Progressive discipline is a structured approach to dealing with workplace problems ranging from poor performance to unacceptable behavior. Here’s how to help your managers from screwing it up.
The most common mistake managers make in the progressive discipline process: They think of it as punishment for the employee.
That misconception is often the catalyst for the legal problems that crop up after discipline leads to termination.
The alternate approach is to look at discipline as an educational process — an opportunity to improve.
That means the manager and the employee work together to solve the problem.
The goal is to find a way for managers and employees to collaborate in identifying causes of problematic behavior (or substandard performance) and then make a plan to solve those problems.
Some other common mistakes managers make in the discipline process:
They wait too long to address problems
Most managers are focused on one thing: Productivity.
They don’t want to deal with disciplinary problems — either behavioral or performance-related — any more than employees want to hear about them.
It’s easy to let small things slide. And bringing up minor problems sometimes seems like more trouble than it’s worth.
Who wants to stir the pot when it’s already hard enough to make monthly goals?
The last thing the manager needs is a morale problem. They’re already stressed as it is.
It’s an understandable rationale … but it’s fatally flawed. Those small issues rarely go away by themselves — indeed, they almost always get worse.
And by not taking action, managers send employees the message that undesirable behavior will be accepted, or — even worse — hasn’t even been noticed.
Delay has another adverse impact on the manager. As the problem worsens, it’s common for managers to build up resentment against the employee — and that can warp the supervisor’s perspective in a way that makes it difficult to eventually deal with the issue in an objective, positive way.
Managers who drag their feet on dealing with employee problems tend to wait until things get so bad they must act — and often, the action they take is extreme.
This tactic results in two unintended consequences: First, the punishment often appears overly harsh to the employee and his or her co-workers — not exactly a morale-builder.
Second, by exercising this “nuclear option,” the manager guts the progressive discipline process the company’s gone to great lengths to design and implement. The opportunity for a well-thought out, step-by-step approach to solving the problem is largely gone.
The moral of the story: Managers should deal with problems as early as possible, tailoring sanctions to fit the offense. Many small problems can be eliminated by a quick managerial response – and if they’re not, the supervisor has the progressive discipline process to fall back on.
The delayed, unduly harsh response to a problem paints the manager in a corner, limiting future options. That could lead to the loss of a potentially productive employee.
They don’t look deep enough
Sometimes, managers are so busy and so stressed out they simply issue a proclamation to an employee: “Don’t be late again.” “From now on, I expect you to finish X amount of work during the day.”
While the desired outcomes are probably reasonable, there may well be equally reasonable causes for the employee’s tardiness or temporary lack of performance.
Many times, threats or managerial edicts have little effect on behavior, simply because they don’t address the root cause of the problem.
Again, it’s this type of situation progressive discipline policies are designed to address. A collaborative approach to the problem — in something as low-key as a one-on-one between manager and employee — has a far better chance for success than a flat edict from the supervisor.
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