News |10 min read

How to Give Employees Corrective Feedback & Document It

It's HR Tuesday!

In a perfect world, every employee in your dental practice would behave and perform flawlessly. But in the real world, we humans are less than perfect.

Some employees regularly arrive late and take myriad breaks. Others seem to spend as much time getting around doing what they should be doing as it would take to actually do the work itself. And still, others underperform and behave in a way that makes patients and/or staff literally grind their teeth.

Given your busy schedule, along with the fact that dealing with conflict is usually uncomfortable, it probably seems easier to ignore issues until they reach a boiling point rather than regularly facing them head on. In short, you are looking for as little drama and as good an outcome as possible with any given employee. And sometimes, it almost feels like it’s just too much to deal with.

The problem is, however, that if you don’t use a consistent and formalized system to handle personnel problems as they arise, you’ve inadvertently created additional issues. Because employees are not expecting and conditioned to receive feedback, they often push back on even the slightest request to improve.

Additionally, from a manager’s side, we are often not as clear as we could be when it comes to asking for what we need. That is because oftentimes, as we are overworked or focused on something else, we fail to take a moment to, first, get clear with ourselves before we interact. Next thing we know, the feedback we give ends up not being heard because we’ve not been as clear as we could be. That’s why I love the fact that documenting the issue at hand is also an opportunity for me to get my thoughts and, yes, even my emotions under control. And because, as a manager, I need to model the type of behavior I hope to see from those I lead around me and be at my best and organized before I speak or tackle a tough issue.

Second, and perhaps more importantly, inconsistent and/or undocumented corrective actions — or a complete lack thereof — could open up the practice to employment-related litigation. And, at minimum, if and when things come to a head, that kind of risk and uncertainty is sure to cast a cloud of anxiety over your day. Good feedback coupled with documentation is empowering before, during, and after any conversation where you are asking for improvement from a team member!

Progressive corrective coaching

Luckily, there’s a simple process that can empower you and your staff, afford you the confidence that comes from knowing your regulatory house is in order, and serve as a ray of sunshine to counteract that ominous cloud. It’s called a corrective action plan, or what we at CEDR HR Solutions established as Progressive Corrective Coaching (PCC).

This straightforward communication and documentation strategy helps guide verbal and written corrective interactions between management and employees. In effect, it supports your staff as they strive for improvement. Plus, it incorporates methodical documentation of your escalating attempts to inform and assist employees up to the point of termination. If done correctly and consistently, a PCC plan can minimize legal risks — and eliminate headaches.

At its core, a PCC plan communicates fair, straightforward, job-related expectations to employees and ensures that all corrective actions are documented. Plus, it offers staff numerous opportunities for improvement and helps you communicate expectations and corrective actions calmly and consistently over time.

Throughout the process, your well-kept records also aid you in recalling exactly what has been happening and for how long. So if termination looms, PCC documentation provides the specific reasons for termination, historical evidence of just cause, and proof that termination wasn’t driven by discrimination or retaliation, which is illegal.

In the eyes of the law, by regularly documenting your efforts to address problem behaviors, you’re demonstrating that the employee was given numerous opportunities to rectify the issue.

Though they may be viewed as “steps” in an escalating corrective action plan, the “steps” in PCC need not be followed in order. You might end up issuing multiple verbal warnings before writing up a warning for less serious issues, for example, whereas more egregious violations could result in immediate termination or a final written warning.

A PCC plan comprises the following five parts:

1. Communicate expectations

If you don’t define employee expectations, you can’t expect your staff to meet or exceed them. It’s like trying to seat a crown before doing the prep and buildup.

State your behavior and task expectations in a professionally crafted employee handbook and via similarly drafted job descriptions. Once you implement PCC, insist that all existing employees and new hires thereafter sign these documents to signify they’ve read and understood them.

As you go through the coaching process with employees, refer to your documented expectations and suggest ways in which staff can strive to meet them.

2. Provide verbal coaching

Whenever you hit a performance or behavioral snag with a staff member, verbally discuss the problem with the employee and illustrate how their actions have fallen short of stated expectations. Sometimes, depending on the issue at hand, you may choose to identify potential consequences if the problem isn’t resolved.

A written warning typically comes later in this process, so there’s nothing for an attendee to sign after verbal coaching. However, always document the date you provided verbal coaching and what, specifically, this conversation entailed.

To make documentation easier, many dental-office managers use free software such as CEDR HR Solutions’ HR VaultⓇ… This text opens a new tab to the HR vault…. It lets you quickly access employee files and input confidential, timestamped notations.

