The Professional Disciplinarian
Dick Grote is a Dallas-based consultant who wrote Discipline Without Punishment. This book came out in 1995 and then again with an updated version in 2006. In essence, Grote says don’t treat your employees like you’re the parent and they’re the children; like you’re the teacher and they’re the students; or in any kind of one-down, superior-inferior relationship.
His perspective is no-nonsense, firm but fair. He suggests a structured method that focuses on being positive around your employees, uses coaching sessions, gives one oral reminder/warning, gives one written reminder/warning, initiates a Decision Making Leave, and if those don’t work, terminates the employee.
The Decision Making Leave (DML) is the man-bites-dog part of his process. Before we look at the DML, let’s see where his method differs from the usual discipline process. Many progressive discipline policies have what Grote feels are extraneous steps: extended probationary periods, numerous Performance Improvement Plans, punitive demotions, transfers or shift changes, and several “final warnings.”
Grote says many of these middle steps are well-intentioned but flawed and unnecessary, along with the countless “do better or else” conversations, where the supervisor is begging, threatening, and cajoling an employee to comply. He says too may steps actually erode the discipline process, sending an uneven message to the employee who has performance or behavior problems.
His use of the Decision Making Leave, as the final step before termination, works like this: the employee, who has already been the recipient of careful, positive, and proactive supervision, and an oral and a written warning, is brought into a meeting and told he or she will be put on an immediate one-day, fully-paid leave.
The reason for this DML is to send a clear message to the employee: you are being sent home, on our dime, in order to spend the next day, to answer these two questions, “Do you want to continue to work here? Are you willing to make permanent performance or behavioral changes, to keep your job?”
With this approach, if the employee returns and says he or she wants to leave, then we process the resignation. If he or she says they do want to keep their jobs, then we welcome them back, explain our expectations one last time, and say, the next time we face this issue, you will be terminated.
The benefit to this process is to put the onus of responsibility on to the employee’s shoulders, not the supervisor’s. We aren’t forcing these employees to quit; we’re enforcing consequences, asking them to make their own decisions about their future employment with us. The DML sounds tough because it is. Decide to leave, decide to stay and work the way you were hired to do, but decide.
To demonstrate real fairness in the handling of employees with performance or behavior issues – and to prevent successful litigation against your agency – courts and juries will want to see these four steps: proper notice of the issue to the employee and his/her union representatives; a fair and legal process; consistency of treatment; and fair application of either corrective coaching or progressive discipline throughout the entire process.
Southern California-based employment attorney Glen Kraemer, co-founding partner of Hirschfeld Kraemer LLP, works to defend employers, including government agencies, from civil litigation. Speaking at a 2013 conference, he said every coaching or discipline-related conversation by a supervisor should end with this statement: “Is there anything getting in the way of you performing to the standards we have just discussed? Anything I need to know?” If the answer to both questions is no, then you have the right to ask for what he calls “immediate, sustained improvement.”
Link to my website