Tina Lewis Rowe

Insights, Information & Inspiration

Correcting Work Problems With Precision

Two Big Questions About
Performance or Behavior Problems At Work

When a supervisor or manager becomes aware of an error in performance or behavior the first two questions to consider are these:

1. What was done wrong? 

2. Who did it the wrong way?

Before you cringe at those tough questions, consider how crucial they are for ensuring precision about correcting problem performance and behavior at work. Without that initial analysis of a problem supervisors can make mistakes that create huge levels of resentment and frustration–and work problems can continue for years. (As they often do!)

What Was Done Wrong?

A precise statement about the behavior or performance error will help keep the focus on the primary concern. Secondary issues may be disclosed and may be part of solving larger problems. However, the problem that started it all should be corrected immediately with direction or assistance from the supervisor or manager. Or, the employee should make a clear committment about his or her plans to ensure the error never happens again.

Who Did It The Wrong Way?

Supervisors should discover precisely who didn’t turn in their widget budget, what shift most often loses widget folders, what is the average experience of those who have failed to tighten the widget bolt, who was late to the widget meeting and who hung up on the person calling about widgets. That information will ensure precision about how to focus retraining or corrective actions and how to prevent future problems. 

Being precise about responsiblity will also prevent scattergun correction in which all employees are retrained or lectured for what only one person did incorrectly. If a supervisor or manager is concerned that one error is just the tip of an iceberg, it would be appropriate to discuss a process or program with everyone. But those discussions should not imply that everyone has done something wrong–especially when they know precisely who did!  

The bottom line: There are many other questions to ask and answer on the way to correcting performance or behavior problems at work. But, thinking back over your career, wouldn’t it have been a good thing for your managers and supervisors to have been more precise about what was done wrong and who did it–and what they were going to do about it?

July 19th, 2011 Posted by | Challenging and Problematic People, Personal and Professional Development, Supervision and Management | 3 comments


  1. Thanks for the precise look at correcting performance or behavior problems! Internally we use a flow chart for investigating problems and the first questions include what was the negative situation, what caused it, what employee(s) were involved. As you say, that’s not blaming, that’s determining what needs to be corrected and where to start.

    Comment by Careerist | July 21, 2011

  2. Example for you….one person made a serious mistake, which wasn’t a surprise because she makes a lot of mistakes. We had a staff meeting in which our manager, who is a very nice person but not very brave, talked to all of us about how careful we have to be and how our work effects many people, etc. etc., etc. One of the employees spoke up and said that we knew who made the mistake, so why were we spending thirty minutes talking as though all of us have done it. Our manager said she wasn’t interested in placing blame, she just wanted us to do excellent work as a team. Everyone was very disappointed that she didn’t have the courage to talk to the one person one-on-one, but she never did. No re-training or correction, just bring us all in a room and act like we all made the mistake. I get sad sometimes to see how lacking in bravery some of our managers are. They are really nice, but they get walked all over.

    Comment by cubicleinmate1 | July 21, 2011

  3. Wow, that is so simple it’s profound. And I’m not being sarcastic for a change! I can think of several cases where asking those two questions would have cleared up some problems.

    Comment by R.D. | July 21, 2011

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