The Value in Setting Priorities

Do you struggle with achieving your organization’s priorities? Do you know your organization’s priorities?


I know that I have served in many organizations that either had no stated priorities or tried to make everything a priority, which in effect meant that nothing was a priority.

Why is it that many organizations have no stated priorities that are understood by their people, while other organizations (the lucky few) organizations have clear priorities that enable the organization to move in the same direction?

Why Units Lack Priorities

Some commanders never set their priorities in the first place. There may be several reasons for this.

  • Awareness-Some leaders don’t realize their organization needs priorities to work more effectively.
  • Confusion-Some leaders may not know which areas are most important within their organization.
  • FOMO-Others don’t want to set priorities for because they want to be able to do it all. Being able to do everything is generally a fallacy and may be a symptom of fear of missing out (FOMO).
  • Flexibility-Some leaders don’t set priorities because they want to maintain organizational flexibility and don’t want to be pinned down to a specific direction.

Impact of Not Having Priorities

Organizations that lack priorities typically manage to get by on day-to-day activities, however, this comes at a cost.  Lack of clarity and a common sight picture within the organization typically translates into confusion and friction within organizations.  Friction occurs as different parts of the organization are moving in different directions based on their interpretation of what is important to the greater organization.

Secret Priorities-Some leaders set priorities but don’t effectively communicate them to others. This is usually based on the assumption that everyone “knows” what is important.  If a leader were to query his most senior leaders, it is a variance in understanding will be present. The impact of not communicating your priorities relentlessly to your organization are the same as not having priorities in the first place.

There is a way you avoid confusion and friction within your organization: setting and communicating priorities.

How a #1 Priority Can Help

As a squadron operations officer for a cavalry squadron, I noticed that our unit did a poor job of communication in the early days.  Since the unit had rarely performed its traditional mission since its inception years earlier, it was weak at one of our core competencies.  Two of our three troops did not know how to use their High Frequency or Satellite radios.  Our squadron communications section had trouble learning how to use our advanced radios.

We struggled with improving our communications as we were fighting our way through numerous training events and projects. We soon welcomed a new commander who provided us with a one-page document that captured his vision for the unit along with its priorities.  The one-page format was not the typical 5-page commander’s philosophy.  The document contained a few simple priorities.  Of these few priorities, the number one priority was communications.

Once the new commander issued his priorities and subsequently repeatedly communicated them to the squadron, we knew what was important to our boss and the organization’s future.   The organization set forth to work hard at mastering the basics of multiple communications systems.

At first “emergencies” and other urgent issues kept grabbing our attention.  Each time this happened, our commander reminded us that our top priority was mastering communications. This reminder allowed us to refocus on what was important to him.  He gave us permission to assume risk on things that were less important.

After just a few months, the squadron transformed from a unit that only knew how to operate one type of radio system, to an organization capable of communicating with three different types of radios and three different types of data systems, including the ability to transmit photos in near-real time to the rest of the Brigade.

Value in Having Priorities

Your #1 priority’s greatest value is that it is most likely to be achieved. After all, it’s the top priority and should be accomplished before any other issue or priority.

There are many benefits to having numbered priorities, but the following are the ones that drive change in your organization.

  • Clarity. Having a #1 priority makes it clear to everyone on the team of what is important. There is nothing more important than the #1 priority (as long as you only have one #1 priority).
  • Collective effort. Having a #1 priority gives everyone in your organization the same goal at the same time. This allows various parts of your organization to simultaneously work on what’s most important. For our squadron, this meant that our mounted troops, dismounted troops, the communication section, and squadron headquarters all strived to master all our forms of communication.
  • Speed-Organizations with priorities understood by all allow your unit to be in sync, which means it gains efficiencies and moves faster.  Moving at a faster pace, in unison, will make your organization more effective in the long run.
  • Flexibility-Despite a common belief that holding priorities pins leaders down, maintaining priorities can actually improve flexibility within your organization or unit. The fact that your organization is moving faster together, means that it can also rapidly change direction.  Effective communication is key to quickly pivoting priorities.


