the long run to bring stability to the organization and knew best what the needs were. While I think it was that statement, by itself, that probably lost him the case, the judge made clear his belief that the repeated failure to pay prompt and serious attention to the directions of a superior was a definite career ending decision.

I know that the tool can be effective. Most of the managers and supervisors who used these memos were very satisfied with the results. If there’s a situation at your agency that cries out for a guidance and direction memo, give it a try.

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.