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mistakes and misdeeds and you shouldn’t do their work for them. Ongoing patterns of substandard performance or misconduct must be dealt with, not ignored.
THE TWO TRACKS OF DISCIPLINE
There are two key reasons for disciplining employees: performance problems and misconduct. The two-track system of discipline devotes a complete track—a unified set of actions—to each one of these reasons. The two-track system assumes that misconduct is a much more serious transgression than a performance issue. While misconduct is the result of a willful act, performance problems are not necessarily the direct fault of the employee and can often be easily corrected with proper training or motivation.
We are big believers in the concept of progressive discipline— selecting the least severe disciplinary action that results in the behavior that you want If, for example, your employee responds to coaching or verbal counseling in the case of a minor disciplinary problem, then it would be major overkill (not to mention punitive and counterproductive) to give him a written warning or suspension.
The first step in conducting discipline using the two-step system is to decide whether you’re trying to correct performance-related behaviors or misconduct. The next step is to determine the least severe disciplinary action that will correct the negative behavior. A minor transgression may require only to conduct a verbal counseling, for example, but a more major transgression may require you to suspend your employee without pay for a week.
Your organization’s system for disciplining employees may differ from the one that we outline in this chapter—perhaps significantly. If you’re dealing with union-represented employees, for example, you’re going to be required to work within the system proscribed by the contract between the union and your firm. Be sure to review your
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organization’s policies and labor relations practices and procedures before you discipline your employees.
Dealing with Performance Problems: The First Track
Every one of your employees should have a job description and a set of performance standards. These documents will be the basis for disciplining your employees, so make sure first of all that they are available, and that they are well done and complete.
Employee performance can generally be placed into one of three broad categories:
1. Outstanding performance.
2. Acceptable performance.
3. Unacceptable performance.
When it comes to employee discipline, you’re primarily concerned with correcting unacceptable performance. You generally won’t be disciplining your employees for performing at an outstanding or acceptable level. Your first concern is to identify employees who aren’t working up to standard and to correct their performance.
The following discipline steps are listed in order of least to most severe. Use the least severe step that results in the behavior you want. If that step doesn’t do the trick, move down the list to the next step:
1. Verbal counseling: This form of discipline is the most common and the least severe, and most managers take this step first when they want to correct an employee’s performance. Verbal counseling can range from a simple, spontaneous correction performed in the hallway to a more formal, sit-down meeting in your office. Note: You usually don’t document verbal counseling in your employees’ files.
2. Written counseling: When verbal counseling doesn’t have the desired effect on performance or when the magnitude of performance problems warrants its use, written counseling should be applied. Written counseling takes the counseling process one step further by documenting your employees’ performance shortcomings in the form of a written document, most often a memo. Written counseling is presented to employees in one-on-one sessions in the supervisor’s office and, after the employee has an opportunity to read the document, verbal discussions regarding the employee’s plans to improve his or her performance ensue. This documentation is placed in the employee’s personnel file.
3. Negative performance evaluation: If verbal and written counseling fail to improve your employee’s performance, a negative performance evaluation will ensue. Because performance evaluations are generally given only annually, if at all, they’re not usually very useful for dealing with acute situations. However, if verbal and written counseling is not having the impact you seek, negative performance evaluations are a good next step.
4. Termination: Termination is the ultimate form of discipline for employees who are performing unsatisfactorily, and it is your best— and only—option when all other measures fail. Terminating employees is not fun; consider it as an option only after you exhaust all other avenues. In these days of wrongful termination lawsuits and multimillion-dollar judgments, you must document employees’ performance shortcomings very well and support them with the facts before you terminate an employee, not after.