Some leaders don’t set priorities for their organizations to avoid getting fixed to them. Others believe that priorities aren’t needed because everything in the unit is fine. These leaders are potentially missing out on gaining synergy from an organization that pulls together towards a common goal.  Setting and effectively communicating your priorities to your organization can bring clarity, unify collective efforts and increase your organization’s speed and flexibility. These benefits will no doubt improve your organization’s effectiveness.


Question: How have priorities helped your organization?


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Perspective From a Current Battalion Commander

4 Candid Questions and Answers


Command Perspective

Time seems to be the one resource that we can’t get enough of, whether we are in the military, corporate world, or even simply as parents. This week LTC Glen Helberg, commander of 2-27 Infantry Battalion in Hawaii, provides perspective on how time was spent at the beginning of his command and how he would invest his time if given full control.  We also cover some challenges and joys of command.

This is the second post in our Battalion Command series.  Last week we covered 4 Things a Unit Needs from its Commander.


How did your first 30 days of command go?  How would you recommend a new Battalion Commander spend their time in the first few weeks ?

The first 30 days was a whirlwind….I barely remember it.  But I do know that I was out the door to the Big Island for an exercise two weeks into command.  My biggest takeaway from that was to get as involved as you can as early as you can.  I didn’t have much input on the exercise, and I wish I had.  Generically speaking, though, I’d have spent the first 30 days doing more circulation and meeting folks.

The schedule has been a mess for the past 9 months, and it’s taken me way longer to meet a lot of my Soldiers than I would have liked.  As for preparation, I’d have spent more time doing engagements with key folks around the post.  More specifically:  Range control, Garrison CDR, health care providers, IG, Div SJA, and ASAP.  I intended to schedule those into the RIP, but they were stomped on and it’s been hard to recover.  Also, rest before taking command, because there’s none once you get in the seat.


If you had full control of your calendar, without requirements from higher, what would you invest your BN’s time on?  Where would you personally invest your time?

Nine months into command and I’m still executing someone else’s calendar….I’ve had very little control over it.  Probably won’t for another couple months.  But, if I had space, I’d spend more time on leader development.

Everything from LPDs, to TL Academy, to counseling, to PT.  It seems like this is the hardest thing to squeeze in, because leaders are always the busiest folks.  Getting all my rater and senior rater counseling in is difficult.

This is probably where I’d invest more of my personal time, as well.  I see the impacts of our young leaders on everything we do, both for the good and the bad.  I can’t overstate this enough.


What is your biggest challenge or frustration as a Battalion Commander?

Not owning our calendar is the biggest frustration.  I’d feel better about things if the calendar was jam-packed with our battalion events. I find it very difficult to free up time to give to the Company Commanders, and I know that they feel the frustration, too.

Company Commanders continue to take on more and more requirements, without any commensurate staff or additional personnel.  Which leads to another challenge for all commanders….I just don’t feel like I can put enough focus on everything that I want.  The multi-tasking is challenging, and some things ultimately end up having to take a back seat.

So, I’ve learned I have to prioritize where I want to focus my attention, and then just assume risk on the other stuff.  There simply aren’t enough hours in the day to accomplish everything that has to be done.


What organizational accomplishment are you most proud of in your Battalion?

Oddly, the thing I’m most proud of isn’t really anything you’d expect of an infantry battalion.  The Wolfhounds have had a relationship with the Holy Family Home Orphanage in Osaka, Japan since 1949.  It’s truly something special.  Sure, we do a lot of great training, and our Soldiers do all sorts of fantastic things….the sorts of things you’d see in a lot of infantry units.  But you won’t find another legacy like the Wolfhounds and the orphanage anywhere else.  And that’s something we’re awful proud of.  We invest a lot of time and energy in the relationship, to include a visit by 50 Soldiers to the orphanage during a recent exercise in Japan…and I wouldn’t trade a minute of that time or energy.


Closing Perspective

While time constantly escapes us, it is important to pause and think through how we use our time, think through how we want to spend our time, and come up with a way to do so.  Many leaders state that they wished they invested more of their time into leader development.  That recurring theme is a large reason Developing Your Team was started.

It is amazing to see that despite being challenged with time constraints, that the Wolfhounds intentionally uphold tradition and invest their time in serving others, to include a community outside of the military.  Thanks to LTC Helberg for taking the time to answer our questions. He provided candid feedback to some difficult questions. It’s awesome to see a great leader leading a great battalion!