3. Issue a written warning

If an employee fails to rectify the situation after verbal coaching, a second step is a written warning. This time, you have another talk with the employee, but the exchange also includes a written document, which is often called a Corrective Action Form… This text opens a new tab to download the Corrective Action Form….

This form reiterates the unacceptable behavior or performance and explains how it impacts the practice, clients, co-workers, and others. In addition, it spells out the actions expected of the employee as well as the consequences that will be forthcoming if the issue isn’t immediately addressed.

Insist that the employee sign and date the written warning. This signifies that he or she has received and understands the document, but it doesn’t automatically indicate agreement with the evaluation.

Written warnings often feel more official than verbal warnings and may help escalate employees’ efforts to improve. Plus, from a legal standpoint, it illustrates the legitimacy of your current and future actions.

CEDR’s HR Vault… This text opens a new tab to the HR Vault… allows dental practice managers to share these written warnings confidentially with employees, who can also sign the documents within this same platform. Download your free Corrective Action Form … This text opens a new tab to download the Corrective Action Form…from CEDR here.

4. Offer a final written warning

Assuming the employee’s actions haven’t improved, you can issue a final written warning. Once again, speak with the employee to address the unacceptable performance or behavior and use a Corrective Action Form to document and date the exchange.

This time, however, clearly state that barring major improvement, the employee is likely facing termination. Require the employee to sign the warning to signify its receipt.

5. Terminate the relationship

The last step of the process is to terminate the employment relationship. Keep in mind, sometimes termination is your first and only available action, particularly with situations involving gross misconduct.

Assuming you’re ready to proceed with termination and have access to professional HR support, first assess the risks involved. Particularly if an employee has been involved in a protected activity or is part of a protected class, consider the legal risks before taking action.

If you move forward, issue the employee written documentation explaining the reasons behind your action. But always ensure this communication is properly crafted and adheres to the letter of the law.

In fact, consider enlisting a human-relations professional to draft this document for you. By issuing a well-crafted termination letter, you can often circumvent frivolous legal action down the road.

F.I.R.R. (Facts, Impact, Reason, and Request)

Armed with the preceding information, you might be tempted to jump into action. However, a truly effective PCC plan requires skillful execution. At the bare minimum, you need to document and date your actions and apply the plan fairly and consistently.

This regularity helps employees understand whether their performance and behavior meet expectations. What’s more, this clear communication can improve relationships across the board, leading to a happier practice overall.

In addition to consistency, consider implementing what CEDR HR Solutions refers to as the F.I.R.R. Method, which stands for “Facts, Impact, Reason, and Request.”

Facts

When communicating with staff via conversations and written documents, stick to the facts and avoid subjective assessments. For example, rather than saying or writing something like “Todd is always late, and patients don’t like him,” opt for communication more along these lines: “During the last two weeks, Todd was more than 20 minutes late four times, and three patients informed me that Todd was rude during their visits.”

Ensure your comments are fair and specific, and keep them brief. And, of course, don’t reference the employee’s race, age, marital status, gender, disability, or the like. Since all of these factors are related to protective classes, comments on these topics could illustrate bias and warrant legal action.

Impact

Sometimes, employees fail to see how their actions — and inactions — affect those around them. So point out how others, such as co-workers and clients, are impacted.

Doing so may cause staff to reconsider their stance and, hopefully, to alter their behavior.

Reason

If an employee feels you’re unreasonable, chances are your conversation will go south in a hurry. Thus, illustrate that you are being reasonable and model the type of professional exchange you expect from the employee.

Consider mentioning that you are certain the employee is capable of success and likely has good intentions.

Request

Employees can’t improve if they’re not certain how you define improvement. So clearly ask for the specific and measurable actions you expect going forward.

As with all F.I.R.R. directives, the key here is to document, document, document… This text opens a new tab to an article on documentation…. Minus consistent documentation, you’re diluting the legal defense typically afforded by PCC.

PCC = Peace of Mind

Being a dental-office manager can be challenging at times. And just like everyone else, you’ll likely experience days that make you question your choice of profession.

But by implementing a PCC plan, you can not only minimize legal risks for the practice but also help lift the gloomy clouds that often accompany corrective action. Soon, your in-office forecast will call for bright days — and sunny dispositions.

Additional Resources

CEDR HR Solutions offers a host of free solutions to help you establish a PCC plan.

  1. Find more info on Progressive Corrective Coaching and the F.I.R.R. Method here… This text opens a new tab to the page on PCC….
  2. Download your free Corrective Action Form… This text opens a new tab to download the Corrective Action Form… from CEDR here.
  3. Sign up for free access to CEDR’s HR Vault Software + HIPAA Training… This text opens a new tab to the page on on-demand HIPAA training… and store, share, and collect digital signatures + HIPAA Train your team for free!

 

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