Handling the grey

When someone does something that is blatantly wrong, most leaders know what is asked of them in how to respond. If it is very serious then the usual consequence is that the person responsible is removed from employment.

But when someone does something that is borderline how should you respond?

There are many guidelines within well-established companies on how to handle both the blatant and the borderline. We offer you one simple model that can help you in your decision-making and may be a good adjunct to that which your company already uses.

The table below is derived from the work of Royal Dutch Shell Company.  It was originally developed as a map for handling safety decisions but can in fact be used for guiding managers and leaders across a wide range of situations.




Consequence for the individual


1 Compliance Did they follow all procedures and best practices? Receive encouragement and recognition for good working practices Provide praise and recognitionEnroll person as a coach to guide others
2 Unintended Did they think they were doing it the correct way? No blame and receive training to raise awareness of correct practice Provide simple guidance re techniques
3 Routine Other people here do it the same way. Whole team to receive coaching for condoning rule breaking and not intervening Coaching for improved performance around techniques and expectations
4 Situational I can’t follow the procedure and still get the job done! Receive coaching on the need to speak up when rules cannot followed and explain why that had not happened and work had continued Coaching for improved performance around expectations, consequences, boundaries and KPI’s
5 Optimizing I thought it was better for the company to do it that way. If the violation was to improve performance or to please the supervisor then should receive coaching or discipline if repetitive. Coaching for performance for the individual and their supervisor re expectations, consequences, boundaries and KPI’s
6 Personal Optimizing I thought it was better for me personally to do it that way Formal discipline and formal warning. This is beyond coaching
7 Reckless I meant to do it my way & I thought I would get away with it! Final warning or dismissal for willful and reckless violations This is beyond coaching.

If the behavior or event falls into the range of Level 2 – 5 then, as a leader or manager, you are required to intervene and become a coach for the individual concerned and possibly his or her superior. If the event falls into Levels 6 or 7 then you should probably be asking for direct assistance and support from your superior and the HR function.

Tim Dalmau

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