Although difficult, it’s important that every front line leader learns how to embrace progressive discipline as a tool to create behavior change.
Before we go any further, let’s make sure we all understand what we mean by progressive discipline. It’s the process of applying increasingly severe consequences when an employee fails to correct a performance or behavior problem after they have been made aware of it and been given an opportunity to correct the problem.
Many front line leaders avoid applying progressive discipline, even when the situation warrants it, because they see it as a negative confrontational experience. Unfortunately, taking a softer approach causes the workgroup to lose respect for you as the leader. It can also cause them to interpret your leniency as a lowering of expectations.
Recognize that progressive discipline is a necessary tool as part of addressing unacceptable behaviors and performance on your team.
Now I, like you, hope that most of your feedback will be positive as you reinforce the behavior and performance that you want. However, some team members will need to receive disciplinary action to show them that there are consequences to persistently failing to meet your expectations.
Remember that the reason we’re using progressive discipline is to gradually apply more severe consequences for continued violations of policies up to and including termination of employment. Usually the severity of the consequence will be linked to either the severity of the behavior or the ongoing frequency of the behavior. For example, someone being late once won’t usually result in their termination, whereas someone who is repetitively late will receive warnings and eventually lose their job.
Therefore, your approach as the leader should be direct, but conversational. You want to convey the seriousness of the situation along with your positive expectation that the employee can correct the behavior and meet your expectations.
If progressive discipline isn’t a frequent task of yours, I’d recommend that you consult with your human resources team to ensure that you’re following the steps correctly. Documentation is crucial in order to demonstrate that you advised the employee of the concern, clarified your expectations, described the future consequences, and then you’ve offered support for them to change.
Ultimately, an employee who consistently cannot meet the expectations of their job will need to find a job that they’re better suited for. Your job as the leader is to give them every opportunity to learn from their mistakes and meet your expectations.
As a leader, becoming more confident in administering progressive discipline will make you more effective. If you’re lucky, you won’t have to use it often, but you will use it when it’s needed.
Is your inability to apply effective progressive discipline hurting your front line team? Our onsite training can help you have the confidence you need to do these difficult tasks.