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Avoid corrective action via listening, leading and frequent communication

Apart from the sadistic types, most supervisors and managers would list taking corrective action as one of their least favorite tasks. At best it is awkward and at worst, volatile. However, there are a few things you can do to avoid written warnings, suspensions and the like for all but the most severe cases.

The first and most important step is to establish good communication during the hiring process and in the first days and weeks of the employee’s start date. Be clear about how and when you like to be communicated with and set up weekly, monthly or quarterly check-ins for progress reports, to discuss problems or concerns or just to catch up. This grounds your working relationship, builds trust and allows managers to address small infractions and lack of progress or low motivation before they ever become problematic.

That’s obviously the ideal situation, but what if you’ve inherited an employee with a not-so-great track record? Or what if you hired someone and are realizing they aren’t working up to their potential or your expectations? For example, a friend recently asked how to get an employee to work harder. The friend says he really likes the employee as a person and wants to see him succeed, but their work ethics do not match up. Additionally, the employee doesn’t show initiative when it comes to professional development or even keeping up with changes in the industry that are essential for even maintaining the status quo.

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In some cases, it might be too late. But most of the time, we can effectively hit the reset button by opening the door to communication and honing our listening skills.

If you’ve never shared the company mission or your vision for the company or department, it’s difficult for even the most astute and self-motivated employees to work toward that common purpose. Set a time to have a casual conversation about your organization’s mission and your vision; propose checking in more often; ask about his or her job and professional goals; and share what you’d like to see from the people in your department as a group and from the employee as an individual. Perhaps the employee didn’t realize there was an opportunity for additional training or other types of professional development.

After that initial conversation, stay on track with check-ins so you can continuously reinforce that this is a priority. Employees with aspirations will appreciate your interest and assistance. Those who don’t will likely see it as pressure and will either seek employment elsewhere or dig a deeper hole.

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If better communication and the check-ins uncover bigger problems or cause strife, it might be time to start documenting issues and infractions and follow your company’s procedures for dealing with these situations, including write-ups, suspensions and whatever else is in the corrective action plan.

Work relationships, like personal relationships, require communication, empathy and compassion. If we can approach our interactions with openness and the spirit of service, and be good bosses in both words and actions, it will inspire hard work and greater loyalty from the people we are tasked with supervising.

We aren’t just here to tell underlings what to do and how to do it. Rather, we are charged with building a talented, efficient and successful team; assisting the group with its progress while keeping their goals aligned with the company’s mission; and fostering the growth and success of each individual member. Only then can we transcend the realm of manager or boss and become true leaders to our team, company and — if it’s what you aspire to — in your profession.

Melanie Warner Spencer is editor of New Orleans Bride and New Orleans Homes & Lifestyles and managing editor of Louisiana Life and Acadiana Profile. Spencer’s ever-expanding library of etiquette books is rivaled only by her ever-ready stash of blank thank-you notes. Submit business etiquette questions to

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