30 Nov

3 Ways to Miss the Mark on Handling People Problems

by Jaysa Toet in Employee Engagement 0 comments

When leaders experience a problem with a specific person, a gut reaction is to solve it in the quickest, easiest, and most painless way possible. It’s true that problems should be solved quickly, however, well-intentioned efficiency or avoidance can cause leaders to miss the mark. Even when uncomfortable, dealing with a situation personally with the individual is typically the most effective way to resolve people issues.   Here are some examples showing how not dealing with situations personally can backfire:

Putting up a sign

I was working with a leader who was having issues because her staff were complaining about a hygiene problem with an employee. The leader wanted to put a sign up enforcing the importance of hand washing with the hope that the employee would get the picture. I coached her on addressing the individual directly and as part of the conversation she found out the employee had allergies that were causing them to sneeze uncontrollably (thus the hygiene complaints). Through a personal discussion, the situation was resolved – and with a solution (allergy medication) that would not have been apparent without a conversation! Think about what would have happened if the leader hadn’t had the conversation and simply put up a hand washing sign. Likely nothing!

Signs can be ineffective for multiple reasons such as the intended person may not see it, it may not be specific enough/interpreted correctly, or it may not be taken seriously. They can also be completely irrelevant if further information isn’t gathered first. Employees who had nothing to do with the original concern may also begin to wonder if the sign was for them, prompting confusion and perhaps even frustration as they may feel they were already meeting the sign’s stated expectation.

Yelling at a group/Sending a mass email

(Firstly, yelling doesn’t help). Secondly, many leaders who have staff meetings/team huddles/toolbox talks think that this is the best or only avenue to address individual concerns. However, when providing corrective action in this setting it is very common for the employee who is needing the correction to think they aren’t the one doing something wrong while others who may not be at fault at all feel it’s them to blame.  The same is true for sending a mass email. In fact, the employee who you intended to address may now believe that they aren’t the only one missing the expectation and feel they can continue to fly under the radar.

Writing a policy

Policies are great for documenting legislative requirements, common concerns and repeated questions but should not be used when only one person is the problem. At times we call this jerk management because if you are putting a policy in place that is taking something away due to one person’s poor (jerk) behaviour, you are potentially making others (who are meeting expectations) suffer unnecessarily.

Policies don’t solve everything and shouldn’t be overused to cover what could happen. For example, offices don’t have a “don’t throw bowling balls down the hallway” policy but we somehow avoid that and would also reasonably know that it is a safety concern were it actually to happen!

If you have a concern with one person, have the leadership courage to deal with that person one on one. 

No one ever said leadership was easy.

So why do we address situations individually?

Leaders should address situations individually to get to the root cause of the issue quickly and to achieve the desired result. When dealing with people problems, there are often factors we are unaware of that contribute to a situation. Blanket solutions (like above) won’t help because we haven’t taken the time to gather all the facts and understand the root cause.  If you don’t get the problem by the roots, it will just come back again.

How can I do it right?

Confidence and the right tools are key. Handling issues one on one doesn’t have to be scary if leaders take the time to ask questions and properly diagnose an issue before putting an action plan in place.

Do you need the tools to handle these sorts of conversations?

Acuity’s 4-day Intentional People Leadership (IPL) course provides leaders with specific actionable strategies and tools that they can use with their individuals immediately.  The course focuses on training leaders to lead intentionally, creating a culture of commitment and engagement within their team.

For more information on 2018 sessions visit our website:

Jaysa Toet is a Partner at Acuity HR Solutions. For more content and blogs from the Acuity team visit our website ( and follow us on Instagram and Facebook!

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