07/15/2014 08:59 pm ET Updated Sep 14, 2014

Avoid Mistakes When Correcting Others

There may be reasons why employees cannot be corrected in a timely manner. Those reasons don't matter. What matters is the employee continues to do something incorrectly or behave poorly.

When employees are finally told about the poor performance or conduct, managers should expect them to be surprised. The employee has been breaking small rules, or getting away with less than adequate performance for a while. Both parties may well ask, "What makes this mistake or incident different?"

Employees will be especially surprised if they just received a positive performance appraisal. The performance appraisal process isn't perfect and neither are most employees. Telling employees they are good at everything and/or meet all expectations provides no guidance and only demonstrates you, as a manager put little thought into your employees' development.

When the manager finally gets around to letting others know they are not perfect, more mistakes can happen. Managers might focus on the cause or intent instead of sticking to the facts.

The manager should start with a statement about specific expectations not being met. Wait, unless the manager has yet to establish expectations. Defining and maintaining clear job responsibilities may be the most important thing managers do.

Role clarity is a management system. It defines how the position accomplishes a business need. Often, it is spelled out as a job description. This document needs to be accurate and aligned with the training and evaluation process. Now the manager can address what expectation is not being met.

Before entering into a conversation with the employee, the manager must determine the desired outcome. Then, distill the behavior or performance issue to one clear sentence. So many managers initiate a conversation not knowing what the desired outcome is or how the infraction relates to a business need. It is all connected, and managers need to have a clear picture of the issue to have any chance of resolution.

Managers can err with either too much or too little documentation. No documentation is definitely too little. A manager can always retrieve old post-its and calendar notes from previous casual corrections to document past counseling took place. Establishing a system to equitably track performance can take many forms. Part of the structure needs to include a mechanism to insure similar levels of infractions, receive a similar response from management. No wonder managers avoid this process. It is uncomfortable and complicated.

It doesn't have to be complicated if expectations are clear and the manager and employee speak to each other regularly. After a general statement about expectations not being met, provide specifics in terms of performance or behavior. Then refer to those post-it notes (previous conversations, if any). Have a dialogue about expectations going forward.

Another mistake managers make is forgetting to listen. Since the manager is not doing the job, the employee may be facing obstacles of which the manager is unaware. Before laying out the consequences for continued badness; get a commitment from the employee that the employee is willing and capable of complying. Otherwise, another mistake occurred. The barking commands at an employee and adding threats of punishment mistake.

Of course, managers can make the opposite mistake of accepting excuses from the employee who doesn't meet job expectations. Learn to tell the difference between someone who is temporarily unable, and someone you are enabling.

Another enabling technique is to do the work others can or should do. The manager may be able to complete it better and quicker than interrupting an employee with the request and instructions. Then the employee will never learn that task and the manager will never have time to manage.

Working managers is a judgmental term. It infers management isn't work. Management is hard work and takes time and skill to do it right.