Have you ever noticed the tendency of some organizations or leaders to implement a policy or rule every time a new people problem or issue comes up? One person complains that the person sitting next to them is eating sunflower seeds and suddenly an email goes out to the entire office advising what food is acceptable or unacceptable to eat at your desk.
This is where we advise managers and staff to manage the outliers and avoid impacting other staff that are doing the right things. For instance, if we were to implement a policy or send an email dictating what people can or cannot eat at their desks, we would be telling all of the people who make good decisions what they can and can’t do. Now they’re annoyed that there are restrictions, even though it doesn’t impact them or change their habits. Also, perhaps in another division no one cares what the person next to them eats and doesn’t mind someone sucking on and spitting out sunflower seeds next to them. We call this type of approach, Jerk Management. Jerk Management may manage the outlier causing the issue by managing the ‘jerks’ but it also takes away the perception of autonomy from your committed and engaged employees who are already doing the right thing.
As managers and HR professionals, we need to train leaders and encourage organizations to show discretion on what situations require a policy or a companywide communication to prevent further issues and where we can simply manage the one or two people involved in a situation. In the case of the sunflower seeds, we asked the complainant if they would be comfortable mentioning that this bothered them to their co-worker directly as opposed to sending out an email to all staff that was really only meant to address one person. The employee agreed that approaching her co-worker directly would make more sense and did so. She spoke to her co-worker and when we checked in to see how the conversation had gone, she advised that it was resolved. This situation was resolved without any impact to other staff.
In situations where the messaging is only targeted to one person, ensure you only have the discussion with that one person. Another example might be a workplace where employees are allowed to access social media accounts from their work computers during breaks and a leader becomes concerned that one staff member is spending too much time on Facebook. When a manager tells their entire team that some people are spending too long on Facebook, two things are accomplished, neither of which are positive. First, the one person you were actually trying to target now thinks everyone is spending too much time on Facebook and may think the message isn’t even directed at them. Second, there may be one or two team members who spend a few minutes on Facebook every few days, who now think they are in trouble when no one was actually concerned with their social media usage.
Leaders and human resources professionals must show discretion when addressing employee issues and must identify which issues should be handled individually. In fact, most issues involving people should be dealt with individually unless they truly impact all staff or are related to the health and safety of the organization. Leaders must take a stance on what behaviours are or are not appropriate and must deal with the individual outliers where needed. Leaders are hired into their role to show discretion and form subjective opinions on when staff have crossed a line, and deal with those individuals.
Our next Intentional People Leadership Training session begins April 2016. For more information, click here.