Rethink Employee Discipline: Turn It Into A Constructive Effort


Managers are stuck between a rock and a hard place when employees make mistakes. The idea is to correct the problem behavior and set the employee on track for success. But no one likes to deliver bad news. And mishandling a disciplinary conversation can have a demoralizing (instead of motivating) effect—or, worse, put you on the path to a wrongful termination lawsuit. It’s time to rethink employee discipline & turn it into a constructive endeavour.

Giving constructive feedback to employees as part of a disciplinary conversation promotes higher performance. It’s important to critique employees in a way that actually encourages them—and gives them the necessary information—to improve or correct their behavior.

Look Out For 8 ‘Red Flag’ Behaviors

Providing feedback to employees to eliminate unwanted behaviors is a critical management skill. But what are the behaviors that should trigger your quest to give feedback?

According to an OfficeVibe article, it’s crucial to provide feedback if an employee:

  • Missed a deadline
  • Made a mistake
  • Gossips
  • Was (or is consistently) rude to coworkers/customers
  • Doesn’t set realistic goals
  • Exhibits poor time management
  • Seems disengaged or doesn’t take initiative
  • Shows a decline in performance

Focus On The Behavior, Not The Person

When faced with undesirable employee behavior, you goal is to provide clear, respectful feedback that elicits higher employee performance. This is best done with constructive criticism.

Important: Do not critique the employee herself; instead, focus on the problem behavior.  Avoid feedback that unintentionally criticizes the employee rather than their actions, explains a Business Perform article on the topic: “Your criticism should be factual, impersonal, and timely. The value of changing their behavior must also be clear.”

Tip: Avoid phrases, such as “bad attitude” and “lazy,” which will provoke an emotional response; instead, point out a specific situation that occurred and how you’d like to see a different outcome next time, suggests the Business Perform article.

Follow 5 Feedback Strategies

Here are five important considerations when providing feedback to employees:

  1. First, build trust. When providing constructive feedback to employees, the trust you hold with them makes all the difference in whether they hear you or tune you out. No employee will respect you and your advice just because of your manager title, warns Liz Ryan in a Forbes article. You have to earn your team’s trust. And it’s the trust you have with your employees that allows any constructive criticism to penetrate their defenses and shift their behaviors, she writes.
  2. Be prompt. Give feedback as soon as a problem incident arises—don’t wait. “Being immediate ensures your employee precisely remembers the action being referenced, and of course, decreases the chances that you forget to give the feedback,” states Brian Groth in an Xactly article.
  3. Be specific. Don’t beat around the bush with general comments. “Use concrete examples and make reference to specific events,” according to an Inc. article on giving constructive feedback. “Don’t attack the person. Instead, suggest how behavior can be changed.”
  4. Serve a ‘feedback sandwich.’ Sandwich the need for improvement between two positive feedback notices. “You start off by focusing on the strengths — what you like about the item in question. Then, you provide the criticism — things you don’t like, the areas of improvement,” outlines a Personal Excellence article. “Lastly, you round off the feedback with (a) a reiteration of the positive comments you gave at the start and (b) the positive results that can be expected if the criticism is acted upon.”
  5. Document the details. Follow up any disciplinary meeting with a written account of what you discussed and agreed to. An email is fine; just be sure you outline the facts of your conversation and the expectations you’ve set going forward, advises an Insperity article on disciplining employees. “This email is enough documentation to establish a pattern of poor performance or inappropriate behavior, should you need to progress to a written warning or termination.”

Get Hands-On Guidance

Because every employee is different and every situation is specific, there are myriad approaches to giving feedback—from classic progressive discipline to newer coaching models. There are benefits and drawbacks to each approach, so the challenge is to decide which is best for a given situation, employee, and company culture, asserts Miriam Reiss.

In a webinar she did with AudioSolutionz, “Giving Constructive Feedback and Effectively Disciplining Employees,” Reiss provides concrete tools, language, and phrasing to approach different disciplinary scenarios, as well as examples of what works and what doesn’t. She discusses the POR Method™ and how to apply it, as well as tips on how to avoid legal action in disciplinary cases.

(This post first appeared in a ProfEd blog)

By Amy P on 5th Feb 2019

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