Why Progressive Corrective Coaching Is Better Than Progressive Discipline

Table of Contents


Letter From Paul Edwards, Founder


What is Progressive Corrective Coaching(PCC)?


How is PCC Different From Progressive Discipline?


The 5 Components of PCC


Structure Each Conversation with FIRR


Mastering PCC


Letter From Paul Edwards, Founder


What is Progressive Corrective Coaching(PCC)?


How is PCC Different From Progressive Discipline?


FFCRA Emergency Paid Leave


The 5 Components of PCC


Mastering PCC

A Letter From
Paul Edwards, Founder

What if you could empower yourself and your employees while also covering your legal bases? Once you learn how to engage with your employees better, they will figure out how to fit in, get along and thrive. With Progressive Corrective Coaching driving your management process, you not only become a better manager, you learn how and when to document your efforts and cover yourself legally.

I developed Progressive Corrective Coaching, namely because I found the standard “crime and punishment” model to be rooted in an old way of thinking which is, at best, ineffective and, at worst, a life-sucking exercise in futility that tries to force someone to do something they don’t want to do.

Three-strike policies, PIP plans and Corrective Action Plans are designed to cover your bases legally with strong documentation. But what about those processes motivates your staff or increases employee engagement? The answer is not much. Even the thought of being disciplined or getting a verbal warning is enough to send an employee, and me too, into a long, unproductive spiral. There has to be a better way.

Remember, no one wants to feel like they are bad at their job. Your employees, even the ones driving you crazy, want to do their job well and get positive feedback. Your job is to guide them with specific and measurable expectations. Overall, the more comfortable you are with giving feedback, both positive and negative, the more comfortable your employees will be receiving it.

Another underlying problem for good managers that undermines our desire to simply just talk to someone and without documenting what is going on is the US legal system. When it comes to dealing with common and, often, not so common issues at work, there is almost always an underlying governing law or regulation that we, as employers, must be able to show we followed or did not violate.

If you are thinking, ‘I just want to be able to hire good people and have them do good work for me,’ I agree. If you believe that the best way to approach any given issue is to treat the other person like an adult, have a brief conversation and hope for the best, I agree with that sentiment as well. That’s why I focused on developing a method that provides every necessary legal protection but, instead of punishing, gives constructive feedback by providing coaching that nudges employees back on the right track.

Through Progressive Corrective Coaching, you will get good at giving feedback and holding people accountable in a way that allows you to cheerlead them towards success and legally protect yourself as a manager and employer. What they do from there is up to them.

The last and possibly most crucial point I want to make as an HR expert is that if you don’t document it, it didn’t happen. I know from years of experience that this is where small employers slip and fall. To that end, protecting your business legally can be as simple as a note placed in your employee’s file about a brief informal conversation, or it can be as serious as a written warning which requires them to acknowledge there is a problem.

With all that in mind, let’s look at Progressive Corrective Coaching.

In Service,
Paul Edwards, Founder

What is Progressive
Corrective Coaching (PCC)?

PCC is a method of coaching employees who need to improve in a fashion that helps them progress within their position and improve their performance or behavior.

Though it presents as a stepwise process, the steps of PCC do not need to be taken in order. For instance, minor infractions might result in multiple verbal warnings whereas exceptionally egregious actions could result in immediate termination.

Download your FREE Separation Guide now!

How is PCC Different
from Progressive Discipline?

The term “discipline” is negatively charged. Most adults associate the term with misbehaving children. Discipline often results in defensiveness, most likely because of our brain’s fight or flight response to criticism. A person in fight or flight mode is likely to respond as though they are being attacked even though they are not in any physical danger. Coaching, on the other hand, is a much less loaded term. Most people are willing to accept coaching to help them improve their personal or professional performance without going into fight or flight mode.

Progressive Corrective Coaching is also more flexible than Progressive Discipline. In Progressive Discipline, you are expected to adhere to the escalating nature of that program fairly strictly and may find your hands tied if an employee issue is so problematic that it justifies skipping ahead to the more serious levels, like termination. PCC, on the other hand, gives management the flexibility to consider individual circumstances and choose the appropriate level of response.

Another important difference between these two methods involves establishing expectations. Take a look at the following examples of how each method addresses a late employee:

Progressive Discipline: I brought you in today because you were late this morning. This is your third strike. Don’t do it again or, according to our policies, I will have to fire you!

Progressive Corrective Coaching: As the receptionist at this practice, you need to be here answering phones starting at 9 am Monday through Friday. When you are late, it impacts everyone including the patients. In the last three weeks, you’ve been late three times. I know it can be hard to juggle everything and be on time, keep in mind that without you, someone else has to step in to do your job. Your role is important. Can you please re-commit to being on time?

While Progressive Discipline begins with telling the employee what they did wrong and ends in a threat, Progressive Corrective Coaching focuses on telling the employee exactly how to get back on track and helps them to progress along the path to self-determination and an understanding of the role that they play. This clarifies what the expectations are for the employee– a step missing in Progressive Discipline — and allows them to choose, or not choose, to take on the task of improving.

