I hate enforcing discipline on my team. I find it really unpleasant and I always wonder if I did the right thing afterward. I’m sure a lot of you feel the same way. When we avoid disciplining someone for engaging in misconduct, we set up a culture where respect doesn’t matter. The only thing worse than a leader who doesn’t discipline at all is one who does it arbitrarily and inconsistently. These tips will give you a framework for effective disciplinary action that will help you be consistent.
Effective Disciplinary Action Tip #1 – Address the Behavior, Not the Person
Focus on the behavior that did not meet standards and don’t judge the individual’s value as a human being. It’s hard to separate those two things when upset or angry. If it’s not a time critical situation give yourself some time to cool down and look at the behavior objectively. There’s also room for compassion and it may be worth looking at any extenuating circumstances. It doesn’t excuse the behavior but could be helpful in developing corrective actions for the individual to take later on.
Effective Disciplinary Action Tip #2 – Know the Standards in Your Organization
Consult with HR and other leaders on the standards and policies for employee conduct. There may be well-established paths forward for this type of situation. If you’re experienced you may already know, but it doesn’t hurt to consult with experts to get the latest information. There may be options that provide a better outcome for the individual and team than you originally had in mind.
Effective Disciplinary Action Tip #3 – Research Similar Cases
Talk about the behavior with other managers in your organization. Research how this problem has been handled in the past to find insight into how you might best handle it. This also brings up the idea of does “fair” mean “equal”? If you have an outstanding performer who makes a one-time mistake, do you treat them equally as someone who has consistently made mistakes? I can’t answer that for you. It’s dependent on how bad the mistake is, but it’s a question to consider when determining how to discipline someone.
Effective Disciplinary Action Tip #4 – Be Timely
Don’t drag it out. Try to determine what action to take on a reasonable timeline. We’ve all been in a position where we’ve had to wait for the other shoe to drop and it’s stressful. We don’t want to put this individual through that uncertainty any more than we have to. That uncertainty is bad for our team because they are probably aware of the situation. Your reaction will set the example for how they behave in the future. Don’t rush to judgment, take the time to do the research, and make a conscious and deliberate decision. Don’t hold off having that conversation, no matter how difficult it might be.
Effective Disciplinary Action Tip #5 – Create a Path to Recovery
Discuss with the employee how they can correct their behavior and mutually agree on those steps. Sometimes recovery isn’t possible, whether that’s a matter of policy or you a feel this individual can’t be rehabilitated. In that case, you might need to let them go, but try to use this as the last resort. Avoid this as a knee-jerk reaction. If after careful thought you feel it’s best, then it’s time for them to move on.
The bottom line on this is unless you really enjoy punishing people, disciplining your team members is never easy. Like most topics we talk about here, being conscious about your words and actions is the key to success. Knee-jerk reactions and emotional outbursts usually lead to regrets later on. Applying some conscious thought next time you need to discipline an employee will help correct the behavior and keep morale on your team high.