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4 Things a Unit Needs from its Commander

Have you ever experienced a Commander that provided little value to your unit? It may be because the commander didn’t communicate his intent or guidance. Conversely, it may be because a commander was suffocating her unit by trying to tightly control every outcome. Some commanders never seemed to advance beyond their previous role as an S3 or XO, continuing to focus on training calendars or wanting to manage personnel or maintenance reports.  Either way, the issue may be that the commander truly didn’t understand how to add value to their unit in their new position.

5 things a unit needs from its commander


This article outlines four concrete items that effective commanders provide their units with to make them successful.



Direction provides a unit with a destination. Here are 3 concrete ways to provide your unit with direction.


  • Vision– The word “vision” seems to be too abstract for some leaders. Stated another way, the commander’s vision What purpose does the unit serve? What do we want to be good at?


  • Intent-What is the purpose behind the mission given? Why are we doing what we are doing?  If your subordinates understand your intent, they may not even need to be told WHAT to do as they can generally deduce the “what if they understand the “why.” Writing your own intent instead of letting your S3 write it will help ensure it is met.


  • Priorities-Where do we focus our attention and energy? Which tasks are the most important? Setting priorities for your organization help your subordinate leaders make effective decisions and allow your staff to make better recommendations.



A commander sets the culture of their organization. This is really established by the command team (BN CDR and CSM or CO CDR and 1SG).  If you don’t intentionally pay attention to or set out to establish the culture of your unit, it will be set for you by others. The culture of a unit is set by 3 things:


  • Expectations-Commanders set expectations by communicating them with subordinates. There is no way for your subordinates to know if they are on target unless you clearly communicate what you expect out of them.


  • Example-The commander’s actions speak louder than his/her words. The example the commander sets will be followed by others over time.


  • Norms-Norms are established by accepted practices. Every time someone is punished for an action, it sends a message to others not to repeat that thing. If someone is recognized or rewarded for an action, others know that similar actions are not only acceptable but desired and will come with a reward.



Once a direction is given and the intent is understood, the commander can step back and let their team get started. Just because the destination is chosen, it doesn’t mean that the same person needs to also dictate the route, determine where the lunch stop will be, or what radio station everyone will listen to.  Getting others engaged in the vehicle will create a sense of ownership and unity in the organization.



Just because the commander provides guidance and space for the unit to achieve the intent, doesn’t mean that the commander cuts all ties to the effort. The commander must check in on the progress of efforts and maintain awareness of the pulse of the unit. You can maintain engagement in several ways:


  • Meetings. Talk to leaders in meetings to get a gauge of progress.


  • Battlefield Circulation-Bring your S3 or XO next time you check on training in the field.


Commanders that provide direction to their unit, intentionally establish the culture, give space to their unit while remaining engaged will ensure not only that you are fulfilling your role, but will make your organization more effective as well.
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4 Steps to Conquer the Impossible

Have you ever taken on a project that seemed overwhelmingly complex or even impossible?  Or wanted to accomplish an audacious goal, but procrastinated due to the feeling you were in over your head and had no idea where to start?


“Impossible” Request

When my kids were younger, they asked me if I could build them a treehouse.  The question seemed ludicrous to me as I barely owned any tools.  The fact that I never had a father, meant that I didn’t have any experience in carpentry or woodworking. I had no skill in fixing things let alone building them from scratch.  The project seemed impossible as I didn’t think I could do it.  Someone else might be able to tackle this, not me.

I also didn’t want to let my kids down, so I said I would give it a shot.  When I asked the kids what they wanted the treehouse to look like, they asked for the world.  They wanted a treehouse with:

  • a ladder
  • a slide
  • a trap door
  • a bucket pulley system
  • a fireman pole
  • a zip line
  • and a bridge (which likely meant adding a second treehouse)

Before I could get the kids to tell me what the bridge would connect to, my son said he even wanted a zip line that would take him from his second-floor bedroom window to the bridge on the treehouse. I knew I was in over my head, even before zip line idea.

4 Simple Steps

We built the treehouse within a couple of months, despite having no clue where to start, nor any confidence in my ability to use power tools.  I took the following steps to get to go from crazy idea to reality.

