Monday, May 9, 2011

The Seven Unforgiveable Sins: What kind of discipline is appropriate?

Discipline: What does this word mean to you? To some it brings up memories of punishment; a time of unpleasant and severe consequences for some action, not necessarily based on guilt or severity of the supposed offense. To others the word speaks of personal responsibility, i.e., self discipline; the personal value of doing a job or acting or even dressing appropriately.

What part does DA (Disciplinary Action) have in your organization? As groups struggle with what their position is on correcting its members for inappropriate activities they sometimes consider the root word of discipline: disciple. What is a disciple? Common definitions include: A student, or one who learns from a master and who spreads the culture of that teacher. In this manner we are all disciples of some kind of culture. How we were brought up is played out in our beliefs and actions throughout our lifetime. We tend to pass on the good of our upbringing and, unfortunately, the bad as well. The environment in which we live and work also influences our position on discipline. As you think of this, consider the various organizations you have worked for and you will “see” the philosophy they had on discipline (punishment) and how it affects your own stand on this matter.

As I have talked to organization leaders throughout the world, most struggle to some extent with the ‘what’, the ‘why’ and the ‘how’ of discipline as it is to be applied to employees. The range of punishment is wide: from 20-60% discipline for injured employees to less than 0.5% discipline for any and all circumstances that involve employees.

Most organizations believe that 80+% of injuries are the direct result of employee error. One organization did a study and found that only one of there last 200 recordable injuries was not directly attributable to unsafe acts. If it is the employees’ ”fault” that they were involved in an injury, shouldn’t they be punished for their mistakes? On the other hand isn’t the injury itself consequence enough for the action that led to the hurt that was received? What about an example that needs to be made so that others will be more careful and not be personally sloppy enough to do the same thing?

I once discussed this matter of discipline for actions to injured employees with the famous safety pioneer, Dr. Dan Petersen. He gave me a unique perspective: Management often builds traps into the workplace that “catch” the worker and lead directly to injuries. Examples of this include: significant overtime, inappropriate work schedules, ineffective training, poorly designed workstations and the like. In other words, “It’s no wonder some employees get injured considering some of the things we ‘ask’ them to do.” When a thorough multiple root cause analysis is done (including the “5 whys”), in all honesty how do management traps (mine fields) play out in the events and injuries?

What part of discipline is adult correction, i.e., actively trying to disciple our employees, or use a modern improvement approach of coaching? This is a question that is more and more frequently being asked by upper management as they struggle with what it takes to achieve a zero injury workplace. What is the best policy or process to address mistakes that can or do lead to injuries? What is the best way to help reduce the painful injuries that affect employees and the bottom line? If one considers the concepts put forth in the accident pyramid; a result is that most mistakes do not lead to injuries, but rather go unseen and unaddressed for a variety of reasons. There is often an “unnoticed culture” of close calls that goes on and on. If an organization is to get to a zero injury culture, these continuing errors must be given focus and resolution. We can’t allow them to be driven underground through fear of reprisal.

If the overwhelming majority of injuries are caused by human error, what percentage of them should lead to punishment? One of the companies we worked with had executive leadership that wanted never to punish their employees, and yet had site leadership that felt a standard is necessary in order to get a consistent message and consistent execution of policy across the multi-shift, multi-site, multi-country workplace. In an effort to do so, one of their continuous improvement teams decided to propose “the seven unpardonable sins” for which Disciplinary Action will always be given. Here they are:


1. Willfully or deliberately creating or ignoring a safety situation or condition that has the potential to harm any individual on company property.


2. Knowingly falsifying a company document. – Including but not limited to time cards.


3. Fighting on the job. – If you retaliate you’re both gone. Walk away.


4. Possession of alcohol or illegal drugs on company property. Prescription drugs not written to the possessor are considered illegal in this situation.


5. Reporting to work or being detected while on the job under the influence of alcohol or any illegal drug. Prescription drugs not written to the user are considered illegal in this situation.


6. Willful destruction of company property.


7. Insubordination.


As you consider the workplace discipline issue what is your well thought out position?


The Doc

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