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Once & For All: Stopping Sexual Harassment at Work

Don’t Assume Your Managers Are Addressing Problem Behavior: Free Activity

For most supervisors and managers, having to discipline employees is the worst part of their jobs. It is an uncomfortable process they would rather avoid. And unfortunately, many do avoid it, to everyone’s disadvantage: theirs, the organization’s and the employee’s. Or, some managers act emotionally when disciplinary problems arise. But either reaction creates more problems than it solves.

There is a better way to handle disciplinary issues, based on the organization’s need for top-level performance by all employees. When discipline is approached in a logical, positive framework, focused on bringing performance up to par, the emotion can be taken out of the equation and real improvement can be made. Every workplace is different, but the relationships between employees and their supervisors, and between employees and the organization as a whole, are based on a fundamental requirement: wages are traded for performance. When performance is not up to standards, it is the manager’s job to work with the employee to bring them back up to the required level.

Traditionally, we have focused on punishment as the most direct way to deal with performance problems. But this approach can backfire when applied to adults on the job, because it can be humiliating to the employee. And, if it is humiliating, the manager’s actions will lead to anger, resentment, and reduced performance – not the improvement they were hoping for. Every disciplinary action is different because you are working with unique individuals who have life experiences, expectations, and emotional needs you know nothing about. Managers need a process that allows for these circumstances, and for the employee involved to play a key role in the resolution of the problem. You also need a process that focuses on the issues, not the personalities involved.

The first step in a disciplinary process – and the only one this article deals with – is identifying the performance gap. By focusing on the gap between expected behavior and actual behavior, supervisors can take an objective approach to the problem, leaving the subjective and personal issues out of it. Emotional responses to employee problems cloud the issue and inhibit reaching the true goal: improved performance.

Activity: Identifying the Performance Problem

The most important part of identifying and understanding a performance problem is separating the facts from your judgments and opinions.

Listen to the difference in these two ways of describing the same problem:

• You are expected to complete and submit your daily production reports before leaving for the day.
• You’ve caused a lot of screw-ups on the second shift because of your lazy attitude toward production paperwork.

What is the difference between these statements?
• The first approach deals with the facts – behaviors that are observable.
• The second statement is loaded with judgment and opinion – subjective statements that attack the person, rather than focusing on the problem.

Looking at this situation, why might these production reports be important?
• They may affect other shifts, customer deliveries, the ordering of new parts, or other downstream processes.

So what is the real purpose of discipline in this situation?

Look for the following answer:
• To improve performance!

The purpose of employee discipline is to close the performance gap between what you need the employee to do and what they are actually doing.  Let’s see how we can apply this to our own employee disciplinary problems.

REFER to the Worksheet. Participants will work individually on this activity.
(Allow 3-4 minutes)

The best way to identify an employee performance problem is by comparing the desired performance with the employee’s actual performance – what you expect versus what you’re actually getting.

Think about a current disciplinary problem in your department and the employee associated with it (no names please!).

• Describe the performance problem in section 1.
• List a few bullets or key words that describe what you expect from the employee in the left column of section 2.
• List what the employee is actually doing in the right column of section 2. In effect, you are performing a gap analysis.
• Think about the situation objectively when you fill in section 3. If the employee is not aware of the problem, you need to understand why. If you haven’t set expectations properly, your meeting shouldn’t be about discipline, it should instead be about making your performance expectations clear and then monitoring the results.

Go around the room, asking for examples of the participant’s disciplinary incidents.


1. Use the space below to describe a recent disciplinary problem.
2. What is the performance gap.
What behavior do you ecpect from the employee? What is the employee actually doing?
3. Is the employee aware that they are under-performing? If not, what can you do to make them aware?

Excerpted from the Leader’s Guide to the CRM Learning video program, Positive Discipline.

Training Resource: Positive Discipline.Users are consistently thrilled with this program’s ability to help managers overcome their reluctance to addressing performance gaps, engage in productive performance discussions and end up with positive outcomes.


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