Friday, January 7, 2011

Discipline: Handling People Who Won't Follow the Rules

I'm writing an article on handling people who won't follow the rules, procedures, policies etc and seek input and insight. The article will cover the role of discipline, but from this august group I hope for more sophistication than "fire them".  -Norman

Enforcement...does that mean discipline? Wait…what is discipline? As I was growing up and in need of firm guidance, discipline was often kicked off when my papa told me “You’re in a heap a’ trouble, Boy.” In my adult years, when I have been trained and am responsible for my own actions, discipline is mostly in accordance with the dictionary definition; “Training that develops self control.” So for the most part work place discipline becomes adult correction, and that means personal coaching/engagement, not punitive enforcement. 

I have worked in organizations with leadership that always went to Disciplinary Action (DA) as the first approach when something went wrong.  During those dark years I learned that punishment seldom worked effectively.  A thorough investigation that focused on discovering and resolving root cause issues around the incident often showed the organization to have a significant part in the causes.  The overwhelming percentage of times our processes were weak, and/or our culture reinforced taking dangerous shortcuts in order to “feed the production dragon.”  I can remember a circumstance where punishment was demanded until I stood firm that if we gave the employee time off without pay we would have to do so for his supervisor and the superintendent.  It was obvious they knew that what was going on in the background was wrong and had been so for a long time.

I believe there are four steps in the process it takes for employees to consistently do the job right:
-Define what must occur to get the job done correctly and safely.  Not a soft/sloppy definition, but a robust, well thought out, error proofed procedure with appropriate actions and accountabilities
-Train the employees and supervision how to do the tasks safely and correctly, with no short cuts
-Measure the employees performance in doing the tasks/process correctly and safely
- Recognition or feedback is provided to the employee on their performance, and appropriate corrections made if need be.

When an incident occurs, see if this model has been followed.  Usually there are one or more flaws in these four fundamental steps that have directly, or indirectly, led to the mistake.  Correct the process with the employees and their leadership and the need for punitive discipline is seldom necessary.

But what about “Cavemen” (Citizens Against Virtually Everything)?  I have found that there are hard core cases that exist in some organizations.  Most organizations have a multi-step process of progressive discipline to address these problem children (who are usually less than 1% of the total population).  My experience is that this process, too, is neither robust in how to go about separating impossible employees, nor is it followed correctly.  If you have employees who willfully violate important and correct processes you must take progressive action to resolve the cancer they cause.

In this case I use a “three T model” to guide my decisions.  Employees who consistently do the wrong thing either need:
-Training to do the job correctly
-Transferring to another position where their talents match the job requirements
-Termination if you can’t train them to do the job, or find one they can do, it is time to “get them off the bus” and send them on to some other organization

The Doc

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