How to Redirect Bad Employee Behavior

If you went to business school like I did, you probably don’t recall a subject area called “redirecting employee behavior.” However, if you took a management class, you surely learned about employee discipline.

From my point of view, discipline is a last resort. It’s negative and often leads to separation. Redirecting behavior is positive, forward-thinking, and often leads to success.

When an employee isn’t behaving according to the desires of his or her manager, something should be done in most cases. It is the rare occasion when the best course of action is no action. In my experience, it’s much better for managers to tackle these situations head on and without much delay. The longer a problem festers, the worse it gets.

The first step for a manager is to consider the situation and ensure that there was adequate clarity about expectations. In many cases, employees don’t do what managers want them to because they didn’t know what was expected – it was never made clear. Before whipping out the disciplinary policy, smart managers have a conversation with the employee. I’ve heard these meetings called “same page” meetings because they are all about clarifying expectations.

If expectations were 100% clear, step one does not apply. However, this next step is very similar in nature to step one. This is a verbal conversation with the employee to ensure that he or she fully understands that they are not behaving properly. In addition, it is an opportunity to explain why the correct behavior is important and what will happen if the wrong behavior continues. It is critical for the manager to not only explain these facts with the employee but to also gain their commitment that they understand and will make a serious effort to change.

This second step is really step one in the disciplinary process. It is a verbal warning. However, I would encourage you to avoid using such negative language. On the other hand, this conversation should be documented and saved in the employee’s personnel file, as should all further steps.

If the wrong behavior continues after the previous step, it begs the question, “why?” The manager needs to address this question with the employee. A 2nd person should be involved at this point as a witness. Sometimes a legitimate reason surfaces. More often, the reality is that step two wasn’t sufficient to get the employee’s attention. When this is the case, a written document with the employee’s signature is needed, in addition to a verbal conversation and recommitment. This sends a strong message to the employee that management is serious and puts them on notice of further action.

The next step is another meeting and a final notice in writing with the employee’s signature. Probation may occur at this point, depending on your policies and the circumstances. A witness should be present. This is the “or else” meeting – correct the behavior or else you will leave no other option than termination. The key is to ensure that the employee fully understands that their actions have forced management to respond with objectivity and fairness.

The final step is termination. Of course, none of us want this result. In fact, the goal of each and every step is to correct the behavior. Also, keep in mind that the process outlined in this post is simply a guide. Each situation is unique and judgment is important. Some behaviors require immediate dismissal while most others simply require managers to learn the fine art of redirecting employee behavior by following these steps.

Now go forth.

Featured image by reynermedia

Phil Harwood is a Managing Partner with Pro-Motion Consulting ( He is a green industry veteran with over 30 years of managerial experience. He graduated with honors from the Executive MBA Program at Michigan State University and was recently nominated “Alumnus of the Decade” by his peers.

Fiberglass Planters

2 responses to “How to Redirect Bad Employee Behavior”

  1. Clem C says:

    The key to cultivating good employees (and many of them aren’t born “good” for our purposes) is to immerse them in your culture from Day One. Interiorscape technicians have a unique type of job that often does not provide them with the kind of hovering management that is typical of the office or factory environment, so if they don’t absorb the culture of your company early on, they tend to stray and become “free agents”, dealing with problems in negative or nonconstructive ways. Especially with techs who come from another similar job and have built-in prejudices and set ways of doing things, it’s essential that they understand that they’re not in Kansas anymore, and your company has its own way of doing things. That can create friction with some strong-willed individuals who are convinced they know it all.

    • the Ficus Wrangler says:

      Ah yes, the employee who “knows it all.” But what do you do when the employee really does “know it all?” (Metaphorically speaking of course, life – and even the interior landscape business – being such that no one can possibly know it all.) What if the management is composed of people with no experience in interior plant care, or even business in general? It might be helpful to encourage management to honestly evaluate their own desires and expectations, and to try to use those “same page meetings” to find out why the employee(s) is/are practicing “incorrect behavior.” Might they not find those behaviors could actually be constructive and an improvement on their current management strategies?

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