Bennett: Which Is Necessary: Employee Reprimands or Corrective Coaching?

Oct. 16, 2023
When employees underperform, a shop owner has two courses of action. Columnist Mike Bennett outlines what they are and the proper precautions when using each.

Mistakes and underperformance are hurdles every business encounters. Even in the auto repair industry, staffing, employee morale and retention pose their share of problems. More than half of all auto repair shops faced issues such as missed quality checks, improper repairs or reduced productivity last year, all of which can be traced back to employee staffing challenges.

Running a successful operation goes beyond just car counts and workflow efficiency. It heavily relies on how we handle challenges within our team, especially when employees falter or fall short of expectations. Our approach to these situations can significantly impact our business trajectory, team morale and the overall culture we foster.

Two primary methods emerge when addressing employee issues: the official employee reprimand and corrective coaching. While each serves a unique purpose, their application can have strikingly different effects on the workplace, employee focus and overall morale.

The Official Employee Reprimand

A reprimand is essentially when we point out an employee's mistake, instruct them to rectify it and apply some form of punitive measure. This approach is typically employed in cases of grave errors or when a particular issue becomes recurrent. It can involve actions like write-ups or even unpaid suspensions. While necessary for maintaining order, especially in industries where safety and quality are paramount, it can sometimes come across as punitive and may not always lead to the desired employee correction.

Corrective Coaching: A More Positive Approach

On the flip side, corrective coaching takes a more positive and forward-looking approach. Instead of just pointing out errors, it aims to help team members understand their mistakes, learn from them and create a plan for improvement. Corrective coaching focuses on addressing immediate issues while also nurturing better habits and skills for the future. It's a more employee-centered approach that not only corrects mistakes but also enhances job skills.

How To Implement These Methods

The corrective coaching method is more common because it fosters a friendly, learning-oriented atmosphere, promotes teamwork and demonstrates genuine concern for employee growth and success, rather than merely fixing issues quickly.

In our industry, getting the job done right is paramount. However, how we handle mistakes and assist our team in improving is equally crucial. While reprimands may address an issue in the short term, corrective coaching helps build a skilled, motivated team that collaborates effectively in the long run. Through coaching, we can tackle today's challenges while preparing for future success.

When a serious mistake occurs, such as a safety rule violation or repeated errors, an official reprimand may be necessary. It provides swift feedback, maintains workplace standards, and reduces business liability through documented records. It's essential to handle it fairly and promptly to prevent mixed signals and maintain a healthy work environment.

Here's how to approach an official employee reprimand:

1. Identify the Issue: Understand the nature of the mistake and why it happened.

2. Communicate: Have a private conversation with the employee explaining the error and its consequences.

3. Listen: Give the employees an opportunity to share their perspectives.

4. Document: Record details of the mistake and the conversation for future reference.

Levels of Reprimand

1. Verbal Warning: Suitable for first-time or minor mistakes. Discuss the error and ways to avoid it.

2. Written Warning: For repeated or more serious issues, document the problem and expected correction.

3. Suspension: Reserved for severe or repeated mistakes, signaling the need for behavior change.

4. Termination: A last resort for extreme cases, in alignment with the employee handbook guidelines to maintain fairness and legality.

How to Approach Corrective Coaching

1. Identify Underperformance: Identify areas where improvement is needed.

2. Communicate: Engage in open dialogue with the employee to share observations and understand their perspective.

3. Listen: Allow the employee to explain any challenges impacting their performance.

4. Develop a Coaching Plan: Collaborate to create a plan outlining steps for improvement, including necessary training or resources.

5. Set Clear Goals: Establish clear, achievable goals, ensuring the employee knows what success looks like.

6. Offer Support: Be available for guidance and feedback throughout the coaching process.

7. Review and Adjust: Regularly assess progress, celebrate achievements, and modify the plan as needed based on feedback.

Which Method Should Be Used?

As a shop owner, the choice between corrective coaching and official reprimands ultimately depends on your desired workplace culture and long-term goals. If you aim to build a team that thrives on continuous improvement, values employee growth and fosters a positive, collaborative atmosphere, corrective coaching is the way to go.

On the other hand, if immediate corrective action is essential to maintain safety and quality standards, official reprimands have their place. Striking a balance between both approaches when appropriate might be the most effective strategy, ensuring your business remains competitive and your team remains motivated and engaged.

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