We’ve Seen It, Now We’re Saying It

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It’s a typical day at Sweet Dreams Bakery. Rachel has been employed at the Bakery for two years. Today, she is wrapping cake pops. The task involves cellophane wrappers and ribbon: the cake pop goes in the bag, and the ribbon gets tied into a pretty bow. Her manager, Jen, approaches her and notices she is using the wrong size cellophane wrappers. Jen’s temper flares, and she lashes out at Rachel, “How many times do we have to go over this? It isn’t rocket science. These all need to be re-wrapped.” Rachel feels humiliated and sheepishly answers, “I couldn’t find the right size cellophane wrappers. I checked with Connie, and we are actually all out. She already placed an order, and they will come in on Tuesday’s truck.”

This is an example of a management style known as See It & Say It. It goes something like this – when you see a problem, you confront it immediately. The style boasts of transparency and honesty; it has the added advantage of avoiding a backlog of problems that go unaddressed.

While the term “See It & Say It” may be new, this management style is as old as human nature itself: see the offense and speak your piece. The See It & Say It philosophy can be dangerous. It lends to overreactions and inaccurate accusations. In this article, we will discuss the merits of the See It & Say It philosophy under certain circumstances, and we will give four reasons why we discourage See It & Say It.

1)      You may not have all the facts. Things are not always as they appear. Your employee may have a valid reason for making the decision they’ve made. At first glance, it appeared to Jen that Rachel was being inattentive or lazy. However, as more information surfaced, Jen realized that Rachel was being neither. Now Jen has egg on her face, and Rachel feels demoralized. How will this affect Jen and Rachel’s relationship? How likely is Rachel to tell her co-workers of Jen’s gross overreaction? How will Jen feel when confronted by her boss about her unprofessional conduct? Jen saw it, but perhaps she shouldn’t have said it – at least not until she had gathered more facts.

2)      Your first reaction is seldom your best reaction. I think we can all relate to this. As previously stated, See It & Say It is as old as human nature itself. How many of you can attest that, when faced with an issue, sometimes you just need a night to sleep on it? If you allow some time to pass, you may realize that you were overreacting. There is something to be said for not trusting yourself to react perfectly when under stress. A manager we know has a policy to never “fire on the spot.” She follows the 24-hour rule – allowing herself 24 hours of thoughtful consideration before deciding to terminate any employee. She feels this is a wise approach and has helped her avoid many a mishap.

3)      The environment may not be conducive. Mistakes happen out in the open – in front of customers, or in front of other employees. There is a management adage that goes like this: praise in public, reprimand in private. It is rarely appropriate to discipline an employee in front of his or her colleagues. It is arguably never appropriate to discipline employees in front of customers. If you ascribe to See It & Say It, you will find yourself saying it in places where it ought not be said. Take the time to find the right environment in which to address concerns; both you and your employees will be better for it.

4)      The fourth and final reason that we caution against See It & Say It is because as a manager, you ought to allow yourself time to come up with a strategic and well planned course of action.

Let’s assume, for the sake of argument that the employee was in the wrong. Even in this situation, See It & Say It is still risky. You may want to consult with others on your management team. You may want to see if this is an isolated incident or a widespread pattern. Rather than just addressing the immediate problem, an effective manager is solution oriented. You may want to put processes in place to prevent the mistake from reoccurring. The See It & Say It philosophy is like the carnival game Whack-a-Mole. You quickly extinguish the immediate problem but do little to correct the underlying concerns.

Now that we’ve told you four reasons we caution against the See It & Say It philosophy, we’d like to switch gears. See It & Say It isn’t always inappropriate. One scenario that comes to mind is the issue of safety. If an employee is endangering himself or others, don’t go back to the office to formulate a course of action – correct the problem right then and there! Similarly, if there are egregious and obvious violations of well known policies or company rules, these can and should be addressed without delay. This series was not intended to breed hesitation or anxiety in corrective action; rather, we hope this has inspired you to be more intentional and strategic in addressing problems among your staff.


One Response to We’ve Seen It, Now We’re Saying It
  1. Excellent advice, and so well written!


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