  1. Visualize success.  Picture the goal and what it would look like. Don’t be afraid to make this a big goal that makes you feel uncomfortable. Michael Hyatt calls this “imagining the possibilities.”  I imagined the joy in my kids’ faces while playing on the treehouse. After consulting with the kids, I drew a concept sketch. We went big. The sketch included two tree houses with crisscrossing slides.
  2. Make a plan. A plan is crucial to outlining the steps to be taken.  You don’t need to figure out the entire plan right away.  Identifying the next couple of actions can help you get started, which will eventually provide insight to the rest of the path.
    • It’s ok to get help. I got some outside help in the form of a couple different treehouse design books and took notes at park and school playgrounds. I also had help from my neighbors and some of their tools when it came time to start building.
  3. Make it manageable.  Instead of trying to tackle everything at once, I broke the project down into phases. I decided that I would just build a single treehouse with a balcony, ladder, and bucket the first year. The rest would wait until the next year.   I wanted to start small and gain momentum to avoid getting overwhelmed and stuck with an unfinished project.  The books also gave me some practical step-by-step instructions along with a starting point for the wood and hardware required.
  4. Take action. With a plan and list of materials needed in hand, we just had to go to the home improvement store and get to work. There’s an old Chinese proverb that says “the best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The next best time is today.”


We built the first treehouse in less than 2 months. The following year I built the second treehouse and the bridge after seeing that building a treehouse wasn’t impossible. Each subsequent year, we added the slides, a fireman pole, zip line etc. to keep things interesting. You won’t find out treehouse on the show Treehouse Masters, but that doesn’t matter as our family built it together.

In case you were wondering, the zip line did not run from my son’s bedroom window. It went from the treehouse to our neighbor’s tree instead.  Apparently, my wife (who has better judgment) and our insurance company found that idea problematic.

We made mistakes, which required multiple trips to the store, but we learned lessons along the way.  My kids also enjoyed helping their old man in the building phases.


While the treehouse project seemed impossible at first, it proved to be achievable, even for a person with no experience.  All it took was visualizing success, making a plan, tackling the project in manageable parts, and taking action.

What seemingly impossible goals have you tackled in your life?


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Learn to Be Brief

Get Your Message Across By Saying Less

Have you ever suffered through a long-winded and confusing presentation or sales pitch? While the speaker is rambling on, you find yourself wondering what point the speaker is trying to make or lost in other thoughts.

brief communication

Nearly all of us have found ourselves in this situation before. Have you ever wondered if your audience feels the same way when you are presenting an idea? Why do we find ourselves in this situation more often?

While email and the Internet have given us the ability to find information and make purchases much faster, the downside to these tools is information overload. The average office employee in 2015 received over 100 emails each day. This number is expected to increase by 5% every year for the foreseeable future.

So how do we avoid being “that speaker” that meanders through a discussion with no identifiable purpose?

Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less

Brief: Make a Bigger Impact by Saying Less is a book, written by Joe McCormack, that can make you an effective and “lean communicator” in very little time.

The book explains not only why it’s important to be Brief, but also gives you the tools to communicate clearly and concisely. Joe even helps you determine when and where to be Brief. The book is easy to read and provides readers with an action plan to put the principles into practice.

How to Become Brief

You can get your own copy of Brief from Amazon, which can also be found on our resources page. I have also attended the Brief course and workshops and highly recommend them to those in the military and executives alike. Check out Joe’s website at or follow The Brief Lab on LinkedIn.


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Check Out Our New Leader Development Resources Page

Have you ever wished you had a quick reference page of leader development tools and resources?


New Resources Page

After the positive feedback and comments you provided from the 2016 Book Review, we decided to add a Leader Development Resources page. The page contains useful tools for leaders that include podcasts, books, and more.

A friend of mine provided me with a quick reference sheet which influenced this page.  Thanks, Aaron!

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Improve Your 2017 Without Making Resolutions

How many times have you made resolutions in the past that didn’t stick? Studies show that most people give up on their resolutions within a few weeks.


Best Year Ever

Two years ago I wanted to make a change in my life but had failed at resolutions in the past. That’s when I came across Michal Hyatt’s Best Year Ever. Best Year Ever is a five-day course that provides you with an alternative to resolutions.