The 5 Components of Progressive Corrective Coaching

Remember that the five components of PCC need not be followed in order. In the case of minor infractions, you might choose to repeat certain steps. If the situation is severe, you might skip components altogether.

The one thing that cannot be skipped is the first component— establish initial expectations. Expectations should be reiterated at each coaching session. One great way to establish expectations and legal protections is to issue and update job descriptions regularly.

The five components of PCC are as follows:

Establish Initial Expectations

Before employees can meet your expectations, they must know what your expectations are. This important step must be done with each and every employee.

In order for this to be effective, make sure you have the following documentation in place accompanied by signature sheets noting that employees have read and understood these documents:

  1. A professionally drafted job description that clearly outlines all essential tasks and expectations for each role.
  2. A compliant, well-written employee handbook in place that plainly details expected workplace behaviors. Make sure you’ve worked with an HR expert to ensure those documents comply with federal, state and local laws.

Whenever you give a corrective action, review your expectations with the employee and how they might better meet them moving forward. Even better, ask the employee for input on what they can do to meet your expectations.

Use the FIRR method to outline each verbal and written warning. We will discuss the FIRR method, which has been described as a true gift by several managers who say it has greatly improved interactions with their employees, in depth later.

Provide Verbal Coaching

Normalizing feedback can help you minimize employment-related legal risks and create a better working environment at your practice. Consider saying something like this for every new employee:

Once you start, we will give feedback regularly, both positive and negative. I will check in, and I want to know where you are struggling and to also hear where you feel like you are thriving. Although it can be hard to hear sometimes, I figure you would rather know about something that needs to be improved upon as opposed to me holding it back. So, expect feedback!

Many business owners and managers wait to give feedback until things are simply too far out of hand to ignore. If you wait too long, any conversation about the issue is likely to cross over into discipline as opposed to coaching.

Confrontation can be uncomfortable, so it’s easy to understand why many employers prefer to let minor infractions slide in hopes that the problem will eventually correct itself. Remember, setting expectations and providing feedback, both positive and negative, doesn’t have to be a negative experience overall. By making these processes part of your routine, you can remove the negative association tied to feedback and setting expectations.

Your employees will learn to expect almost immediate feedback from you when their performance falls short. The first step in this actual “coaching” process is often verbal as far as the employee is concerned, but you still need to document the conversation for your own records.

What if an employee does not seem to be getting the message when you coach?

When an employee fails to meet a stated expectation, it could be time to outline the consequences should the situation not improve. Communicating the consequences of inaction can be a critical legal part of both verbal coaching and documentation.

After the conversation, document what was covered, and date the details of the exchange in the employee’s file. If you are still in the verbal stage, the employee doesn’t have to sign anything at this point. You can use CEDR’s free HR Vault software which automatically timestamps confidential notes you add to your employees’ files. Whatever method you use, make sure that all verbal coaching gets dated and documented.

One of the many reasons it is so important to document verbal coaching is that, in all 50 states, unemployment benefits can be denied if you can show some version of ‘willful misconduct’ on the part of the employee. Typically, this involves showing that an employee was aware of the consequences of continuing to violate a clear policy.

Avoid generalizations!

Instead of: You keep messing up and have a lack of attention to detail.

Try: You keep entering the patient’s insurance in the social security box, which we don’t even use anymore. I need you to pay attention to the little details so we can bill things properly.

Advance to Written Coaching

If the issue persists or a new, more serious issue pops up, it’s time to have another corrective conversation with the employee. This second conversation should include a written communication, often called a “Corrective Action Form,” that also serves as a warning.

Each corrective action form should outline:

  1. The underperformance or unacceptable job-related behavior
  2. The impact that behavior has on your practice, clients or team
  3. Expected corrections the employee must make

Include the date and the manager’s initials with all written records.

Step 4 not only clarifies the consequences for the employee but can also be used as a legal record to establish the legitimacy of your actions in the future. Employees should then be asked to sign the form — an action that indicates receipt and acknowledgment, not necessarily agreement. Written warnings can also be confidentially shared with the employee and signed inside CEDR’s HR Vault. You can download a free Corrective Action Form here.

About Final Written Warnings

Usually, PCC can get the employee back on track, but, should the employee fail to correct their behavior and specific complicating factors exist, it may become necessary to issue a final written warning. These types of warnings require high-level expertise and HR knowledge in order to be applied correctly.

Proceed with Termination

Termination is the final step of PCC. Before terminating employment, always assess the risks to your business, including:

  1. Is the employee in a protected class?
  2. Did the employee just participate in a protected activity?
  3. Do I have strong documentation?

If you’ve been following this process, your risks should be minimal.

