[YWH S1E13] Bane or Boon? Progressive Discipline Tips &Tricks
Getting called into the supervisor’s office, or having your Dad refer to you by your full name, typically doesn’t connote feelings of joy. The imagery of a cowering dog slinking towards the one commanding their presence with its tail tucked between its legs about sums it up. Discipline is defined as: “punishment inflicted by way of correction and training.” Punishment inflicted…? No wonder why progressive discipline is viewed as a negative process, the very name of it conjures thoughts of an unpleasant encounter before it even begins.
Job descriptions are developed to convey the essential job functions and minimum experience needed to be successful at a particular job. Employee Handbooks communicate the policies by which employees must conduct themselves during the course of their employment. When one falls short of achieving an essential job function, or breaks a company policy as outlined in the Employee Handbook, one ought to be corrected. The act of correction is typically referred to as progressive discipline. Not taking the steps to correct inappropriate actions or failure to perform results in a slippery slope of issues that often leads a supervisor to lose their cool and terminate an employee without documenting the steps that led to the termination. I have seen this far too many times and it leaves an employer exposed to litigation. I’ve often asked supervisors what led to the desire to terminate all of a sudden and a majority of them indicated that it was due to a culmination of issues, none of which had been discussed with the employee, or documented, until the supervisor hit a boiling point and simply had enough.
While progressive discipline is necessary at times, I don’t like the term because it creates a negative mindset. Supervisors typically don’t enjoy employee confrontations and as such, rush through the process failing to articulate the issue and how it affects coworkers and the employee’s productivity. They often take a stance of a parent telling a child what to do and forget that they are speaking to an adult. Most importantly, they miss the opportunity to engage in a discussion with the employee and come up with real solutions that the employee will embrace. Maybe because I’m stubborn, but when I am “told” to do something, I typically don’t. Conversely, if I am engaged in a conversation where my input is requested, and I am given the chance to formulate a solution in conjunction with others, I’m more inclined to implement it. I know it’s hard to sit down with an employee and deliver bad news, but if one switches their mindset and approaches it from a WE perspective, not a ME vs. THEM perspective, the process can shift into something more meaningful and positive for both parties. A hammer in the hands of a child can be messy, while a hammer in the hands of a true craftsperson can be magical. If you’re a leader, take the initiative to become skilled at mentoring and coaching; it will pay dividends well in excess of the investment.
I had a football coach that would smack me on the helmet with his championship ring that would create an ear-piercing clang in my ears every time I screwed up. I certainly don’t condone getting physical with an employee, however, he used this technique to get my undivided attention to coach me in the moment. I truly appreciated the immediate corrections as it instantly improved my performance which carried over to every game thereafter. He wasn’t afraid to make the necessary tweaks as they were happening to improve my execution. Similarly, as a leader, take advantage of impromptu opportunities to tweak and correct employee behaviors to help them be the best they can be. Coaching, unlike progressive discipline, is still correcting behavior, however, it takes a positive WE approach rather than a ME vs. THEM. Don’t be afraid to point out opportunities to improve and correct your team. It will make them better and improve overall results. In the long run, investing time in your team to develop them will be worth the effort. Increased productivity, increased employee engagement, positive atmosphere, collaboration, and a cohesive team are on the HoRizon™, you just need to change your mindset and invest the time.
According to SHRM, it costs an average of 6 to 9 months of the departing employee’s salary to recruit and train a new hire. You can’t make everybody stay, but changing your mindset by engaging employees with frequent 1 on 1 feedback sessions, coaching them through their day, seeking feedback and then guiding them in that direction, are all strategies you can incorporate into your routine that will transform your team and company.