I tried it out and accomplished goals over the year that, in hindsight, improved my relationship with my family and church.

  • Marital Goals: These goals included going on regular dates and taking four-weekend getaways with my wife.
  • Parental Goals: I also wanted to spend intentional one-on-one time with each of my children. That year I took each kid on a father-son/father-daughter weekend.
  • Spiritual Goals: I joined a couple of small groups at my church and conducted two ministries that year.

The methodology behind Best Year Ever can also work for you. Registration for Best Year Ever is closed right now, but I’ll provide you with a quick summary below.

Goals Not Resolutions

The difference maker with Best Year Ever is that you create goals and make a plan with a deadline. Resolutions made without a plan or a deadline are merely aspirations. Michael walks you through determining the Next Actions required to get started and gain momentum.


Many of you have heard of making SMART goals. Best Year Ever takes it one step further and has you make SMARTER goals. SMARTER goals are spelled out below.

  • Specific. Losing weight is not a specific goal. Losing 3% body fat by June 1st is specific.
  • Measurable. There should be a metric to identify when the goal is attained.
  • Actionable. The goal should start with an action verb.
  • Realistic. Attaining a personal record on a triathlon is realistic for all. Winning a gold medal in the Olympics will be realistic for a select group.
  • Time-bound.  Assign a deadline to your goal.
  • Exciting. The goal should be compelling and stretch you outside your comfort zone.
  • Relevant. As Michael says, we are all in different seasons in our lives. Some goals will be relevant at only certain points of our lives.

Additional Considerations

In addition to making your goals SMARTER, there are a few other steps to ensuring you achieve your goals.

  • Identify your Why. Identifying your motivations or reasons behind making your goals will help you when the going gets tough.
  • Limit yourself to 7-10 goals maximum for the year.
  • Share goals with a select group to help you with accountability.
  • Not having everything planned out is OK. Identifying a couple Next Actions required is good enough to get started. The path will become clear as you gain momentum.
  • Schedule time for your goals and put them on your calendar.
  • Regularly review your goals. Weekly is recommended.
  • Keep your goals visible to avoid the old adage “out of sight is out of mind.” Your computer, fridge, or bathroom mirror are good spots to keep your goals visible.
  • Getting help is completely OK.

Some of My 2017 Goals

Despite going through the course a couple years ago, I use 5 days between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to go through the Best Year Ever process. My goals this year include starting a Venture Crew (co-ed Boy Scout organization focused on high adventure activities), taking my family on a European vacation to visit our extended family, and increasing subscribers and reach for this website.


Make 2017 a productive year by setting goals instead of resolutions. Make your goals SMART or SMARTER and start with the next actions required in order to gain momentum. Maintain momentum in achieving your goals by staying connected with your key motivations. I encourage you to give this process a shot as it can improve your year. It definitely improved mine.


Question: What goals will you set for yourself in 2017?


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2016 Best Seller Leadership Book Review

As 2016 comes to a close, it is a natural time to reflect on the past year. Our reflection can cover not only what we did and what we didn’t do in 2016, but also what we’ve consumed. The following list of organizational leadership books can be found on Amazon’s Best Seller list for Management and Leadership that I have read and highly recommend to you. Hopefully, you’ll find this list useful with its short summary and key takeaways from each book under the title.


Some of the books listed below were consumed through audiobook format using Audible. I listen to audiobooks to make use of my lengthy commute to work each day. Audible has a 30-day free trial that you can feel free to try.

Full transparency: I am an affiliate for Amazon, which means Developing Your Team receives a small commission if anyone purchases a book or audiobook through these links with no additional cost to you. Any earnings will be used to offset the costs of administering the Developing Your Team website. I only list products or services that are I personally use and highly recommend to others.

Strengths Finder 2.0 by Tom Rath

  • Summary: This book aims to help you uncover your strengths and talents by providing you with an assessment (similar to Myers-Briggs or DISC). The book also provides actionable strategies to apply your strengths.
  • Key Takeaway: After reading this book and taking the Strength Finder’s test, I became more self-aware of my strengths and that of my direct reports. I started looking at projects and delegation through a different lens. My team and I found more passion in our work as we focused on things that we were good at and enjoyed doing. This isn’t to say that I was running away from my weaknesses, but found that there was a much better return on investment of time when applied to your natural strengths.

