Keep this in mind -- try your best not to outright tell him what he did wrong. As with other mentoring opportunities, much more will be absorbed if he figures it out on his own. Provide as much leading material as you need to drag him to the right place, but let him discover it. And make sure it all comes out.
The key word here is to be specific. There can be no room for generalities – it will only lead to confusion later. Remember that your level of sincerity is very important to whether the overall message will be received and logged. If you actually thought that his inappropriate comments were somewhat funny, and he knows it, he’s not going to take you as seriously. It may lead him to repeat the behavior to provide you additional entertainment in the future. If you’re trying to tell him that his technical mistake was very serious, and you’re checking your email while you're dialoging with him, the message will be highly diluted.
Sit down face to face. Meet eye to eye. Keep the dialog calm and factual – not emotional. No cussing. When you need to start wrapping things up, summarize clearly, with the minimum words needed to get your points across, and make sure he understands the consequences should it repeat itself:
“Fred, I’m glad you understand that speaking with customers that way is completely out of line and terrible for our business. I know you will control yourself much better in those types of situations from now on. But, so you know, this can’t happen again. That would possibly mean your having to leave here. Okay?”If he misinterprets that, you’ve done about all you can do. Also, make sure to document it with Human Resources in case he does melt down again.
One more thing on the wrap up. Sometimes, there’s a desire to soften the blow a bit by applying what’s been called the “Oreo Treatment.” First, you tell him something positive, then you give your desired negative message, then you close with another positive. All this accomplishes is further dilution of your intended message. You should be acknowledging those positive points as frequently as possible. But not now!
“Sam, you are an excellent employee, and a great worker. You show up on time, work hard, and are a great example to the others. You shouldn’t access that system off-hours. You have a great future here, and I think you’re going to be a key member of our company for a long time to come. Blah, blah, blah…”Message lost. If you’ve been giving him sufficient positive feedback at regular intervals, he’ll know all that other stuff. Keep on point.
So, let's summarize:
- Make correction in private
- Do it as soon as possible following the event
- Be very specific about the error and allow the employee to discover it if possible
- Be completely sincere regarding your feelings on the matter and don’t sugar-coat it