7 STEPS THAT ALWAYS WORK
MANAGING EMPLOYEE DISCIPLINE
Undoubtedly, the toughest and most thankless part of being an owner or manager of employees is an employee discipline. Everyone is good at playing the nice guy. But what about when you have to be the perceived bad guy? What is the right way—the best way to handle employee discipline that serves you as the owner or manager, the employee, the workspace, and the overall business?
This article is designed for small business owners or mid-level managers charged with on-site responsibility for employee discipline log and work practices. These seven steps are guaranteed to work. Instead of using the word, “Owner” I will be using “Manager.” However, as previously noted, this article is for those who are responsible for the discipline of company employees. Now, let’s dive in.
YOUR PRESENCE AS A MANAGER WITH EMPLOYEE DISCIPLINE
I won’t go too much into this. However, before we start the step-by-step points, a little reminder on how important your style and presence is as a manager. As much as any employee or group of employees are your friends (s), your ﬁrst responsibility is to your duty as a manager. Remember to always try to be a paragon of professionalism. Furthermore, your ability to run a tight ship and discipline when necessary will be silently respected. No one respects a person they can walk all over or is so nice that they’re squeamish to put the hammer down.
As a digniﬁed manager, it is incumbent upon you to understand and accept that discipline of employees comes with the position. What’s the old saying—“Heavy is the head that wears the crown?” Well, this is why they pay you the bigger bucks, right? Employee discipline warning notice is nothing to fear or shy away from. A conscientious manager, like a good parent, is well aware that discipline is not tantamount to punishment. Discipline is about instilling professionalism and creating a work environment in which everyone is playing by the same rules.
Okay, you’re the manager, the boss. Now, the seven sure-ﬁre steps to keeping a good code of employee discipline.
1) “I’M NOT ANGRY” — ELVIS COSTELLO
How do you like fun sub-titles? I would venture to say that Elvis Costello was a bit angry. Nevertheless, rule #1 is don’t ever get angry or show anger even when he lived in Los Angeles California. Always approach do’s and don’ts of employee discipline issues from a neutral state—otherwise known as never letting them see you sweat. Discipline is all in the communication style. Approach employee problems or sticky issues in a cerebral and logical manner. Save the emotion for your love life. This is a business. Whatever the conﬂict, carry on discussions with a mild and calm demeanor.
Ask questions with the intention of getting to the core of the problem. Allow your voice to be relaxed but clear and ﬁrm in your questioning. If this is a behavioral issue, the objective is to put the employee at ease instead of causing them to be defensive about their actions. Begin the conversation by letting let the employee know that you understand and appreciate them. You don’t want the employee to believe that you have already made up your mind. Anger will indicate that your mind is already sure about guilt and innocence.
In summation, your style and disposition set the tone. An attitude of open-mindedness and comportment of poise will go much further to de-escalating and resolving a problem than an outburst of fury. As a matter-of-fact, you may be made and already know who’s to blame and why. Nevertheless, approach each circumstance with an air of it being brand new and everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
2) “TWO SIDES TO EVERY STORY”— DYAN CANNON
From Honeysuckle Rose. did you ever see it? How dis the lyrics go? “There must be two sides to every story And who’s to say who’s right and who is wrong?” Well, the same can be said when dealing with employee disciplinary issues.
MANAGING EMPLOYEE DISCIPLINE FORM
Now, as previously mentioned, you may already know everything there is to know about a particular problem. Yet, take the time to hear every side of a story. Coming across to your employees as fair-minded will go a long way in their respecting your disciplinary decision. Likewise, there is a lot of gravitas to be gained by other employees perceiving you as being fair. Let’s take this a step further though, shall we?
In the two sides of every story, sometimes one side is invisible. Perhaps the disciplinary problem is a symptom of other interpersonal problems that you, as the manager, are not aware of.
For example, maybe an employee is suddenly late almost every day. If that’s the case, talk to them about more than buying a new alarm clock. Are they having domestic issues? How is their marriage? Are they sleeping well? If not, why not? How are the kids doing?
Unresolved personal and psychological issues have a tendency to play out at work. If you care about your employee, which of course you do, then attempt to uncover the real reason they aren’t at their best.
Taking this point a step further—let’s say you’re helming a disciplinary meeting regarding the entire staff. Instead of blaming everyone for their poor behavior, take the opportunity to ask them why they think they haven’t performed at their best or are acting out. Quite possibly you will discover a weak link in your own efforts or a problem with the established workﬂow.
So, the bottom line—never jump to conclusions. Listen to both sides of the story before making a decision. Be aware, that in a vacuum, no one wants to screw up, fail, or be inappropriate. Usually, the issues and others stem from larger outside problems and circumstances such as not following directions such as leaving the correct voicemails.
3) “I CAN’T EXPLAIN” – THE WHO
Who couldn’t explain but you have to explain yourself. I repeat you must clearly explain yourself to the employee or staff in which the disciplinary action is required. The ﬁrst step in explaining and correcting disciplinary issues is addressing “Why.” Often the employee is going to know why he is being reprimanded or disciplined. As much as they may know the “Why,” it should always be clearly stated. In the case of an employee not understanding how their actions, words, or attitude affects another, then it is certainly incumbent on you, as the manager, to explain why their behavior is not appropriate and how it is affecting things.
All of this might be obvious. However, how you explain the issues can be just as important and crucial to the problem being solved without lingering negative feelings. People are funny creatures. We all like to be loved, approved, accepted, liked and appreciated it. Most of the time, someone doesn’t mean to offend, provoke, or disturb others, especially in the workplace. That said, this goes for something a small and simple as being late. Don’t just say that being late is a problem and they have to ship up or ship out. Approach the explanation more like a leader, a coach, or a sage. Possibly, you could let the employee know how arriving late affects the entire staff ’s attitude or production. There are countless ways to explain, inspire, and enlighten. However, what if an employee’s action negatively affects another’s workﬂow or feelings? Once you’ve followed step 1, then sympathetically describe the indiscretion to the employee and watch how they mentally and emotionally process it. If they are contrite, problem solved. If they are disgruntled or feel targeted, then two things must happen.