The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People: Powerful Lessons in Personal Change by Stephen Covey

  • Summary: This is a classic that has been around for 25 years and is still on Amazon’s bestseller list. The seven habits outlined in this book are a great start to living intentionally and effectively.
  • Key Takeaway: I re-read The 7 Habits again this year after first reading it almost 10 years ago. Reading this book provides great perspective into prioritization and interpersonal relations. Sharpening the Saw, Habit #7, is the habit that helps you put the 7 Habits into practice, the difference between knowing and doing.

Start with Why by Simon Synek

  • Summary: People like Martin Luther King Jr., Steve Jobs, and the Wright Brothers might have little in common, but they all started with why. Their natural ability to start with why enabled them to inspire those around them and to achieve remarkable things.
  • Key Takeaway: Starting with the “Why” of a proposal or change helps put the rest of the dialogue into to context for the listener.

Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less by Greg McKeown

  • Summary: This book does not provide you with a magic formula on how to get more done in less time. This book helps you identify how to get the right things done.
  • Key Takeaway: Life seems to be extremely busy for most of us these days. Just ask anyone at work. This book helps you uncover what is truly important by helping the reader understand that life is a series of choices. Yes to one thing may mean you are saying no to something or someone else. A future post will speak to this idea.

Extreme Ownership by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin

  • Summary: The authors are two Navy SEALs who share military leadership concepts crucial in combat and how to apply them to any group, team, or organization.
  • Key Takeaway: This book is not a typical Navy SEAL war story. The book does challenge the reader to take ownership in all circumstances and results. This is easier said than done as we sometimes let ourselves off the hook. Each chapter provides scenarios and tips for practical application for those outside the military.

Book In My Reading Queue

Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

  • Summary: Though I haven’t read this one yet, the author explains the two systems that drive the way we think. System 1 is fast, intuitive, and emotional; System 2 is slower, more deliberative, and more logical. Kahneman reveals where we can and can’t trust our intuitions.

Now that Christmas Day has passed, why not get something for yourself that will improve your perspective for 2017?


Question: What leadership book have you read that you recommend for others?


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Counseling Packets to Mentor Your Employees

The last two posts covered how to improve employee performance using counseling and how to deal with problem employees. Both of these posts discussed counseling your employees. This post will cover the benefits of maintaining a counseling packet on each employee as well as what specifically goes into counseling packets.

Counseling packets



The purpose in keeping a counseling packet is to have a written record of what your employees have achieved, what they should be focused on, and what they want to do in the future. A counseling packet gives you a place to consolidate written records of your employees’ counseling sessions, which outline performance. You can also maintain other pertinent data, which gives you a more holistic picture of your employee all in one place.


Maintaining a counseling packet offers you several benefits:

  • Determine Whether Goals were Achieved. The packet gives you the ability to see whether your employee has met goals identified for the quarter.
  • Identify Trends. It also allows you to look back at quarterly performance counseling sessions to see trends over time.
  • Evaluations Made Easier. Counseling packets also make writing annual evaluations much simpler as you have a written record of the employee’s performance over the year. Counseling packets make it easier and more accurate to write annual evaluations. They allow you to use quarterly counseling sessions as a guide to writing the evaluation. This is much easier than trying to remember what your employee has accomplished over the last year.

Components of Counseling Packets 

I typically use a 6-sided folder for maintaining various documents in the employee’s counseling packet. Each side of the folder constitutes the sections outlined below:

Personal info sheet

This includes information on their family members, degrees held, and other special skills, like foreign languages, that are unique to this employee.

Employee Snapshot

This section can include the employee’s Resume, Curriculum Vitae (CV), or Record Brief (ERB/ORB) depending on your profession. The purpose of this is to keep in mind the employee’s previous experience, certifications, and publications. Though these other experiences and certifications may not be pertinent to the employee’s current position, it helps to understand your employee in a more holistic manner. This can help you identify the best employee for a specific project or help you guide them into positions beyond

Counseling Statements

I keep the employee’s counseling sessions in one section in reverse chronological order. The initial counseling that lays out roles, responsibilities and expectations are located at the bottom. A record of each subsequent counseling session is placed on top of the previous session. This applies to both, performance and event counseling.


