Do the Right Thing

Mar 28, 2012

Employee discipline isn’t necessarily a chew-out session, but a way to convey your message as a manager.

Wouldn’t it be nice to have all of your employees always performing their tasks perfectly? Wouldn’t it be nice if they all loved the company as much as you do?

The fact is, employees will make mistakes, and some of them will exhibit attitudes that don’t reflect well on themselves, their department or the company. Every company has employees and managers who exhibit varying degrees of these behaviors. But don’t worry too much about it. No one is perfect.

However, when your employees make repeated, serious mistakes; when they fail to meet their performance goals and standards; or when it seems that they’d rather be working somewhere else and prove it by ignoring company policies, you have to take action to stop the offending behaviors immediately and decisively.

When employees aren’t performing up to standards, or when they allow a poor attitude to overcome their ability to pull with the rest of the team, they begin to cost you money. Poor performance and poor attitudes directly and negatively affect your company’s efficiency and effectiveness.

And if other employees see that you’re letting their coworkers get away with poor performance, then they have little reason to maintain their own standards. “Hey! If Joe can get away with it, I can too!” Not only do you create more management headaches, but the morale and performance of your entire workforce decreases as a result.

As you digest this article, you’ll discover the importance of dealing with employee performance issues before they become major problems. You’ll find out why you need to focus on performance and not personality. And you’ll discover how to implement a consistent system of discipline that can work for you.

What Discipline Means

Employee discipline has lately gotten something of a black eye. For many workers, the word discipline conjures up visions of crazed management tirades, embarrassing public scoldings and worse.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Consider the following questions for a moment: What does discipline mean to you? What does it mean within your company? Would your employees look forward to being disciplined (of course not)?

The reality is that far too many employees confuse the terms discipline and punishment, considering them to be one and the same. But this belief can’t be farther from the truth when discipline is done well

The word discipline comes from the Latin meaning “teaching” or “learning.” Punishment, on the other hand, is derived from the Latin word that translates to penalty. The whole point is that employee discipline can and should be a positive experience if done in the right tone with proper communication and a positive attitude.

Through discipline, you bring issues to the attention of employees so that they can take actions to correct them before they become major problems. You can even provide them with the additional guidance and training they need to do their job better.

The primary goal of discipline isn’t to punish your employees; you want to guide them back to a satisfactory job performance. Of course, sometimes this step isn’t possible and you have no choice but to terminate employees who can’t perform satisfactorily.

You generally discipline your employees for two main reasons:

Performance problems: All employees must meet goals as part of their jobs. When employees fail to meet their performance goals, administrating some form of discipline is required.

Misconduct: Sometimes employees behave in ways that are unacceptable to management and to the overall theme of the company. For example, if an employee abuses the company sick leave policy, you have a valid reason for disciplining that employee. Other examples may be lateness, too many personal calls, cruising the Internet, etc.

Discipline ranges from simple verbal counseling to termination. A wide variety of options lies between the two extremes, depending on the nature of the problem, its severity and the work history of the employee involved.

Focusing on Performance

You’re a manager, not a psychiatrist or psychologist-even if you feel that you sometimes do nothing but counsel your employees.

Your job isn’t to analyze your employees’ personalities or attempt to understand why they act the way they do. Your job is to assess your employees’ performance against the standards that you and your employees agree to and be alert to employee violations of company policy.

If your employees are performing above standard, reward them for their efforts. On the other hand, if they’re performing below standard, you need to find out why and, if necessary, discipline.

To be fair, and to be sure that discipline focuses on performance and not on personalities, ensure that all employees fully understand company policies and that you communicate performance standards clearly.

When you apply discipline, use it consistently and fairly. Although you must always discipline your employees soon after a demonstrated shortfall in performance or act of misconduct, rushing to judgment before you have a chance to get all the facts is a mistake.

When you discipline employees, know the facts and act impartially and without favoritism. If one employee does something wrong, you can’t ignore the same behavior in other employees.

Remember, although your job is to point out your employees’ shortcomings and to help guide their performance, they alone are ultimately responsibility for their performance and behavior.

You can’t, and shouldn’t, do their work for them. You also can’t cover for other mistakes and misdeeds. Sure, you can excuse an occasional mistake, but you must deal with an ongoing pattern of substandard performance or misconduct.

A Five-Part Discipline Plan

Regardless of the situation, the approach you take when disciplining your employees should remain the same, whether you conduct verbal counseling or give a suspension or demotion.

Here are five steps that can form the basis of your discipline script. By following these simple steps, you can be sure that employees understand the problem, their role in creating the problem, and how to correct it:

Step 1: Describe the unacceptable behavior.

Exactly what is your employee doing that is unacceptable? When describing unwanted behavior to an employee, make sure that you’re excruciatingly specific. You don’t have time for mushy, vague statements such as “you have a bad attitude,” or “you make a lot of mistakes,” or “I don’t like your work habits.”

Always relate unacceptable behavior to specific performance standards that haven’t been met or to specific policies that have been broken. Specify exactly what the employee did wrong and when the unacceptable behavior occurred. Don’t forget to focus on the behavior and not on the individual.

Step 2: Express the impact to the team.

When an employee engages in unacceptable behavior, it typically has a negative effect on their work unit. This is especially true within the performance aftermarket, where employees must work closely on projects. Everyone must carry their own weight-the economics in our challenging time demand it.

Step 3: Specify the required changes.

Telling your employee that they did something wrong does little good if you don’t also tell that employee what they need to do to correct the behavior.

As part of your discipline script, tell your employee the exact actions that you want them to adopt. Tell the employee that their behavior must be in accordance with an established performance standard or company policy.

Step 4: Outline the consequences.

Of course, if the unacceptable behavior continues, there must be consequences. Make sure that you get the message across clearly and unequivocally and that your employee understands it.

Step 5: Provide emotional support

Finally, give your employee an emotional boost by expressing your support for their efforts. Make this sincere and heartfelt-after all, you want your employee to improve, right?

As we approach the summer months, it’s time to analyze your company’s efficiency. One thing to consider is setting up performance improvement plans with your employees.

One of the most difficult challenges of management is dealing with a poor performer who improves under scrutiny and then lapses again. Stick with your plan. If an employee can’t maintain necessary performance standards, you may want to consider whether that employee is really suited for continued employment.

See you on the next lap.