“We need to understand the difference between discipline and punishment, Punishment is what you do to someone; discipline is what you do for someone” – Zig Ziglar
Disciplining people has always been a difficult matter for managers with many being uncomfortable with its adversarial nature. This often leads to the performance or behavioral issue being avoided and left unaddressed (which exacerbates the problem), being addressed inconsistently (which makes the manager seem week and the process unjust), or being handled poorly (which damages the relationship and creates an on-going problem). Rarely is the discipline process handled well!
The traditional progressive discipline approach is certainly unpleasant. It breeds resentment and hostility. But the traditional system is flawed in two ways: firstly, it tends to exclusively rely on punishment, and secondly it is insufficiently demanding on the person being disciplined. Punishments used, such as warnings, reprimands, suspensions without pay, only produce compliance which only works in the short-term and is ineffective. You want commitment, and you cannot punish people to gain commitment.
So how can you discipline people effectively without resorting punishment? And how, in doing so, can you gain commitment from the employee to perform and behave to those standards which are expected?
Before we go into this there is one caveat, we are assuming that you have and follow a documented disciplinary process. If not, you need to develop this as soon as possible, so that the process is clear and transparent to everyone (managers and employees), and that you are consistent in your treatment of people.
This new approach is progressive, as problems became more serious so the responses became more serious. But instead of using punishments, the focus is on engaging the individual in agreeing to change. They are being treated as an adult, not as a poorly behaving child. The focus is on requiring the individual to take responsibility for themselves and their actions and to make the decisions for himself or herself.
Often the final step in a traditional disciplinary process, before termination, is an unpaid disciplinary layoff. In this approach, this is replaced with a paid disciplinary suspension.
How It Works – The Paid Disciplinary Suspension
Upon reaching the final step in this new system, the employee is told that he would be suspended from work on the following day. He was told that he must return on the day after the suspension having made a final decision: either to solve the immediate problem and make a total commitment to fully acceptable performance in every area of his job, or to quit and find more satisfying work someplace else. The company bears the cost of this paid day as a sincere demonstration of its desire to see the employee change and stay. However, the employee is told that if he decides to stay, and there is another disciplinary problem, then he or she will be terminated. In essence, his or her future is in his or her own hands, it is their choice to make, and the company will accept his or her decision. Fundamentally, the choice is either to change and stay; or quit and find opportunities elsewhere.
Advantages of Discipline without Punishment
- Cooling-off period – it allows both sides to calmly reflect on the situation,
- Provides a dramatic gesture – the suspension period forces the employee to face the facts; face unemployment or correct your behavior.
- Defensive – should an employee be fired and then challenge the action the company has a clear and demonstrable process that the employee was fully aware of the situation and the alternatives, and that the employee made their choice.
- Demonstrates good faith – this shows the individual that the business is serious in its intent.
- It makes life easier for managers – many managers are loathed to take disciplinary action. This process makes it easier as the onus for the decision to stay or leave is the employee, not the manager.
- It’s appropriate for any job – whether the employee is at the front-line, middle-management or in the upper echelons of the business it is equally applicable and transparent.
- It reinforces your values – most organizations take pride in being fair employers. This allows you to be so without punishing people in a way that compromises the spirit of your values.
So will you keep discipline without punishment? Make people responsible and accountable for their performance and actions, and help them decide what to do – whether to leave or to commit to change and improve their performance and how they behave.
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