Sticky Notes of Thoughts

…because some thoughts are worth remembering

On Correcting Behaviors

2012-06-16 10.52.52

Photo: Kūkaniloko Birth Site,
North Shore, Hawaii

In grooming one of my staff to take on more supervisory duties, I assigned her as a mentor to a new member of our staff who was conscientious, smart, and eager to perform but without much experience in the corporate setting. She observed some actions that could be improved, but she wasn’t sure if she expressed herself clearly enough. In addition to discussing how the message should be given (at first verbally in private), we discussed 3 layers of guidance supervisors and mentors must be aware of when correcting behaviors.

  1. Lack of Recognition: do they know it’s wrong?
    • First, find out if the staff member recognized the error, when you pointed it out*
    • If they didn’t, it may not be sufficient to simply go through the rest of the layers because they are not convinced that they did anything wrong
    • If so, it could be a sign of Dunning-Kruger, or a state of denial/defensiveness, which should be addressed separately
  2. Lack of Knowledge (of Correct Behavior): do they know the correct answer?
    • Outline the correct behavior
    • Often they know that they made an error, but they may not know what they should have done instead
  3. Lack of Skills for Change: do they know how to implement the correct answer?
    • Do they have the skills to deliver the correct behavior next time?
    • Do not assume that just because they know what the correct behavior should be, that they have the skills, support, etc. to deliver it
  4. Addendum: Beyond the 3rd layer: If they can, why won’t they?
    If they know it’s wrong, know the right answer, and is capable of delivering/producing the right answer, then the conclusion would be that they won’t (vs. can’t) do it. You then need to investigate with them what’s holding them back from doing it.

I didn’t have to elaborate on these points because she immediately started to tell me what happened in her own life that illustrated this situation. Her husband is a wizard in the kitchen, and he likes everything set up just so, to the point that she’s often not allowed in the kitchen when the magic is happening. Her task is to put away the dishes and the pans, but her husband is often frustrated with her because she’s “done it wrong”. He quickly rearranges them to where they should go, and then starts preparing the meals. My colleague knows that she’s somehow made an error (Layer 1 accomplished!) but she doesn’t know where they are supposed to go, because her husband rearranges them before he starts cooking when she is not in the kitchen. After the cooking is done, the pans, of course, are in the sink or on the countertop, and also not where they would eventually be stored. She does not know the right answer (Layer 2 not accomplished).

What if her husband did show her where they were supposed to go, but the “right answer” happened to place the heavy pans on top of a shelf where she couldn’t reach? Even if she knew the right answer, she would not be able to comply (Layer 3), at least without a foot stool.

I often hear new supervisors lamenting, “But it should be obvious to them that it’s wrong. Why do I have to point it out?” My response is usually, “That’s job security for you,” followed by “Do you want to remain mad at him/her or do you want to see the change?” echoing one of the first pieces of advice I received, “don’t get mad, just get even”. If your staff starts doing the right thing, you’re even.


* Even if it’s obvious to you that they know, it’s important to verbalize it to them, to let them know that you know. It can allow them to move on, rather than having it fester and grow into something larger that they will be emotionally occupied with.

One comment on “On Correcting Behaviors

  1. Corporate Life
    March 9, 2015

    Nicely put! For a taste of some corporate humor and musings, please take a look at my blog: Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person

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This entry was posted on February 26, 2015 by in Management and tagged , , , , .
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