Whenever I ask a group of leaders if they’re ever unsure of when corrective action is needed the majority raise their hands. They admit that yes, there are times they’re uncertain as to whether discipline is called for. I get it — been there done that.

When I follow up by asking who has avoided holding a teammate accountable for fear of conflict almost everyone admits they have. And then I ask if avoiding corrective action for fear of conflict has led to larger issues. Once again, the consensus is yes it does, and it has. My last question is, do you think you’ll avoid holding someone accountable in the future for fear of conflict? The response to this question is more often thoughtful looks and people staring at their shoes. The good news is corrective action doesn’t have to lead to conflict.

When to Use Corrective Action

When the results don’t meet expectations be careful not to jump to the conclusion that corrective action is called for. Maybe – maybe not. First, a few facts need to be determined.

Was the teammate(s) responsible for the poor results trained?

And not only were they shown what to do once and handed a checklist but were they thoroughly trained, was their understanding checked, and was their performance monitored. Because if not, corrective is not called for follow-up training is.

Were they given expectations?

Was the team given expectations of results, time limits, and activities to be followed?

Were there consequences out of the team’s control?

Once as a manager of an installation team I critiqued a crew for finishing early. I didn’t think to ask why they returned to the office hours before they were expected. Had I asked I would’ve learned the product they were to install had been ordered incorrectly. It was out of their control. Before jumping to conclusions get the facts and know if there were circumstances out of your teammate’s control.

Do they have the tools they need to complete the task?

And not only physical tools, hammers and screwdrivers but also systems, procedures, and checklists.

Did they decide not to follow procedure?

If they were trained, given expectations, had the tools they needed, and nothing got in the way, then we can conclude they decided not to do it correctly, and that’s the first step in changing this behavior. Why did they decide not to meet your expectations? Did they think it was optional? Were they influenced by others? Did they believe they had a better way? Did other things take priority such as time restraints, which led to shortcuts? Could it be interruptions that caused a loss of focus? Or were they disruptive, lackadaisical, or uncaring?

How to Effectively Complete a Corrective Action Without Creating Conflict

Come from Help

Stop thinking of corrective action as conflict. It doesn’t have to be. You may not be able to predict or control how the recipient of the critique will react, but you can control how you approach the action. Instead of thinking of corrective action as punishment leading to conflict think of it as help. If someone needs disciplined it’s for their own good, isn’t it? Corrective action is a way to help someone. Letting a teammate get away with not adhering to procedures doesn’t help them. Offering sincere help does. I cringe at the number of times over the years that I’ve allowed someone to fail for fear of conflict.

  1. Answer the first four questions listed above to determine if corrective action is required.
  2. Determine as best you can the answer to number five, which is why did they decide not to follow instructions.
  3. Meet one-on-one in a quiet place without interruptions. (If it could turn contentious have a senior manager or Human Resources specialist join you.)
  4. Explain that you’re there to help.
  5. Keep a professional, unemotional business-like demeanor.
  6. Begin the conversation sharing why they’re a valuable employee.
  7. Outline the infraction and ask questions to understand why the rules weren’t followed.
  8. Share expectations and activities to be followed in the future.
  9. Get a commitment from them that they’ll follow the activities.
  10. It may be best to put it in writing with signatures from all.

Are You Helping or Hurting Your Team?

Handing out corrective actions when training is needed, not discipline, isn’t helpful. Critiquing someone for poor results that were out of their control is destructive. Knowing why someone decided not to do what was expected is the beginning of helping them. Knowing when corrective action is called for, and then coming from a place of help you’ll no longer view corrective action as conflict. When that happens, you’ll lead your team to higher levels of achievement.

How Can I help? 

I like to help people and organizations, but I have three criteria I consider before taking an assignment – I believe in what the organization stands for, I know I can help, and it looks like fun. If you have any questions, Contact Me. 

Does your business have a  management training plan? Many organizations, large and small, use my book, The New Manager’s Workbook a crash course im effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program.

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