Don’t tell problem employees what they are

Reylito A.H. Elbo

Reylito A.H. Elbo

WHY not? In the first place, such workers know they’re a burden to management and reminding them would not solve the problem—unless you are implementing a drastic action known in HR lingo as progressive discipline or reprimand-suspension-dismissal.

Is this a bum steer?

What kind of manager would tell an employee he’s a difficult person to supervise and simply leave it at that?

We’ll, that kind of manager is one who has no backbone. Many times, he’s one manager who would pass on the difficult job to HR as the so-called “expert.” And there are many managers out there who are dodging the responsibility of disciplining employees and would rather that HR do it.

Is this the right approach?

Of course, not!

But that’s not the point.

You don’t remind criminals that they’re criminals . . . Right?

It follows that you don’t remind difficult employees they’re difficult employees. Let the proper authorities take care of that because you’re not part of the equation, unless you’re a victim, a witness, or a boss of the subject.

I’m telling you this because of “priming”—a principle in psychology that tells us if a person is exposed to a stimulus, his perception will be influenced by that same stimulus.

For example, in a list with several words, the word “corruption” as a stimulus is immediately recognized alongside the words politicians, policemen, judges, prosecutors and government officials.

Perception matters.

Put the word “corruption” alongside a list of professionals like architects, priests, businessmen, engineers, and doctors, scientists, teachers and you’ll get confused by the list.

In people management, we use priming to lay the basic foundation that all workers are basically good, unless they prove themselves unworthy. That’s why you don’t tell problem employees they’re problem employees. That’s the essence of substantive and procedural due process that is required of us before we terminate erring workers.

That’s not all. Somehow, people appear to be difficult workers because of situations that are outside their control, but within the authority of people managers who have a wrong interpretation of the meaning of planning, leading, organizing and controlling.

This has been proven time and again by the guru of all management gurus—Dr. Peter Drucker (1909-2005) who said: “What we think about management is all about making it difficult for the workers to do their job.” Drucker was supported by eminent American statistician-genius W. Edwards Deming (1900-1993) who said it crisply with exact numbers: “80 percent of all problems are caused by management, and only 20 percent can be traced to the workers.”

Since time immemorial, these timeless thoughts of Drucker and Deming have been priming this writer to be on the lookout for specific examples of management faults that I’m almost ready to write a book about it.

In journalism, how would you apply priming? If you meet a media personality or heard his or her name from friends, what would be the first and topmost adjective you’ll use to describe that person?

In this year’s presidential election, what is the first adjective that you will say to people the moment you hear the names of the candidates?

Perception is a straightforward answer to a straightforward question. In this year’s national elections, and if you’re updated on current events—including the mudslinging among the candidates that can fill a landfill—you should be able to come up with an intelligent answer. But the matter is a bit more complex that it might appear to be.

For example, with truckloads of allegations of graft and corruption against Vice President Jejomar Binay that are yet to be proven in a court of law, would you dare to call him a thief. Of course not!

As I insinuated earlier, you don’t call a thief a thief. There’s a better time to do just that. You’ve to presume that he’s innocent until proven guilty by a competent court.

Take the case of former President Joseph Ejercito Estrada who was ousted by a people power protest and was later convicted of plunder by the Sandiganbayan.

You don’t call him a grafter or a thief, but a convicted felon that is outside the vocabulary of ordinary citizens.

Now, have you reflected on the fact that we humans can easily lie?

For example, an acquaintance sent you an email asking for a small favor.

Since you didn’t want to reject it pointblank, you simply pretend you didn’t receive it, even if the email system receipt shows you read the entire email.

A well-meaning follow-up came in, until you are forced to invent another lie to cover up. In this case, you don’t call a liar a liar but something else. Do you see the common denominator between a creative person and a cheater?

Rey Elbo is a business consultant specializing in human resources and total quality management as a fused interest. Send feedback to or follow him on Facebook, LinkedIn, or Twitter for his random management thoughts.


Please follow our commenting guidelines.

Comments are closed.