Copies of the employee’s previous evaluations (that I have given) are maintained in the next session. I also keep a working copy of the employee’s next evaluation on top of this section. This is where I will pencil in achievements that are not captured in quarterly counseling sessions.

Developmental Action Plan

This is a document in which the employee outlines professional, personal, and financial goals over the next five years. This document is more for the employee than it is for the supervisor. This is especially helpful for young employees as a way to identify goals over time and forces them to be intentional about setting goals and taking an active role in managing their own careers.

Career Timeline (Military)

In most military specialties, there are certain milestones in one’s career. As a result, most branches of the military have a sample career timeline, which can help identify future opportunities to take key, developmental, or broadening assignments. Understanding one’s career timeline allows your employee to backward plan their career based on where they want to be at the pinnacle of their career.


Maintaining a counseling packet on your employees, not only helps you to organize information and write annual evaluations, but more importantly, the packet helps you understand your employees’ experiences, goals, and desires. Understanding your employees at a deeper level enables you to guide them to opportunities in their career. Using this technique can help you to develop long-term mentoring relationships with your employees.


Question: What method have you found effective in coaching or mentoring your employees?


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How to Deal with a Problem Employee

Do you have a problem employee that seems to be underperforming in their responsibilities? If one of your team members is not meeting your expectations, this article can help you with practical steps to address the situation. Direct communication is key. 

Problem Employee

Problem Employee

A few years ago I was handed a problem employee as soon as I joined an organization. My boss did not give me much background information on this particular employee, whom we’ll refer to as “Bill” in this article. My boss simply stated that the employee had to have a change in supervisors based on a personality conflict. 

Red Flags

As I looked into this employee’s file, three red flags stood out immediately: 

  1. I was Bill’s fifth supervisor over the past two years. This employee did not change positions and held the same job that he had entered the organization with several years before.
  2. Bill was written up for yelling at his previous supervisor
  3. There were some time card discrepancies in the past. However, this in itself was not remarkable when combined with other issues that showed a pattern of misconduct.

There were no real consequences in response to these problems. These incidents were documented in memorandums, but no action was taken, which seemed odd. It was clear that my boss wanted Bill to have a fresh start. I also wanted to give every employee a fair chance. 

Although I have a military background, I managed more civilian employees than military members at this particular assignment. 

Open Mind

Despite these red flags, I wanted to keep an open mind. I did not want to make any premature judgments before I worked with a member of the team that I was now responsible for. Given the revolving door of supervisors, I didn’t rule out that poor management could be part of the problem. While yelling at one’s boss is not a preferred technique, I understood that personality conflicts do arise at times and an argument can break out if tensions are high. Lastly, the time card incident could have been an honest mistake. 

True Colors

It wasn’t long before I witnessed Bill exhibit performance and misconduct issues. Bill wasn’t getting assignments done on time, and sometimes never completed them. Simple tasks were blown off. Excuses were readily made for why things weren’t getting done. 

Furthermore, Bill demonstrated poor customer service. His immediate response to any service request was that it couldn’t get done anytime soon, if at all. Bill claimed he was constrained in doing his job properly due to regulations from our parent organization. 

Systematic Approach

I took a systematic approach to providing feedback for both conduct and performance issues.  Issues that fall under the Performance category are those that involve the satisfactory performance of one’s job (e.g. failing to meet deadlines). Issues that fall under Misconduct are those that have to do with behavior and conduct at work and are not necessarily related to the quality of performing one’s responsibilities (e.g. falsifying time cards). 

Below are steps that can help guide you when dealing with problem employees.

  • Making expectations clear
  • Documenting issues and providing regular feedback
  • Assessing Improvement
  • Following through

Ensure expectations are clear

First, I held an initial counseling session with Bill to lay out expectations for performance and behavior. 

In order for an employee to meet your expectations, they must be aware of them in the first place. People are not mind-readers, so it is imperative to outline expectations clearly at the outset of an employee assuming a new position. I recommend doing this in writing, even if responsibilities are included in the employee’s contract. Don’t assume that an employee will understand expectations based on responsibilities listed in their contract. The point is to have an intentional conversation with your team member. 

