Corrective Counselling - the Forgotten First Step in Corrective & Progressive Discipline

By the time that most HR or Employment Law Specialists are called in to assist a business with a matter, it always turns out that there is a long history of small little 'niggly' issues with the employee(s) in question, which issues were usually ignored and never addressed in either a formal or informal manner. Let's teach you how to get the most out of the lost art of corrective and progressive discipline, by using the "Corrective Counselling" approach.

The aim of Corrective Counselling is to address minor misconduct or poor performance, without convening a formal process such as a disciplinary enquiry, by bringing the unacceptable behaviours, actions or performance to the employee's attention and then working with the employee on an action plan to resolve the issue and avoid it either occurring or escalating in the future.

This approach works really well in cases of tardiness or latecoming, as well as minor non-compliance with workplace policies, procedures, customs in practice or corporate values and behaviours charters. It is also really useful to use in cases where there has been poor work performance, if the supervisor or line manager is not skilled in performance coaching methodology.

Once you have identified unacceptable behaviour or performance, invite the employee to a private meeting and use this 7 step guideline as your agenda in each corrective counselling session, which you can reduce to writing using this handy corrective counselling form:


 1. Start with the required rule, standard or behaviour

 It is important to ensure that you stick to the objective facts and don't allow your judgement to become clouded with subjective opinions, as this just makes the session devolve into one of blamestorming, defensiveness and finger-pointing. So, start the session with the objective rule, standard or behaviour and reference where this is contained - example: as you know, our working hours on this project are not flexible and we all have to be here at 08:00 OR in our team, we have always agreed to treat each other with respect and kindness, as per our company values. See what I mean here?


2. Highlight the Employee's behaviour or performance and how this is not congruent with the rule, standard or behaviour as per step 1

In this second, crucial step, you need to highlight objectively, the employee's behaviour or performance that has deviated from that which is expected. Here, you would give a specific (and recent) example. Let's look at our first scenario of tardiness or late-coming we highlighted in step 1. Your follow-up to that comment, would be something like: "Over the past week, I have noticed that you have arrived at work between 08:30 and 09:00, on Wednesday and Thursday." You are giving a specific example and you are linking it back to the expected rule, standard or behaviour.


3. Ask for the Employee's feedback on this non-compliance and try to identify the root cause

Managers usually find this step rather difficult, as they often have their own opinions about what is causing the non-compliance. In order to secure a resolution of the matter, it is important though to give the employee an opportunity to weigh in first, with their explanation. In this step, you need to ask open-ended questions and show empathy and understanding. For instance: "Would you perhaps like to weigh in on what is causing this lateness? Sometimes, employees are going through some personal issues (such as a sick relative or child, or a breakup or marital separation). This is an opportunity for the employee to give you this feedback and enlighten you to factors which may have influenced their behaviour or performance. This is a crucial step, as it will set the tone for the rest of the meeting and the manner in which the matter is to be resolved.


4. Comment on the Employee's submission with your own observations

Thank the employee for sharing information and perhaps weigh in with your own observations and comments. Be careful how you frame these. For instance, if you have noticed a slump in performance with an employee who is constantly on their mobile phone or social media, you would be wrong to make a passive-aggressive statement such as "well, maybe you'd get more work done if you spent less time on Facebook!". Rather frame your observation as a question, such as: "I have noticed that you spend a lot of time on your mobile phone. Do you perhaps think that this may be distracting you and contributing to your inability to meet your deadlines?" See the difference in these approaches and how you will gain more cooperation from an employee in the second scenario?


5. Focus on Solutions & Action Plans

Now that you have both weighed in and had an opportunity to have your say, shift the focus to how the matter will be resolved. Importantly, look to the employee for submissions on how they will be addressing the matter and what steps they feel that they need to take, to resolve the situation. If you give them all the answers here, they will feel like you are barking orders at them and they will not actively participate in the process of correcting their behaviour or performance. Make sure that there is a time limit on this action plan and that it is reasonable and fair to both parties.


6. Follow up Date and Consequences

Once you have agreed on an action plan going forward, agree that you will monitor the situation for a week, two weeks - no more than a month. Explain to the employee that if the action plan does not have the desired results and outcomes, more formal action will need to be taken in accordance with whatever HR or Employee Relations process your company may have in place. This is not meant to be a threat. Instead, it is about clarifying your intentions and making sure that you are both on the same page.


7. Complete the Form and Close Out

Explain to the employee that it is necessary to record the session in writing, specifically the agreements that you have both reached. Thank the employee for their participation and reassure them that you believe in their ability to correct their behaviour or performance.

Ensure that you keep a signed copy of the corrective counselling form on file and that you diarise the follow-up date.

By the time the follow-up date rolls around, hopefully the situation will have been resolved and it will be an informal check in with the employee where you review the success of the action plan. If you notice that the action plan is not yielding the results required, it is time to pick up the phone and speak to your HR or Employee Relations Advisor on the next steps you would have to take. In my experience, at least 90% of the time, this is not necessary because the Corrective Counselling has rectified the situation, without damaging interpersonal relationships at work. 



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