I spoke to Leadership Hendricks County on June 5th. It was the third year I’ve presented to this outstanding group; Leadership Hendricks County is Leadership in Action. I was asked to talk about conflict resolution, which included when is corrective action appropriate. It’s one of my favorite topics.

In May, Nirvana Guha of SEO Elixir, interviewed me, Leadership, Expectations, and Clients: A Quiet Interview with Randy Clark. One of the questions Nirvana asked me was, “What do you do when one of your employees is consistently performing poorly?”

In both the presentation and the interview, I discussed knowing when to take corrective action. Are you always certain when corrective action appropriate? I wasn’t.

Jumping to a conclusion

When I was a new manager, I didn’t understand when corrective was required. I’d take corrective action with an employee when it wasn’t called for and ignore it when I should’ve taken action. For example, I remember a window installation crew coming back to the office hours ahead of schedule. Rather than asking them why, I immediately critiqued them for leaving the job site early. I later learned that the new windows they were to install were the wrong size. They’d been mismeasured during the ordering process, which the installation team had nothing to do with.

The installation crew leader was wise enough to measure the existing windows on the home before they began yanking them out of the frames. That’s how they discovered the problem. They called the front desk at work and were told to head back to the office. Rather than being critiqued, they should’ve been recognized for their good work. I had jumped to the wrong conclusion.

Fear of conflict

I can think of countless times I didn’t hold someone accountable for fear of conflict, or because I thought I was the nice boss, or because I thought it wouldn’t make a difference. Through trial and error, I eventually learned that avoiding corrective action wasn’t helping anyone – the employee or me.

“Most people prefer to avoid conflict. There are a variety of reasons for this including the need to be liked, the pursuit for acceptance and the desire for stability in one’s life. Unfortunately, great leaders cannot lead effectively without addressing conflict as it arises within the workplace. In fact, if they choose to avoid conflict at all costs, they can put their organizations at great risk.” — 6 Bad Things That Happen When Leaders Avoid Conflict

So, When Is Corrective Action is Appropriate?

When is corrective action appropriate? When results are less than expected, but it’s more than that. Before taking corrective action you should answer the following:

Were they trained?

Was the team or individual in question adequately trained? I don’t mean that someone walked them through the training manual, I mean they understand and can apply the training. I watched an installation manager give trainees a manual, show them how to do a task (at a training station), watch them complete it, give them an assignment, check midway through, and then critique the work as well as recognize well-followed procedures at completion.

Later, I asked the manager how many times he had to repeat this with a new hire? He told me for some people it was one or two times; for others, it required five or six repetitions. Regardless of how many times it took trainees to learn, they weren’t sent to customers until they had it down. That’s proper training. So, don’t critique someone who isn’t trained – train them.

Were they given clear expectations?

Did the team know what you expected? Because if you don’t give expectations, what can you expect? Do they understand how you want it done? Are you certain? Do you ever think or say?

  • That’s not how I would’ve done it
  • I can’t believe it took them so long
  • What were they thinking?

If you’ve muttered these words, or something similar, you need to look at how you set expectations. If you did set expectations, did they comprehend them? Did you check their understanding by having them repeat what you wanted, and then putting it in writing?

Did they have the tools they needed?

I was hired to complete one-on-one interviews with a team of welders. Management believed the culture had turned toxic and wanted to understand why. I sat with each of 20 or so employees individually and asked what would make the workplace better, more productive, and less stressful. I asked about training, leadership, and tools.

When I asked what tools would make the job more efficient, they all mentioned one of the two lifts in the shop seldom operated properly and sometimes not at all. It was needed every day, and most days they had to figure out how to make do. Management had been notified months earlier, but nothing had been done. So, not only did it make the job more difficult, but also the team thought management didn’t care. Yes, the culture had turned toxic. The management took my advice, bought a new lift and guess what? The culture become more positive overnight.

Tools can be physical apparatuses, but they can also be things like procedural checklists, or the authority needed to complete the task.

Was there anything outside of their control?

The story of the installation crew I shared earlier is the perfect example of consequences being the cause of an unwanted result. Before critiquing anyone, review the activities and learn if anything outside of the persons control interfered with the activity.

Did they decide not to do it?

So, if they were properly trained, given expectations, had the tools they needed, and nothing outside of their control interfered, then you can conclude they decided not to do it. They chose not to follow the training, meet your expectations, or use the tools they were given. The next step is to find out why. Why did they choose not to do it?

  • They think they have a better way. This is particularly common when hiring experienced workers.
  • They’re being influenced. Someone else on the team is telling or showing them not to follow your procedures.
  • Are they lazy?

Taking corrective action

If they decided not to do it, then corrective action is appropriate. The corrective action should include activities expected and the consequences if the listed activities aren’t followed.

So, when is corrective action appropriate?

Corrective action is not only appropriate but called for when employees have the training, expectations, tools, and lack of outside interference to complete the task.

 How Can I help You?

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 in effective management, as the basis for their leadership development program. I’m also available to conduct training.

Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash