How Corrective Action Can Improve Employee Performance

Consider Trying Out Two Corrective Action Models

Constructive Feedback
Constructive Feedback. Getty Images

Employees make mistakes. Sometimes this is because they aren’t clear on what their managers want them to do, and at other times, it could be that they willfully make a wrong choice. When these types of situations occur, a manager often has to make a corrective action—that is, they take a step to change an employee's behavior.

Corrective action stands with preventive action as the two options to influence and change (and hopefully improve) employee performance. Preventive action takes place before an employee or team makes an error and corrective action occurs afterward. Here's what you need to know about the latter action, which you can take by following one of the two presented models below.

The 8D Model of Corrective Action

There are many ways in which to take corrective action, and one of those is called the 8D Model. The D stands for discipline—not a punitive punishment, but an area of study or influence. This model is popular in quality assurance areas and helps ensure that the entire team understands the problem and provides an answer. The 8Ds are as follows:

  • D0: Plan—Plan to solve the original problem and determine time, people, and resources needed
  • D1: Use a team—Choose a team with diverse skill sets and product/process knowledge.
  • D2: Define and describe the problem—Set the scope by defining the quantifiable items of the problem such as who, what, where, when, why, how, and how many.
  • D3: Develop and execute an interim containment plan—Protect customers by implementing a temporary solution to contain the problem.
  • D4: Determine, identify, and verify root causes—Use quality tools including cause-and-effect diagrams and 5 Whys to identify all applicable causes that could explain why the problem occurred.
  • D5: Choose and verify permanent corrections—Choose a permanent, systemic solution that addresses the root cause.
  • D6: Implement and validate corrective actions—Implement the best corrective actions, then verify and validate that these actions caused an improvement. 
  • D7: Take preventive measures—Look at failings and modify practices, management and operation systems, and procedures to address potential issues ahead.
  • D8: Congratulate your team—Recognize your team’s efforts through formal thank-yous and outward demonstration such as events or bonuses. 

Any group can adopt these steps. Addressing a problem as a team rather than sticking everything on one individual can make a huge difference in how employees view this type of process. Of course, this type of formal process isn't necessary for simple corrections, but going through this formal model can help you identify the causes and make a fix permanent.

For example, say you have a back door that Jane leaves open when she should close it. This can be a simple case of, "Hey, Jane, please make sure you shut the door when you come in," and the problem is solved. But, if you look at it as the problem is the door and not Jane, you might approach it using this model.

What's the root cause of the open door? Is it difficult to close? Is Jane frequently carrying heavy objects through the door and needs to prop it open to get in and out? Your root cause analysis will help you determine the right problem to solve and create a long-lasting solution.

The Feedback Model 

Feedback is a standard method of noting corrective action. As with the example above, giving Jane feedback about the door could solve the problem. "Jane, I need you to shut the door because we have a lot of expensive products in the back, and people can easily get in, putting us at risk."

This model often begins the path of progressive discipline and improving employee performance. It assumes that the person receiving the feedback simply doesn't know better, and once you explain, the employee will change their behavior.

In the Harvard Business Review, researchers Marcus Buckingham and Ashley Goodall challenge that type of corrective action and suggest focusing on what an employee does well instead of what they do wrong. This is not the feedback sandwich model, where you praise first, then criticize, and end with praise. This is a different way of presenting information. Here are some examples from Buckingham and Goodall:

Can I give you some feedback? Here's my reaction.
Good job! Here are three things that really worked for me. What was going through your mind when you did them?
Here’s what you should do. Here’s what I would do.
Here’s where you need to improve. Here’s what worked best for me, and here’s why.
That didn’t really work. When you did x, I felt y or I didn’t get that.
You need to improve your communication skills. Here’s exactly where you started to lose me.
You need to be more responsive. When I don’t hear from you, I worry that we’re not on the same page.
You lack strategic thinking. I’m struggling to understand your plan.
You should do x [in response to a request for advice]. What do you feel you’re struggling with, and what have you done in the past that’s worked in a similar situation?

The researchers focus on "I" statements rather than "you" statements, like "Here's what I would do" instead of "Here's what you should do." Buckingham and Goodall theorize that because you don't really know what's going on in someone else's head, it doesn't make sense to tell them to think differently.

The Bottom Line

A manager can’t expect employees to change their ways just by telling them what they’re doing is wrong. You need corrective action in your business. Regardless of the method you choose, it's important that those in charge address bad or detrimental behavior.

Employees need to know their boundaries and where they need to improve. It’s the manager’s responsibility to clearly convey that information. Otherwise, people may become frustrated and morale, in turn, could suffer.