Deal with small problems quickly so they don't grow into big ones

Managing

September 16, 1991|By Gerald Graham | Gerald Graham,Knight-Ridder

Suppose a subordinate enters your office two hours late, after missing work for three days without explanation, talks rudely to a client, severely criticizes a peer and speaks profanely to you.

You would know, without a moment's doubt, that you need to take decisive action. It is highly probable that the incident would result in termination.

However, we are not nearly so confident in dealing with the so-called minor incidents. For instance, what should you do when otherwise good employees come to work a few minutes late, leave work a few minutes early, stretch lunch breaks, use the phones too much for personal reasons, make careless errors, leave a meeting early or irritate peers by criticizing their work?

Any one of these incidents is minor. And many managers respond as Jean who says, "I usually just ignore them." But many managers also agree with Bill who says, "Minor violations are a concern because they can upset teamwork."

In many offices, such minor incidents are not isolated. It is not unusual to find numerous minor events occurring in the same office in a six- to eight-month period. Both morale and performance are sure to suffer when repeated violations occur.

Most problems do not start out as big and obvious concerns; rather, they typically begin as minor irritations and slowly, over time, develop into big problems.

Managers hesitate to intervene too early for fear of being judged as too picky. But when concerns evolve into obvious problems, the cure is usually drastic and too costly.

It is typically better to intervene early rather than later. As an effective manager said, "I would much rather attack a problem too early than let it go on too long."

Early interventions need not be severe. In fact, a concerned comment may suffice. If a person continues minor violations, oral and written warnings may be necessary. But do not wait too long. The little problems are usually the ones that wrap us around a tree.

Ignoring 'minor' incidents

MA

Check all of the following that you would typically ignore:

An otherwise good employee:

1. Comes to work a few minutes late.

2. Comes back 10 minutes late from lunch.

3. Misses a deadline.

4. Makes a careless mistake.

5. Uses the phone more than necessary for personal calls.

6. Leaves a meeting early.

7. "Visits" with others during work sessions.

8. Fails to turn in a minor report.

9. Quits working a few minutes prior to departure.

10. Spends too long "preparing" to start a job.

Interpretation. More than three checks may indicate that you tend to ignore minor incidents too much.

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