6 Never-Break Rules for Employee Discipline
Few people enjoy receiving correction or criticism. Most managers and supervisors really don’t enjoy handing it out, but it’s part of their job and cannot be avoided. This very necessary function of management is always a high-stakes event, as administering it poorly can permanently damage what has been a good manager/employee relationship.
Here are 6 rules, which if you follow them carefully and conscientiously, will dramatically diminish the likelihood of hurting the relationship, and can help ensure that employee morale’ and productivity will remain high even after correction or discipline.
Discipline must ALWAYS be viewed by a manager as corrective, not punitive. The goal is to improve performance. It is not punishment, establishing your dominance, proving your point, or putting the employee in his or her place. And, discipline must always be reserved as a last resort, not first. Use it only after counsel and coaching have failed to achieve the desired results. The only exception to this is for an incident that could invite litigation, such as sexual harassment. But whatever the infraction, always communicate concern for the employee as well as for the department or company.
1. Only in Private…And In Person
Never bawl someone out in front of others. It might lead some to fear you, but you lose respect points. Most will simply resent you, and start looking for a way to throw you under the bus. And they’ll find one. “Management by Fear” is far, far less effective than management through mutual respect. I have found that managers who manage by fear are actually insecure people who don’t respect themselves, lack self-confidence, and almost always have trouble in other relationships.
Simply putting it in writing, whether hard copy or electronic, is also a bad idea. It leads to misunderstandings and resentments. The employee needs to know that he or she is important enough to you to go to them personally.
2. Don’t Dump
If you have delayed taking needed action, there may be several issues with the employee that should be confronted. Whenever possible (it isn’t always), resist the temptation to dump it all into a single session. Choose the most important issue and deal with that. If there is more than one issue, then pre-arrange for a follow-up meeting to check progress. It is during this follow-up meeting that next issue can be brought up, using the advice in the next rule…
3. “You Did Good. Here’s How to Do Great…”
Always start out by crediting them for something that they did at least partially right, even if it was just the intent, enthusiasm, etc. FIND SOMETHING! If you were saving additional issues from the first meeting, then use this opportunity to appreciate their improvement on the first issue, then bring in the next one (but only one.) “I appreciate”… (fill in the blank.) “Now work on this…(next issue). This is the best way to prevent defensiveness. “Here’s what you can do better.” “Here are some tips.”
4. Timing IS everything
Choose a time when neither you nor the employee is tired, frustrated or angry. Remember, your purpose is not to vent, punish or intimidate. If that’s what’s on your mind, you’re not ready to initiate the meeting. If the employee is stressed or angry, good outcomes are hard to achieve.
5. Focus On the Behavior, Not the Person
No labels: “That’s stupid.” “You have a lazy approach to your job.” “You’re such a gossip!”
No absolute generalizations: “You always…” “You never…” “That’s the worst…”
No judgmental language: “You refuse…” “You hate…” “You can’t…”
Instead, cite the behavior, state why it is undesirable, and describe what you want to see instead. Here’s an example: “When you leave blanks on your time card the financial office has to call me to verify your hours. That wastes my time and costs the company money. Please fill out the card entirely, even if it is the same each day.”
6. Make it a 2-way Conversation
Use open-ended questions to elicit a response. Give permission to speak freely. Ask for a response. What do you do if they just sit there in silence and won’t talk? (For some passive/aggressives silence is a form of power.) Use the “Your Turn” look. Turn palms upward with hands toward the person, tilt your head slightly to one side, raise your eyebrows and slightly drop your jaw.
Ask, “What do you think about the problems we have been discussing?” Give them the look and wait. Give 15 seconds. Seems like an eternity, but do it. The person still might not talk. Say, “I did just ask you a question about these issues, and you haven’t quite answered my question. So tell me, How DO you feel?” Give the look again.
Do it only twice. Then, “I’ll tell you what. You might need some time to think about it, so why don’t we come back here at the exact same time tomorrow, and we can discuss it then.”
Employee discipline is never fun for either you or the employee, but if you follow these rules you will be much more likely to have a positive outcome for both of you!