Regular Feedback and Documentation

It was clear that Bill needed consistent feedback in the form of counseling sessions, as outlined in a previous article. I provided Bill with immediate written feedback following any misconduct. 

Although I typically conduct performance counseling with most employees on a quarterly basis, it was clear that Bill needed feedback more frequently. After my first three months as Bill’s supervisor, we started having monthly performance counseling sessions. These sessions were always face-to-face and also documented in writing. Bill was given a copy of the session summary to follow along during our discussions and to keep for reference. 

Our sessions followed a consistent format:

  • Outlined how Bill was not meeting the expectations outlined in his initial counseling session. 
  • Provided Bill with some advice on how to improve his performance.
  • Concluded each session with areas that Bill needed to focus on.

Adjust the Plan

It was evident that Bill had problems keeping tabs on multiple tasks or projects simultaneously. He also had problems with prioritizing tasks. I ensured that I was communicating priorities clearly before looking at my employee for fault. I did this both verbally and in his monthly counseling sessions. 

In order to help Bill with juggling multiple items, I provided one or two projects to be completed each week over the next month. This method was aimed at helping Bill break tasks down into manageable pieces. While this can be seen as micromanagement, it was an honest attempt to ensure clear communication and help an employee prioritize his work. Once Bill got the hang of prioritizing his work, we would meet less often. 

At no point did I ever do Bill’s job for him. This wasn’t really possible due to the technical nature of his position. Nevertheless, if a leader is performing their employee’s job, then the leader is not focusing on doing his/her own job. 

Assess Improvement

Although there was a brief period of improved performance, after six months it was clear that Bill’s performance was not improving over the long-term. This was documented in Bill’s mid-year performance review. This is when Bill was placed on a Performance Improvement Plan. The performance improvement plan was really just a summary of previous counseling sessions. It outlined where Bill wasn’t meeting expectations. It also provided steps to meet expectations and advice on how to excel in the position. 


Aside from his poor work performance, Bill’s misconduct issues continued. Bill’s misconduct reflected the red flags identified at the outset of our relationship. These were dealt with immediately and systematically. I took several steps to effectively respond to Bill’s persistent misconduct:

  • Written Warning – a first step to identify that misconduct is unacceptable.
  • Official Written Reprimand – a next step to show that misconduct has consequences.
  • Suspension – if misconduct continues, a temporary suspension of work is required.
  • Termination – if an employee shows no sign of adjusting their behavior, termination might be necessary.

As Bill’s misconduct persisted, the level of action was elevated until Bill was eventually terminated.

You will have to check with your Human Resources department and/or lawyers to see if these steps are appropriate for your organization.

As described above, misconduct issues are separate from performance issues. However, many problem employees seem to have issues in both categories. Frankly, it is easier and faster to terminate an employee based on continued misconduct. That’s not to say that we immediately sought to terminate Bill. I personally invested a lot of time in trying to help Bill improve his performance. 

Follow Through 

Once you establish expectations, it is imperative that you follow through on them. If your employee’s performance is lacking, then setting priorities and deadlines may be appropriate. Deadlines may need to be set on a more frequent basis (e.g. weekly). If your employee misses a deadline, it is important to follow through by recognizing it first, then providing a consequence.

If Bill’s performance improved and he demonstrated an ability to operate within established expectations, we would have held counseling sessions less frequently. Despite Bill’s lack of long-term improvement, this method has garnered positive results with other employees.

Bill’s situation provides a story that allows the article to address the full range of options for both performance and misconduct. It also highlights that employees’ decisions play a large role in the outcome.  You gain an employee’s attention when you confront them and make it clear that their performance or conduct is not acceptable.  It is then up to an employee to work within expectations, or continue down the wrong road.


Dealing with problem employees can be time-consuming, but is a necessary undertaking for both the employee and the organization. Making expectations clear, providing regular feedback, assessing improvement, and following through are the keys to improving performance.  Misconduct issues should be dealt with separately but swiftly, as lack of action equates to tacit acceptance. No one likes to deal with problem employees.  The good news is that problem employee can choose to change.  It is up to management to make standards and expectations clear and uphold them.  


Question: What steps have you found to be effective in dealing with problem employees?

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