When I was in 9th grade, my high school principal told us that discipline is the ability and willingness to do what you said you would do, when you said you would do it, the way you agreed to do it, and at the place you are supposed to do it.

As much as I can remember, and from polling hundreds of managers and team members, discipline in the workplace has a negative connotation. A mention of the word sends chills; causes nervousness; and triggers fear of punishment, suspension, loss of income and privileges, and sometimes loss of a job.

I believe a discipline discussion should be a coaching session between a team member and the manager. The fundamental goals of holding the discussion in the first place are to help the team member improve his/her performance and correct any inappropriate behavior.

Unfortunately, most of the disciplinary actions are (or at least they seem to be) geared toward threatening team members or establishing a paper trail to support grounds to justify suspension or firing of the employee.

My long experience working as a regular employee, as a manager, and as a trainer has led me to believe that every disciplinary discussion should meet the following qualifications:

1. Optimism
As a manager, you have to be optimistic that the team member can change, learn, and produce desirable results. You need to be optimistic that the situation will get better but you have to make a decision to approach the discussion with an open mind and be ready to have an open discussion.

2. Future-Oriented
A reference to results from the last few months or even years is necessary to give the two parties a perspective of where they have come from, how well they have done, the mistakes made, and lessons learned. Unfortunately, the majority of managers focus on almost every mistake that has ever been made and paints a picture of how awful the team member’s performance has been. This approach does not serve either the manager or the team member.

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The modern day and most effective approach is to blend assessment of the results from the past and to look at the current goals and paint a picture of what kind of results the team member is capable of achieving when they follow the instructions and procedures agreed upon

3. Development-based
One of the main reasons team members fail to get results is a lack of clear training and guidance. They may know what needs to be done, and how it’s supposed to be done, but just like almost everyone in this world they are likely to get off track and lose focus of the main goal.

Continuous and consistent coaching will help team members to perform at a high level. It doesn’t have to be an hour or a half day session. Even 5-minute regular coaching will compound and make a huge difference

4. Performance-Centered
Disciplinary discussions can easily get off-track when either the manager or the team member is under pressure. Emotions are likely to flare up, and anger is likely to mount. Discussions designed to prevent this from happening need to be performance-centered so as to stay objective. It is the manager’s responsibility to write down the talking points and to communicate to the team member in advance about the subject at hand, the venue for the meeting, and the expected outcomes so the team member can prepare for it.

Putting it All Together
Next time you decide to have a disciplinary discussion with one of your team members, think of the four main qualifications:
1. Optimism
2. Future-Oriented
3. Development-based
4. Performance-Centered

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