Have you ever needed to discipline an employee who disobeyed your rules, or the company’s?
It’s always a difficult situation, where it’s not enough to know the local area’s labor laws, safety and other regulations.
Discipline is further complicated by the fact that we may never be able to write down all the rules in a company manual, because it’s simply overwhelming to consider all the potential situations.
To add fuel to the fire, managers are unaware that they have a cultural bias. They have adopted a set of rules —which are transparent to them— of what they deem appropriate behavior throughout their interaction with others, since early childhood.
Hence, the way to discipline an employee falls into a fuzzy, but sensitive area.
So, what should you do to keep the discipline of your group within a healthy environment?
- If it’s a crime, call 911.
- You must be Fair.
- Don’t forget that you’re correcting a behavior.
If someone pulls out a weapon, or physically threatens anybody within the company’s premises, call 911 and have security evacuate all personnel from the area. It seems extreme, but it’s happened in High-schools.
Your first and foremost responsibility is the health of those at risk.
I’ve lived through a couple of fistfights. In this case, I’ve defused the explosive situation by immediately sending both home —suspended, till further evaluation.
You must pay special attention not to reflect in your judgement any negative cultural bias, or hidden agenda.
The best way to sustain the productivity of your operation —which is the main objective of disciplining an employee— is to think like a judge. Above all, you must be fair, asking lots of questions and acting upon specific facts, while avoiding rumors and innuendo.
The guy is innocent unless proven guilty.
If you’re perceived as unfair, you’re trustworthiness will plummet.
As a consequence, the group will hide bad news and will feel discouraged to openly criticize your ideas for fear of retaliation. This is a dangerous situation for the company, not only because it reduces productivity, but because it also drives the company down a path where it may not be able to steer itself away from colliding with icebergs on time.
You’re trying to correct a behavior. It’s not about getting even through punishment.
Once you’ve gathered your facts, from what you saw, and from what others witnessed —preferably, in writing— call the employee and his union’s representative to a meeting to discuss the event.
In this meeting you will submit the facts —including his past record of offenses— and ask the employee a few more questions:
- Why did you do it?
- Knowing that this behavior had a specific negative impact on our company, would you repeat this behavior?
- Finally, what would you have me do to correct your behavior?
He could have a good explanation for what he did. At least, you’ll find out his motives.
He could state that he hadn’t thought about the impact of his action. He could show remorse, and promise not to repeat the situation. Or, he could care less.
Again, I stress that the purpose of the meeting is to correct the behavior. If you see a sincere intention to mend the behavior, take his offer, even if you feel he’s getting away with murder.
Remember that compassion has its rewards.
In this case, hopefully, the employee will mend his ways and always be grateful of your leniency. And, if he doesn’t live his promise, he knows it will be much tougher to convince you and the union representative to be lenient on the next occasion.
It’s important to keep written records of these meetings, and memos to the employee. You will use them in disciplinary meetings, as shown. And, they may be necessary to justify laying off an untrustworthy employee.
To sum up:
Disciplining is about correcting behaviors, with the main purpose of improving productivity.
Being lenient, or compassionate, will help you build a reputation within your group of employees, which will allow you to ask, now and then, a display of extraordinary efforts from this happier group.
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