Avoid the Most Common Mistakes in Disciplinary Action

It can be difficult to tell who dreads disciplinary action more: the manager or the employee. It is not enjoyable for either party. Because it is such a dreaded managerial necessity, it is often done poorly.

The Four Most Common Discipline Errors and How to Avoid Them

ThinkstockPhotos-1038014101. Waiting Too Long: whether it is out of simple dread or a desire to see a problem as short-term and not worth addressing, waiting too long to address problematic behavior is an avoidable error. delaying discipline sends the message to the offending employee and the rest of the team that the undesirable behavior is acceptable or not noticed.

To avoid this error:
• Immediately address inappropriate behavior.
• Keep the conversation focused on exactly what is wrong.
• Provide clear guidance about how the employee needs to do better.

2. ThinkstockPhotos-456613403Using a Nonprogressive Approach: This can stem from the error noted above of waiting too long, which leads to the manager’s built-up frustration or anger. The manager then has a “last straw” reaction and issues a severe disciplinary action for something that, from the employee’s perspective, hasn’t been previously addressed. Addressing problems immediately sets the expectation within your team of acceptable behavior.

To avoid this error:
• Don’t let situations build or continue; stop bad behavior as soon as it occurs.
• Start with the least forceful measure of discipline early on.

3. Discipline as Punishment: Managers impose discipline on employees and expect that these negative sanctions will result in positive behavior change. This approach often leads to resentment and rarely results in improved behavior.

To avoid this error:
• Approach discipline as an opportunity to learn.
• Always get the employee’s side of the story.
• Provide guidance on what needs to change.
• Supply necessary resources to support positive changes.

4. ThinkstockPhotos-152954776Approaching Discipline as a Conflict: This approach sets the stage for a power struggle and a situation where someone will lose. Instead, approach discipline as an interactive conversation with the mutual goal being the employee’s success.

To avoid this error:
• Actively listen to the employee’s needs.
• Use a collaborative approach.
• Be firm yet compassionate.


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