Performance Improvement and Corrective Action

The primary goal of corrective action is to facilitate performance and behavior improvement, rather than to serve as a punitive action.  When applied appropriately, corrective action sets clear standards for employees and warns of consequences for noncompliance.  Corrective action can help move employees toward acceptable performance standards when the proper steps are taken.  A progressive corrective action model builds upon prior actions and helps promote fair decisions. By aligning corrective action with an employee’s performance evaluation, if an employee’s performance fails to meet expectations, it is reflected in the evaluation and is applied to address those issues.

Coaching an employee

Regardless of an employee’s classification and title, coaching is the foundation of the performance improvement process. Coaching is considered “informal” corrective action. As issues arise with staff behavior or performance, talk with the staff member to ensure awareness of the problem. Be specific regarding the nature of the problem and ensure that the employee understands that further action is possible, including formal corrective action, if the performance deficiencies persist or if other performance issues arise. An effective coaching conversation includes the following elements:

  • Identify the objective facts of the issue (who, what, when, where).
  • Ask the employee for their side of the story or response to the issue.
  • Illustrate the impact the issue has on others and/or the workplace (e.g. hardship on coworkers and colleagues, poor service to customers, etc.).
  • Discuss mechanisms for improvement and provide measurements and specific timeframes, if appropriate.
  • Ask the staff member what they need to perform successfully in this area of work.
  • Inform the staff member that you will continue to review their work to ensure expectations are met.
  • Highlight areas where the staff member is performing well.

Inform the employee that you are documenting the conversation, and keep a summary of the conversation, including what the employee said about the issues, in a supervisory file (not the employee’s personnel file). It is a best practice to send an email to the employee following the coaching conversation to document the conversation and solidify expectations going forward. Follow up with the employee within a few weeks of the coaching session to review progress.

Coaching may not be required in every situation, depending on the circumstances. For example, managers may not need to engage in coaching when the issue involves workplace violence or theft, among other things. Issues such as these would proceed directly to a formal corrective action.

Formal corrective action

When coaching is ineffective in helping a staff member improve their performance and/or behavior, or when the issue is severe enough that coaching is an inappropriate first step, it is time to take formal corrective action. The steps a supervisor takes in formal corrective action vary by the employee’s classification and title, as outlined below. In all cases, however, consider the following guiding principles:

  • Was the staff member provided with clear expectations?
  • Were prior coaching conversations with the staff member documented?
  • Did management thoroughly investigate the issue?
  • Was the staff member given an opportunity to share their perspective on the issue?
  • Is the staff member’s performance being managed in accordance with university and department policy?
  • Is the staff member being treated consistently with other staff members?
  • Are there any mitigating circumstances (e.g. approved FML or ADA accommodations)?

When considering formal corrective action we strive to treat employees fairly by making sure they are aware of the problem, by gathering enough information to make a reasonable decision about appropriate action, and then taking action that is commensurate to the significance of the problem. Refrain from referencing protected classes, or sensitive or confidential information when creating a notice of formal corrective action.

Other considerations

There may be a variety of circumstances to consider while dealing with corrective action. Some of the circumstances you may encounter are outlined below.