Assuming you have assessed your risks with a qualified HR expert and decide to proceed with termination, provide a written letter stating the reasons for your decision. Keep in mind, however, that this letter requires careful thought and HR expertise to write. A properly crafted termination letter can deter frivolous lawsuits provided it is well-written and supported by documentation.

Don’t Let At-will Put You At-Risk

Documentation is absolutely necessary for every single termination in every single practice in the U.S. including those located in “at-will” or “right-to-work” states. Click to learn more about why at-will and right-to-work states still require a lawful reason and strong documentation for each termination.

Structure Each
Conversation with FIRR

Telling your employees what you expect of them shows you believe in them. Not giving employees the chance to self-correct shows you aren’t sure they’re capable.

For your corrective coaching to work, it’s essential that you believe it can work. Employees can sense dishonesty a mile away. When going into a corrective action meeting, set the tone by establishing the reason for the meeting as an opportunity to resolve the issue in a way that benefits everyone.

If you haven’t been doing corrective actions regularly, make sure the employee knows this is a new process that you plan to use with all employees to foster better performance and clearer communication. This can be done by updating the relevant policy in your employee handbook. Then, have your entire team read the new policy and sign it to indicate they have read and understood the updated material.


Never attempt to update your employee handbook yourself. Doing so could put your business at risk. Work with a qualified HR professional to institute new policies for your business and ensure they are implemented in compliance with applicable laws.

The FIRR Formula is essentially a roadmap for corrective conversations. Here’s how it works:

Facts: Focus on the facts of the situation at hand rather than inserting judgments or opinions into the conversation. Facts are behaviors that you can see or hear. Opinions cause people to go into defensive mode.

Instead of: “Sandra, you had a bad attitude all day and were rude to a patient.”

Try: “Sandra, you audibly sighed during our team meeting and then told a patient who asked for help to ‘hold their horses.’”

Using only facts reduces the chance that your employee will disagree, get defensive or become resentful of your efforts.

Impact: Explain the impact that the behavior or performance issue has on the business, other team members or patients.

The “impact” is the direct result of the facts being presented. This can be anything that directly affects the business. Some examples include decreased production, undermining authority or causing discomfort to other employees.

For example: “Because you were 10 minutes late today, Maya had to handle your job prepping the operatory for our first patient. Then, we were fifteen minutes late getting the patient into a chair for treatment.”

Reason: Reasoning with the employee can demonstrate that you believe they did not have bad intentions and that the employee is capable of improvement. You want to be assertive, not aggressive. Always model the professional tone you expect from your employees.

To reduce the defense reaction, avoid two critical words: “but” and “however.” By using these words, you negate whatever you said before them. Instead, focus on what you want the employee to do moving forward.

Instead of: “I know you didn’t mean to be late, but …” Or, “I know you weren’t trying to hurt Susie’s feelings, however…”

Try: “I know you didn’t intend to throw off the schedule by being late and that you are completely capable of getting here on time. Moving forward…”

Request: Request that the employee takes specific and measurable action in order to improve the situation. If possible, get the employee to buy in to fulfill your request.

For example: “Moving forward, I need you to be at work at least 30 minutes before our first scheduled appointment. Can I count on you to be on time when you are scheduled in the future?”

With a clear plan and a little practice, you can master the art of conflict resolution. Before you know it, your employees will be responding positively to and acting on your feedback without resentment or defensiveness.

Address and document issues as soon as they come up, even if the problem is minor! By ignoring the problem, your employee may mistakenly believe they have permission to continue. If you don’t address it early, by the time it’s the last straw, you won’t have the strong documentation necessary to terminate.

Mastering PCC

While PCC is simple in theory, its success hinges on three factors: consistency, regularity, and documentation. To retain its power and effectiveness, PCC must be continually and equally enforced with all employees, all of the time.

To that end, here are a few things to keep in mind as you execute PCC:

Treat all employees the same

If you issue a warning for tardiness by one employee, you must do so for all others equally. Ensure that each employee has a personal file where you can log these communications.

Limit written records to the facts and avoid emotions

Don’t let things go on too long or blow up and spin out of control. Start with conversations, and establish the expectation that feedback, both positive and negative, is going to happen.

Use the FIRR method to focus on what the employee did or didn’t do, the impact of that behavior, the stated expectations of his or her position, your expectations for the future and what the employee can do moving forward to fulfill those expectations.

Be specific, fair, and brief

Keep judgment-based language out of your conversations and documentation.

Instead of: “Karen was a real pain in the neck all day and couldn’t keep up with her work because she lacks focus.”

Try: “Karen failed, for the third time to get her filing done before lunch and then took more than two hours to complete what should have taken less than 30 minutes.”

Never include comments on an employee’s age, gender, race, disability, marital status or other protected categories.


As you can see, the PCC process is fairly straightforward and merely requires a bit of initial administrative action followed by continued and consistent execution to be effective.

With minimal time and effort plus regular repetition, you can normalize the feedback process for your team, minimize your employment-related legal risks and create a better working environment for everyone at your practice.