5 Tips for Correcting Behavior Issues in Employees

Published: Jan 22, 2013
Modified: May 20, 2020


Performance management would be easy if it weren’t for people who underperform. Now is an excellent time to correct behavior issues using the performance review process.

Correctly identifying the need to correct behavior is a first step. Often, an employee is unable to do as you say or reach a particular goal because he or she is not ready to accomplish the task for one of the following reasons:

(1) the goal is not clearly stated;

(2) adequate training or instruction is not provided; or

(3) adequate resources (time, equipment, information) are not available.

If you do not provide the needed instruction, skill, or resources for employees to accomplish their goals, then it is your responsibility to remedy that situation. However, if the problem is that an employee is not willing to work toward a goal, then you need to correct individual behavior. Effectively correcting behavior issues involves several of the methods also discussed for reinforcing behavior.

1. Recognize that correction is part of the feedback process. This is a necessary and desired part of communication. Most of us want to do well in our work. Effective job performance feedback means hearing when we are doing well (reinforcement) and also hearing when our performance needs improvement (correction). Managers need to provide this feedback for employees and for each other.

2. Correction should occur as soon as possible, but in private. Each of us has the right to know what we are doing wrong and why, so that we can take steps to improve performance. When correcting employee performance, describe the error specifically, tell what needs to be done differently, and explain why. Although correcting behavior needs to occur as soon as possible following the error, it should be done in private whenever possible. Your intent is to correct for improved performance. If you embarrass, anger, or humiliate an employee, you will lose ground in terms of the relationship as well as performance.

3. When correcting, provide specific feedback. Use assertive messages and listen carefully. For example, you might say, "I am disappointed that you did not seem prepared for this morning's presentation. Your main points were unclear and your overheads were not relevant to what you were saying. As you know, our goal was to provide the engineering manager with clear, relevant information to aid his budgeting decision for the waste incineration." When providing feedback, express the error and your feelings about it and explain the consequences of that error.

4. Focus on the error, not the person. Remember that it is the error (the behavior) that needs correction; the person is still of value to you. When possible, invite input from the individual who has made the mistake. In the previous example, you could ask, "What happened?" or "What can you do to prevent this from happening again?" or "What can you do to remedy this situation?"

Taking the time to ask an individual for input can provide helpful information as to why the error occurred and can help you design steps to prevent it from reoccurring. Asking for input also affirms that you see the employee as a person of value who can contribute to remedying the error. In this way, a learning opportunity emerges from the correcting process.

5. Avoid holding grudges. The correction process is one of moving forward, not of rehashing old mistakes and holding grudges. Doing so only wastes the precious resources of time, energy, and self-esteem. Develop the personal discipline to forgive mistakes. You want to correct behavior so that progress toward your goals can continue. These techniques are essential if you want to minimize the frequency and impact of errors. No one is perfect and errors will occur. However, one measure of your effectiveness in motivating employees is the manner in which you correct their mistakes. Effective correction strengthens your authority and the respect that others have for you.

You are the department head for an administrative group that sometimes experiences bottlenecks as a result of all the paperwork that must be completed. As a result, there are instances of paperwork being completed incorrectly, late, or not at all. To remedy the situation, you have tried yelling, threatening, and publicly denouncing the offenders during staff meetings. You realize that a new approach is warranted. How could you more constructively handle the situation to correct the problem with the paperwork?


  1. Losing your temper
  2. Sarcasm
  3. Yelling
  4. Profanity
  5. Public reprimands
  6. Threats
  7. Humiliation
  8. Inconsistent actions

--Text adapted by Christina Parisi from Goal Setting by Susan B. Wilson and Michael S. Dobson.

About The Author

Susan B. Wilson (Stevensville, MI) is a coach, facilitator, and writer, as well as the President of Executive Strategies, a firm that aids organizations in goal setting, leadership, and team building. Michael S. Dobson (Bethesda, MD) has over twenty years of experience in project management, and is a business writer. He was part of the team that built the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum.