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Unable, Unwilling or Unmoved?

April 15, 2011

One of the regular tasks we often have in HR is working with a manager through the process of determining if a corrective/disciplinary action is warranted for an employee and then what level/type of action should be imposed.  Having worked in organizations with Collective Bargaining Agreements, I’ve experienced the environment where disciplinary action was a game of connect the dots (Step 1, Step 2, Step 3 ) and also ran in simultaneous-and-parallel streams in accordance with the CBA –  Sally Employee could be in Step 1 for a performance issue, Step 3 for attendance, and Step 2 for uniform violations. Oy!

But when we evaluate these performance management issues outside of that environment and look in the context of, well, ‘the real world’, along with the freedom to manage through these issues comes the responsibility to do so correctly.

It’s often a challenge for new managers, without a step-by-step playbook, to feel comfortable in assessing how to provide corrective counseling.  But I’ve found that a 3 x 3 x 3 application can help one sort through this issue:

First, determine which of these THREE behavior categories apply (and truly I’ve found that any issue can be placed in one of these buckets):

  • Performance issue
  • Policy/rule violation
  • Attendance issue

Secondly, determine which of these THREE standards apply:

  • The issue is progressively getting worse/not improving
  • A repeat is one time too many
  • Once is enough

Finally, determine for which of these THREE reasons the employee is exhibiting this behavior:

  • The employee is unable.  They’re unaware of the policy/rule for example, or have not been adequately trained and thus can’t perform the task or job. 
  • The employee is unwilling.  Perhaps they understand the performance standard (produce XX widgets each day) but are unwilling to exert the effort to meet the expected standard.
  • The employee is unmoved.  They’re obstinate, stubborn and perhaps inflexible.  They’re aware of a work rule but, as an example, refuse to comply because they “think it’s stupid.” 


Plotting these decision points out (matrix style) can assist the manager in determining what action to take.  Needless to say, consistency across the work group, department and organization should also be evaluated.  And company culture, style and standards all come in to play.

Granted, this post focuses on what one could consider more compliance-HR as opposed to commitment-HR.  But let’s face it – as much as we strive to make sure that staff members take responsibility and are committed to correcting their behavior for some deep, meaningful personally motivated reason, the reality is that often we DO have employees who are unable, unwilling or unmoved.

Unable we can work with. 

Unwilling or unmoved takes a little “sumthin’ sumthin’.”

3 Comments leave one →
  1. April 16, 2011 12:42 pm


    This is a very cool approach to analysis. A lot of managers are visually-oriented, and representing the facts and circumstances in a matrix makes a lot of sense.

  2. April 17, 2011 12:42 pm

    I really like this approach. I’ve probably tried to describe something similar during my career but your approach makes it easy to understand. I plan to share this with all the generalists and coordinators I know in HR. At their level, this is a common question and your matrix helps them analyze the situation. Thank you!


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