A supervisor, who has a problem with the performance of one employee, does not confront the employee but instead sends a memo to the entire staff urging compliance with a policy.
A sales manager calls a meeting to analyze a decline in meeting sales goals. He tells the sales staff to get their sales up but does not examine the specific actions that they will have to take in order to do so. When the goals sink again next month, the manager will call another meeting and do the same thing.
These are examples of superficial action where the emphasis is on being able to say some action was taken rather than taking action that will truly make a difference. Practitioners of superficial action are interested in establishing their innocence. They are less interested in being effective and, if pressed, will frequently admit that they expect little to result from their efforts. In short, superficial action is an alibi.
What is surprising is how often you can encounter superficial action in workplaces. It is reminiscent of an old joke from the Soviet Union - "They pretend to pay us and we pretend to work" - and it can reveal a much deeper problem in which the employees and management have a tacit agreement to permit poor performance in the interests of industrial peace. These dysfunctional teams aren't in search of excellence. They're in search of comfort.
Check out your own workplace. It is a rare workplace that is devoid of superficial action.