Correct Employee Behavior Without Crushing the Spirit

Having engaged in many organizational assessments, I’ve seen a common truth time and again: the way management corrects underperformance has a huge effect on the culture.

Ineffective correction is one of employees’ top three biggest complaints. Correction is too harsh or too soft; too fast or too slow. And some of the ways they “complain” include talking down management, using every drop of their sick time, and/or leaving their job altogether. All can hurt the organization’s productivity and morale.

Timely, effective feedback will correct behavior without crushing the spirit.

So, there’s a definite tension in this statement. On one hand, correction must be delivered with enough energy that the behavior is confronted and changed decisively and permanently. On the other hand, there needs to be enough compassion that the spirit of the person is left intact.

Let’s use our friends the geese as an example. Geese fly in a characteristic V formation that allows them to fly further, faster, and more efficiently. And when an individual goose drops out of place in that formation, it’s met with wind resistance. This rush of wind resistance is strong and immediate enough to convince the goose to adjust and come in line, but it’s not so strong that it blows the feathers off the goose (they don’t fly well that way).

It’s hard to determine which is more of a morale killer: being too slow and soft or too fast and strong with correction. I have witnessed the negative effects of both on organizations. One thing seems evident; the way we are “wired” internally and our dominant developmental experiences will push us toward one extreme or the other. Salvation comes in our awareness of this.

For example, if we grew up in a family where correction was on the harsh and overbearing side, we may react by gravitating toward a much softer approach. Sometimes, however (though not as common), we adopt the same correction style that we were so wounded by. This results in a blended approach: soft and slow to correct, interspersed with sudden spasmodic harshness.

At this point, you may be asking yourself, “Ok, he’s pretty much covered the whole gamut, so, what’s the point?” Fair question. The point is this: any of these three styles, when unconsciously driven, can be ineffective and possibly cause harm. I have found that most people receiving correction have a sense that something feels a bit off when they are getting more energy directed at them than is necessary based on the situation. We all know what it feels like when we are having a bad day and we let it spill over undeservedly on another. This will often result in the person coming in line initially, only to later snap back out of spite.

Timeliness is the key. When we are consciously fast or slow, strong or easy, in our correction, and we exhibit a desire to teach and develop the person we are correcting, it’s hard to miss the mark.

Stay tuned for the next blog, where we’ll explore the seven elements of effective correction.

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As an organizational psychologist, Dan McArthur has worked with owners and top executives in a variety of organizations for 30 years. He is at his best when the obstructions to growth and harmony are not readily observable. He has an amazing ability to quickly build trust with all key players and support them as they move toward better self-management, leadership, healthy team dynamics, and increased productivity. (Learn more about Dan…)

copyright 2017 McArthur Executive Development


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