Do You Let Issues Fester?

Are you in a leadership or supervisory role, and if so, are you timely with feedback?

During my career I’ve held several positions where I was fortunate enough to supervise employees who supervise other employees. Although some people dislike the word boss, I was the boss of other bosses. This is not sarcasm or boasting, but simply setting the stage for what I’m about to mention next.

I remember a time when several complaints about a similar issue made their way to my office. Team members knew that I liked customer feedback and they presented me with a scenario that included a front-line employee treating customers in an inappropriate manner. On this given day I also observed a displeasing attitude from the employee they referenced. I have always been a chain of command supporter and I believe that supervisors should have full responsibility and accountability for their segment of the employee population, and this employee was a direct report of my direct report.

A short time later on that same day I offered my concerns about the situation to the supervisor responsible for this area, and the response I received was that it would be addressed shortly. Unfortunately, this is not where the story ends.

Over the course of the next several days additional undesirable interactions with the front line employee and other customers occurred. Upon my later investigation into this problem I discovered that because the front line employees supervisor was “too busy” to address the problem with the employee we nearly lost a very large repeat customer. Some may argue that as the supervisor of the supervisor I should have taken more action. Eventually I did, or should I say, I had to do so, but was it too late?

Timeliness of Feedback

Everyone usually enjoys giving kudos, it is easy to offer praise, bring smiles, and make everyone feel good. Dealing with problem performers is often one of the most procrastinated supervisory duties. The right timing means everything, we can be too early or too late, but in many cases supervisors wait too long.

Procrastinating about difficult feedback situations can cause several problems, here are a few:

  • More errors or problems occur between the time of the first notification and the corrective feedback from the supervisor.
  • The effects of waiting cause the employee to be disconnected from the original problem and as a result when finally brought to their attention they lack the understanding of its importance.
  • Additional employees become involved in poor behavior because they learn from, or role model, the inappropriate actions or behaviors of others.

While these are just a few, they certainly are significant enough to support why timely feedback is so critical.

Festering Issues

When a problem or situation arises and feedback is not timely, the issues can get worse. Often well-meaning supervisors tend to gloss over issues at the expense of a weakened customer experience or increased harmful conflict and negativity within the team. Allowing issues to fester is much more costly as compared to addressing the problems or issues in a timelier manner. In addition to some of the already identified problems, supervisors who don’t take action might be repeatedly troubled by the same (and growing) problems and issues causing a loss in their own productivity and a much higher level of stress since they are repeatedly dealing with the process in their mind, but still failing to take the appropriate action. Poor performance or bad behavior continues and everyone becomes more frustrated. Frustration costs organizations deeply in high anxiety, which reduces productivity, and stifles effective communication.

Back to the presenting problem, was I too late? Yes and no. We were able to save the customer and improve the long-term performance of both the front line employee and that employee’s supervisor. However, corrective action from everyone sooner would have minimized this impact.

Don’t let issues fester. You’ll be doing everyone a favor.


Dennis E. Gilbert is a business consultant, speaker (CSP), and coach that specializes in helping businesses and individuals accelerate their leadership, their team, and their success. He is the author of the newly released book, Forgotten Respect, Navigating A Multigenerational Workforce. Reach him through his website at or by calling +1 646.546.5553.