- You must be empathetic with their position.
- In no uncertain terms, you will have to explain the disciplinary consequences if the problem continues.
This is the job of the manager—your responsibility, to keep people in line and production ﬁring on all cylinders. Truth is, everyone is not going to get along all the time or be socially appropriate. Not to mention, not all employees will be at-work crack superstars. In time, corrections will have to be made. Pro-tip: If you draw a red line of consequence, follow through. If you do not follow through, not only will the problem continues but you will lose credibility in the eyes of each and every one of the employees.
4) “HEROES” – DAVID BOWIE
“We can be heroes just for one day.” That’s what David Bowie sang, R.I.P Ziggy Stardust. So too, you and the employee in question. You can be heroes, just for one day. Here we go with our next step, time to solidify your peer-to-peer connection.
We have already gone over not being angry and staying calm. An extension to that important point is communicating with an employee during a disciplinary issue with the tone of a colleague or peer. As a manager, it is important to carry a slight air of authority. However, all things in moderation. As you speak with an employee in which their behavior or performance is in question, speak in a manner that is more beﬁtting of an equal than a boss. They already know you’re the boss and trouble is afoot. There is no need to hold your position over them.
Remember, the goal is the ﬁx the problem and have it stay ﬁxed. As the old adage goes, “You’ll catch more ﬂies with honey than you will with vinegar.” Likewise, I submit—employees who appreciate their superior will correct their mistakes without further headaches.” Doesn’t exactly rhyme, but you get the point. So, after you have understood their side of the story and explained yourself, work with them to make the necessary corrections. Do it as though it’s your problem too. Ask them how together you can ﬁx things so the problem doesn’t rear it’s ugly head again. The lesson is—come across more like a conscientious colleague rather than a power-hungry boss and the employee discipline training is more likely to quietly make corrections without making the same mistake.
5) “EVERYBODY WANTS TO RULE THE WORLD” — TEARS FOR FEARS HOW TO DISCIPLINE AN EMPLOYEE
Okay, so you’ve explained yourself and are relating to the employee more peer-to-peer than a tyrannical boss. So far, so good. Next, there has to be established concrete measures adopted to solve the problem and keep it from happening again. Everybody wants to rule the world, but at this point—stay away from threats. Threats are effective. Fear is a great motivator. However, the complexity of human emotions tends to perceive threats areas a personal attack and the emotion of fear commonly generates a level of hate.
If you threaten an employee with punitive action, in essence scaring them into corrective reaction, then all your doing is setting yourself up for a future backlash. A better option?
As you coolly lay down the law and the corrective measures, do so in the vein of an instructor. Imagine yourself deﬁning the steps of the corrective measures with the emotionless aplomb of the average college professor expounding upon their syllabus. Sounds silly. However, I would say that in this day and age of tensions and emotions run high. To the degree in which you are ﬁrm but nonchalant, the less likely it is that the employee will accept the disciplinary action as a personal affront and instead view it as a common measure.
For every rule, there is an exception. Be that as it may, know that threats are likely to do more harm than good. Especially if you’re a middle-manager, let a threat be your last line of defense. In this litigious and corporate day and age, it’s safer to keep the threats in your pocket rather than the possibility ﬁnding yourself called on the carpet because your rightful threat was wrongly miss interpreted as inappropriate.
6) “WALK THIS WAY”— AEROSMITH
You can add Run DMC if you like. For the sake of illustration, here we are now with the employee understanding the problem, not feeling threatened and fully aware of the roadmap to correction. What now? Reinforcement. Show them how to walk this way.
Even though you have taken the time to spell out the plan, walk through it with them one time. This might sound sophomoric or even juvenile, yet, you’re a leader and you are making sure that everything is perfectly understood. Often people will simply say, “Yes” when in-fact that don’t know what they’re saying yes to.
It only takes a moment. Run through the correction one time—how will the same situation or circumstance be handled differently. This step also adds a level of accountability and explicit memory which the employee can call upon.
7) “FEELS SO GOOD”— CHUCK MANGIONE MANAGING EMPLOYEE DISCIPLINE POLICY
Arguably, “Feels So Good” is Mr. Mangione’s greatest song. It has no words, just a feeling of ascending joy. That is the perfect metaphor for the ﬁnal step. How do you want the disciplined employee to leave your ofﬁce? The answer: feeling good about themselves.
It might seem counterintuitive but the goal is to be able to discipline an employee but still raise their conﬁdence and sense of self. Of course, this can be tricky. Yet, again, in disciplinary circumstances, I recommend getting into the mindset of a sports coach over the traditional archetype of a corporate boss.
Once your disciplinary point has been made, shower the employee with recognition and appreciation. Remind them how important they are to the overall success of the company. Let them know that you personally are grateful that they work there. Your words will leave them inspired and motivated. That’s certainly better than them exiting forlorn and bitter.
Discipline doesn’t have to be viewed in a negative light. In many respects, it’s an opportunity to correct a ﬂaw. Nevertheless, when it has to be done, end it on a positive note.
Well, those are the seven steps. I assure you they will work handsomely. Hey, no one wants the role of the heavy but it doesn’t mean you can’t make lemonade out of lemons. Discipline is a vital part of the manager’s job. Luckily, if you utilize these seven steps, you’ll ﬁnd that your employees will have greater appreciation and respect for your managerial style. Being a better manager really means being a better people person.