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Is Corrective Action a Death Sentence?

Short post today about an important topic.  

Is Corrective Action a Death Sentence?

First, definitions for some of my readers who aren't HR pros.  Corrective Action is a formal process where you tell an employee, usually in a written document that is delivered in a formal Kick in the meeting with a witness - that their performance is below standards and unless they improve, they likely will be removed from the company in time.

Corrective Action is usually a three to four step process in most companies.  It's designed to reduce legal liability in firing someone, even in "at-will" employment environments.

Back to the question - Is Corrective Action a Death Sentence?

Well, that depends Sparky - what type of manager are you anyway?

Here's what corrective action means to the players involved:

The Company - "the employee in question isn't going to make it."

The Employee him/herself - "I need to look for another job."

Who's missing?  Oh yeah... The manager.  What corrective action means to the manager depends on what type of manager you are:

The manager as coach - to this type of manager, corrective action is just a escalated tool to show an employee they've been coaching that things are esclating.

The manager as bureaucrat - this type of manager isn't a coach and may in fact be a bit of a coward.  He/she hasn't really coached the employee from the heart, so when they show up with a formal corrective action document, the employee feels like he needs a lawyer.  Of course, they don't have that right.

Again, back to the question - Is Corrective Action a Death Sentence?

Corrective Action is never a death sentence to the manager who's an effective coach.  That manager is going to keep coaching for improvement and wants the employee to recover.  They've used corrective action to show the urgency and hope is turns around.  Unfortunately, to all other types of managers, corrective action IS a death sentence - because if you aren't actively coaching, your struggling employee has no shot at turning it around.

Which one are you?





I agree with this summary. In my experience if HR takes the coaching mindset, corrective action for employees can also be a coaching tool for a manager as well. We've had a number of situations where the manager thought the employee can't possibly make it, but after the required monthly meetings, the employee's performance has turned around. Seems that it was good learning for all involved!

John Hollon

This is a great issue to get into. In my career, "corrective action" (love that euphemism!) almost always meant building a paper case to fire someone. I can only remember one time that I actually had an employee really improve and come back from getting put on a PIP (performance improvement program), and frankly, it was one of proudest moments of my managerial career because it showed to me that it CAN happen. But, the president of the company wasn't happy that this guy survived the program, and it was one of the factors that led to me eventually getting fired. That's another story for another day, but in my experience, surviving corrective action is pretty rare and unexpected, as sad as that sounds.


Hi Anne and John -

Great thoughts. John, congrats for pulling that person through! LOL to the fact your C-level was disappointed that the person made it.


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